...To go from vaguely calling Finegold a “German war criminal” when he thought he was a mere employee of the Evening Standard, to pointedly comparing him with a Nazi concentration camp guard when he learned that he is Jewish, does exhibit the typical pseudo-left reflex of identifying Israelis or Jews whose politics or activities you don’t like with some aspect of Nazism. The impulse is to hurt, wound, kick in the crotch.... By John O'Mahony
“The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable” was how Oscar Wilde famously described fox-hunting. The unspeakable in full and ridiculous pursuit of the unteachable, described the strange spectacle of the racist press and the racist Tory Party, last year, howling in pursuit of Mayor Ken Livingstone for comparing Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold, who happens to be Jewish, to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
The Tories and their press had been setting the pace in a vile competition with the Blair government to see which of them could do more to whip up hostility against immigrants and asylum seekers. But they denounced Livingstone for “insensitivity”!
What happened? Livingstone came out of a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chris Smith, the Labour MP and ex-Minister, publicly coming out as gay. He may have been drunk. Finegold asked him for a comment on the party. Livingstone asked Finegold if he was a German war criminal.
The reporter then identified himself as Jewish. In response to that Livingstone likened him to a concentration camp guard. Why? On the strange grounds — the reporter recorded the dialogue — that the Evening Standard reporter and the concentration camp guard both do work Livingstone disapproves of for pay.
Livingstone is normally the smoothest operator and slipperiest of politicians. He once publicly identified his own way in politics as that of “the cynical soft sell”. He has been uncharacteristically “principled” on this issue. He told the London Assembly that he would not apologise because, given what he thinks, that would be a lie. He would not do violence to his sense of his own integrity.
Livingstone was at bay.
The Livingstone affair came amidst a sharp increase in general anti-semitism and an alarming growth in physical attacks on Jews.
It came too on the heels of Livingstone inviting Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Islamic clerical-fascist, to official discussions.
Solidarity is not an admirer of Ken Livingstone. On the contrary, we think the idea that Livingstone is any sort of left-wing politician is, on his political record, simply bizarre.
Livingstone’s dialogue with the Evening Standard reporter was, indeed, very significant for what it said about the predominant culture on the pseudo-left, of which Livingstone is a part.
But even Livingstone is entitled to justice.
What can be said in his defence?
In the dialogue Livingstone is very silly. But it is perfectly clear that his outrage is directed against the press. His target is the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard.
God knows what train of associations led him to ask the reporter if he is a “German war criminal”. It may have been the fact that the Daily Mail, 70 years ago, for a while supported the British fascist organisation led by Oswald Mosley.
Oliver Finegold was the representative of a paper likely to do a hatchet job on Livingstone and his “gay” party. Livingstone’s response may have been triggered by the fact that the Nazis murdered gays as well as Jews, gypsies and others.
Livingstone may even have had in mind the fact that the Daily Mail raged and campaigned in the 30s against letting in Jewish refugees from Hitler just as today it campaigns against other refugees and immigrants.
But it was to go a thousand notches along that scale to equate the Evening Standard journalist with a Nazi concentration camp guard. In a mood of hysterical self-pity Livingstone afterwards told the London Assembly that the press has persecuted himself and his family for the last 25 years. As an explanation of his loathing of the press that makes some sense; as a justification for what he said to the journalist and an implied comparison of what the bourgeois press did to him, with what the Nazis did to Jews, it was plain bonkers.
And he isn’t always so hostile to the press. He used to write a column — on restaurants! — for the Evening Standard; for years he wrote a well-paid column for the Sun, which he used at least once to attack a section of the far left.
Livingstone is a man of contradictions. Most of the time he is a conniving, ruthlessly self-serving career politician. But inside the slick careerist there is always another Livingstone trying to escape. This Livingstone is a bit of a nut.
It is the Livingstone who has over many years linked himself to some of the most bizarre sects in the “Trotskyist” archipelago. He worked for years, and long after it was to his advantage to do so, with an organisation, the Workers Revolutionary Party, which was financed by Arab governments, variously by Iraq, Libya, some of the sheikhdoms (and he could not but have known or suspected it). He now uses the bizarrely secretive Stalinoid sect Socialist Action as his court-jesters and bag carriers.
The Livingstone who abused the reporter was Livingstone in nut mode. And, seemingly, a Livingstone who is losing his grip.
Livingstone and the Jews
The campaign against Livingstone was contrived and half-spurious. It was not all spurious.
To go from vaguely calling Finegold a “German war criminal” when he thought he was a mere employee of the Evening Standard, to pointedly comparing him with a Nazi camp guard when he learned that he is Jewish, does exhibit the typical pseudo-left reflex of identifying Israelis or Jews whose politics or activities you don’t like with some aspect of Nazism.
The impulse is to hurt, wound, kick in the crotch, without being restrained by fact, decency, sense of proportion or awareness of your own hysteria on the question.
However fuddled Livingstone’s wits were, what he said came straight out of the culture on the Middle East of the pseudo-left.
It is a culture that accepts and expounds the crazed account of 20th century history in which “the Zionists” are identified as voluntary collaborators with the Nazis, as being themselves Nazi-like racists — the Zionists asserted that the Jews were a distinct nation, didn’t they? — and sometimes as co-authors of the Holocaust (for example, in the play by “Trotskyist” Jim Allen, for example, which was based on a book by “Trotskyist” Lenni Brenner). A culture in which necessary and legitimate criticisms of Israel are amalgamated with root and branch condemnation of the Jewish nation in Palestine for having come into existence at all and for defending its existence now.
The culture which purveys a malignant Arab-Islamic chauvinist account of modern Jewish, Israeli, and Middle Eastern history in which the Jewish victims of the convulsions of mid-20th century capitalist Europe are demonised for seeking a refuge from persecution in Palestine and for defending themselves against the invasion of five Arab armies in 1948. Demonised most of all for winning in 1948 and after.
A culture in which most of these in Britain now who call themselves revolutionary Marxists ally with the political Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood to advocate the destruction of Israel and an end to self-determination by the Jewish nation there.
A culture in which the ostensible left is one of the main bearers of the most important modern version of anti-semitism, under the name of “anti-Zionism”. That is, hostility to the idea of a Jewish state, to its existence now, and to those, especially Jews, who accept and defend the Jewish state, however critically.
It is not racist anti-semitism. Livingstone is surely no racist. It is very unlikely that he is prejudiced against individual Jews, simply for being Jewish.
The Jews the pseudo-left is hostile to are those who will not agree that in the cause of “anti-imperialism” and “anti-Zionism” and “anti-racism”, the Jewish state should be done away with. Only, that is the overwhelming majority of Jews alive today. That is the point. The “anti-Zionism” now dominant on the left is a form of anti-semitism because it foments a comprehensive hostility towards almost all Jews.
It brands as “racist” all those Jews who are for Israel’s right to survive and defend itself. No matter how critical of aspects of Israel they may be. No matter that many, or most, of them want to see a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace.
Ken Livingstone’s instinctive, fuddle-witted, hate-filled torrent of incoherent abuse of a Jewish reporter, is a typical example of the dominant mindset on the pseudo-left and of its loss of all sense of scale, proportion, decency, and, finally, of reality on this issue.
The most significant thing about the Livingstone-Evening Standard episode is that it shows how deeply in the mind even of a normally slick career politician such attitudes can penetrate and take root.
Of course he should have apologised!
Solidarity has repeatedly warned the left to re-examine its own attitudes on this issue. The growth in overt anti-semitism in society shows how urgent this is.
Edited from Solidarity 3/67, 17 February 2005