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The resurfacing of anti-Semitism in Britain

Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London.
Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London. BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images/File 2011

I am a philo-Semite. The disproportionate Jewish contribution to Western civilization — not least to science and the arts — is one of the most astonishing achievements of modern history. I am also an anti-anti-Semite. The murder and mayhem perpetrated by anti-Semites throughout history, above all in the 20th century, deserves its special place in the annals of infamy.

I had assumed that anti-Semitism had no place in British life, aside from the odious antics of skinheads and other Neanderthal types on the fringes of the far right. There are therefore few things that depress me more than the resurfacing of anti-Semitism on the British left, and not on its fringes.


In an interview on BBC London last week, Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, claimed that “when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism — this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Some Nazi officials did indeed favor emigration as the “solution to the Jewish Question.” But for Livingstone to claim that this was Hitler’s preferred option is simply wrong. From as early as 1919, Hitler repeatedly stated that he saw the Jews as “the racial tuberculosis of peoples.” In a speech he gave in April, 1920, he called for them “to be exterminated.” In “Mein Kampf’’ he wrote: “If at the beginning of the [First World] War and during the war (12,000) or 15,000 of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas … the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain.” Germans who voted National Socialist in 1932 and 1933 were not voting for a Zionist resettlement program.

Last week’s controversy is of course not really about the history of 1930s Germany, but about the much more recent history of the British Labour Party. Since the late 1960s — the era when both Ken Livingstone and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the party — a significant element of the British left has aligned itself with the Palestine Liberation Organization and other groups hostile to the state of Israel. Close to half a century of anti-Zionist rhetoric lies behind Livingstone’s complaint that “there’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as anti-Semitic.”


Yet Livingstone and Corbyn are no longer the devious “entryists” of their early militant years. Rather, they have become the useful idiots of an entirely new generation of Labour infiltrators.

Remember: Livingstone’s comments were made in defense of two 2014 Facebook posts by Naseem (“Naz”) Shah, who became the Labour Party member of Parliament for the Bradford West constituency last year. One stated: “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict — relocate Israel into United States. Problem solved.” The other explicitly equated “Apartheid Israel” with Hitler’s Germany.

Now, ask yourself why the MP for Bradford West was systematically using the Palestinian issue to mobilize voters.

It is not that Naz Shah is herself an Islamist. If she were, I doubt she would appear with her head uncovered in the House of Commons. It is just that bashing Israel appears to be an effective way of mobilizing Muslim voters, who account for roughly half the electorate in Bradford West. Nor is Bradford the only place in Britain where this goes on.


It was a difficult week for Sadiq Khan, the MP for Tooting, who also happens to be the Labour candidate in Thursday’s mayoral election in London. Khan lost no time in distancing himself from the last Labour mayor, condemning Livingstone’s comments as “appalling and inexcusable.” Yet, as the Evening Standard pointed out, Khan has done a few appalling and inexcusable things of own.

In September 2004, for example, he attended a meeting under the banner “Palestine — The Suffering Still Goes On,” hosted by the Friends of Al-Aqsa (the mosque in Jerusalem that is the third holiest site in Islam) and the Tooting Islamic Center. Invitations said “all welcome,” but a sign at the door made it clear that the sexes would be segregated.

Other speakers on the bill included the preachers Ibrahim Hewitt, whose book “What Does Islam Say?’’ likens homosexuals to pedophiles, and Suliman Gani, whom the prime minister named in the Commons on Friday as a supporter of Islamic State.

Khan has argued that he attended this meeting in his capacity as a human rights lawyer, but he was in fact billed as a “Labour parliamentary candidate.” And this (if polls are to be believed) is the next mayor of London?

Forced last week to face its own long-standing problem with anti-Semitism, the Labour Party is frantically trying to turn the tables by accusing David Cameron and the Tory mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith of “Islamophobia.” But the real issue is Labour’s dangerous flirtation with a new and very different generation of anti-Semites. Trotskyists and Islamists make strange bedfellows, to be sure. But perhaps only slightly stranger than the anti-Marxists and German racial theorists who together created National Socialism.


Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford