Why it doesn’t matter whether Ken is good for the Jews
By Serge Katz
Now that The JC and wider Jewish Broiguserati [group of grudge-bearers] has cleaned itself up after its collective trouser-soiling over Ken Livingstone’s remarks on whether London Jewry was likely to vote for him, have a think about what factors play into who you vote for as London Mayor. Especially to what extent whether a candidate liking Jews more than another one is of any significance compared to actually making London a better place.
Let’s recap in case you sensibly avoided the outbreak of political loshon hora. Ken Livingstone upset some Labour supporters recently by making it seem like he thought there was no point courting the Jewish vote because Jews were too rich to vote for him. We say “Making it seem like” because as the Guardian report testifies, plus Ken’s own measured mea culpa also demonstrates, the remarks have been taken substantially out of context. He said lots of lovely nauseous things about Jews as well as this off-the-cuff remark to the gathered cabal of Jewish Labour luvvies, but in a mysterious act of selective hearing, they chose not to focus on that when they went running in tears to the press.
Having strangely ignored Boris’ track-record of dodgy views on non-Jewish minorities, not to mention the poor, protestors, social justice, fairness, the health of children, Inner London generally, and Earth’s condition as a whole, The JC leapt into action – accusing him in an editorial that had clearly been waiting in a treasured vault since the early 80s of having let his mask slip. Where he’d mentioned Israel before, he meant Jews. Where he’d smiled at Jews before, he’d been mouthing anti-semitism secretly under his breath. When he told us he loved us before, he’d meant “Muslim” not “Jew”. When he’d said he wanted to lower fares and reduce inequality, he’d really meant he wanted to cleanse London of all filthy Jews. “The Mask was off” and we’d seen him for what he really was. An interesting deployment of anti-Semitic rhetoric techniques in the name of calling out anti-Semitism – the ridiculous tool for which The JC has become renowned.
Another JC correspondent went further, making the hilarious further claim that she could never vote for Labour again in any election EVER – because as well as Ken’s comments, she’d noted that Jeremy Corbyn defended the rights of Palestinians sometimes. So, as one commentator under her article noted, if you’re Jewish, you have to vote for Boris and the Tories because “at least you know where you are with them” – even if that place is one where cuts hitting the poorest reigns, and the rights of the global wealthy and powerful are pandered to. Hey, if it’s good for the Jews, we have to go to that place. We’ll know where we are there with the Tories, even if it’s in hell.
Ken apologised – though arguably the other people at the meeting should probably have been the ones apologising for misrepresenting him. – and Brian Paddick did the ignoble thing of penning a spineless “I love Jews, me” piece for The JC, the digested read of which is “I met some Jews once, I spoke to some Jews once, I have never had any views either way on Jews, So Vote For Me”. The JC didn’t really like Ken’s apology, with Martin Bright writing that the decision to “eat humble pie” was “noted” (careful, nearly praised the mask-wearing anti-Semite there, Martin) elaborating in classic ‘what we say goes for all’ style that “Though the Jewish community will never take him to their heart, some may at least give him credit for admitting he was wrong.” However would we in this singular COMMUNITY think for ourselves without you telling us what we truly know in our heart of hearts, Mr. Bright
Meanwhile, Jonathan Freedland disappointingly peddled the same line, and it’s this that’s really got our goat. Jonathan F wrote that
“The meeting that night was packed with people who desperately wanted Livingstone to reassure them they could vote Labour. One explicitly said he sought no recantation of past remarks nor a change of position on Israel, just reassurance that “you won’t put us through another four years of this”. Even that Livingstone could not provide. Afterwards, one activist told me he felt as if he had grown up in two tribes, both intertwined in his DNA: one was the Jewish community, the other the Labour party. Yet now he was being forced to choose – because Livingstone had made it impossible to remain true to both. People will wrestle with their own dilemmas. Some will conclude that only Livingstone’s policy positions on transport or housing matter. I’m afraid I’ve reached a different conclusion. I don’t want to see Boris Johnson re-elected, but I can’t vote for Ken Livingstone.”
So, Freedland and those in the meeting are telling us that it is totally impossible to reconcile being Jewish with voting for Ken. Or voting for, or supporting, any candidate, party, personality, or activist that doesn’t tell us how much they love Jews. Nothing else matters – as long as they kowtow to the Jewish vote, that’s it, vote secured. If they won’t do so, they’re anti-Semitic, and dead to us. Ken has opinions that could seen as Jews dangerously not being his most favourite London minority, so he’s clearly anti-Semitic, so we must clearly reject him. “Four more years of this” refers to not being treated as a special group amongst other Londoners, not being giving preferential influence over policy out of proportion to numbers, not making Ken censor his actual views for fear of offending us. What they’re saying is that though you might not like that posh man Boris, he does good Goy-in-a kippah PAs in Golders Green, so you should probably vote for him.
We disagree. Here’s some other things to think about – a city where the Super-Rich can run around in their own private playground without paying tax, with the most expensive urban transport system in Europe, with a chronic shortage of housing, with a Police Force who treat anyone with a black, brown or masked face as an almost-certain public threat, where a corporate locked-down sports day built on greenbelt land is being paid for by us for no local benefit, where an unacceptable number of young people have no jobs and nowhere to go, where air pollution regularly exceeds binding EU levels but where the car is king over all other methods of transport, where violent crime is rising month on month, and where any dissent is greeted with the hard end of a truncheon or shield. Compared to these things, do you actually care whether the Mayor is willing to prioritise the feelings of a section of Londoners who, let’s be honest now, are generally way above the capital’s average income levels as a group? Boris has made all these things worse, and however you judge Ken’s personality, his record on all these issues is vastly better than Boris’
Want to vote as a Jew? Then vote with what we’ve been taught about justice, equality and tolerance. Vote with what’s going to reduce the appalling gulf between living standards of rich and poor in London, vote with what’s going to give houses, jobs and justice in the city. Vote for what will benefit all Londoners in need, not who panders to the sensitivities of those not in need. The most Jewish thing to do would be to vote for the most socially radical candidate – which is why, in the only bit we agree on with Freedland, we’re also saying you shouldn’t vote for Ken. Rather we say vote for Jenny Jones of the Greens – and she really doesn’t pander to the Jewish vote. Vote Jenny first, and Ken second. But whatever you do, please don’t vote Boris. He might say nice things about Jews, but he’s a disaster for all Londoners, and it’s for the benefit of all Londoners that this mythical “Jewish vote” should be directed.
12 Responses to WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER KEN IS GOOD FOR THE JEWS
Jeremy Jacobs says:
Can I suggest you read “Watermelons” by James Delingpole? You may then reconsider for your tacit support for the “envirofacist” movement.
A proper alternative vote for London Jews would be to support the only non-authoritarian party or a true independent. Go figure.
Thanks for the whitewashing of Ken, but I wouldn’t vote for him- an antisemitic, anti- Israel, lying, deceitful opportunist.
Estelle – “lying, deceitful opportunist” – what, unlike Boris?
Wayne Myers says:
Excellent piece. Thanks.
Jeremy – thanks for your recommendation to consider the views of a climate change denier on the Green party, but I for one will be passing on that.
Estelle – did you read the ‘mea culpa’ link? Those are some very strange things for someone who is antisemitic or anti-Israel to say. As for being a lying deceitful opportunist, Ken is of course a politician, but the thrust of this article seems to me to be a clear explanation that he is *our* lying deceitful opportunist, at least for certain values of ‘our’.
Serge Katz says:
You literally think he’s antisemitic? Would love to see your evidence for that as opposed to times he’s been critical of some people who he didn’t like who happened to be Jewish.
But this isn’t a whitewash, it’s saying that for all his faults and errors, you might want to consider some other factors other than how he feels about Israel – or any other country – when deciding on who to vote for. As you should with all candidates.
Shtekhler David Rosenberg says:
There’s a bit of history about Ken and the Jews that people ought to be told about from the early 1980s when Ken was leading a radical GLC administration that turned on its head the paternalistic method of funding and encouraged grassroots community organisations to identify needs and develop projects to benefit Londoners. As a result of this approach Ken funded a number of non-conservative, non -mainstream Jewish projects, among others, and the Board of Deps went ballistic demanding the “right” to vet any applications from Jewish organisations. Ken told them where to go with that anti-democratic approach. They were gunning for him after that and subsequent disagreements over Israel/Palestine kept the temperature rising. Ken also got into hot water with the Board in 1984 when he revealed alarming levels of antisemitic incidents in a GLC report on racist attacks in London, at a time when it was regular practice by the Bored of Deps to hide this info from the community.
I was a beneficiary, working for the GLC-funded jewish Cultural and Anti-Racist Project bringing Jews and other ethnic minorities together around shared histories of immigration, mobilising Jews in anti-racist and anti-fascist work, and working to promote secular yiddish culture – must have been quite some antisemite giving a grant to this kind of thing wouldn’t you say?
I’ve been disappointed by some of the crass forumulations that Ken makes – esepcially more recently – and to my mind when he speaks first and thinks second, he also stereotypes the Muslim communities, but I’ve no doubt who which of the candidates will take steps towards equality and social justice in London and give some hope for the victims of Con-Dem redistrivbutive (to the uber-rich) policies – and it ain’t Boris.
Benjamin Samuel says:
Dear Jeremy Jacobs,
I have been asked by Jewish friends about the JNF campaign already and not afraid to repeat it to you for clarity.
The Green Party is a democratic organisation and its members have the right to directly make policy motions, like in the Lib-dems or in unions. However, some of its members submitted an organisational motion to adopt the European Draft definition on anti-semitism, which fell, item 2 on the agenda after passing the motion to stop the JNF. In the process of debating against adopting the European Draft Greens voted to add the Green name to the JNF campaign because we felt that the JNF put Zionism above ecology, and that we have the right to say that without being antisemitic.
You have two votes for Mayor and I suggest you use them, so could you please explain to me why the independent candidate has said she would expand London Heathrow airport, a policy which contradicts all the other candidates. Could you please just explain to me what this independent stands for, for those of us who are tribal enough to boycott Ken, and why I should vote for her above Jenny Jones?
and which is the non-authoritarian party?
Eli Pollak says:
I dont know who you are, but you’re obviously not very bright
So “justice, equality and tolerance” should lead to vote for a Mayor which is on Press TV payroll. Cool.
But I agree, Ken empathizes with part of the Jewish population. The tax dodgers, for example. With “justice, equality and tolerance”.
Keep on the good job, Jewdas. You guys are funnier than Pravda. Waiting for your piece on George Galloway as the new Moses (he also went out of Egypt couple of times). I am sure will be real fun.
Noam Ffing says:
Eli – next time you feel like you may have something to contribute why don’t you stop, count to ten, and try to stop talking out of your arse
Thisi s a ridulous article. No one has suggested for a moment that you should not vote for Livingstone because he is an antisemite nor that you should vote for any candidate who seems most “Jew friendly”.
What most of us are saying, including many longstanding Labour Party supporters,is that he has a long record of at best not taken the interests of our community seriously and at worst has been at the forefront of those who are hostile to our community. So, yes, if one is proud to be Jewish and proud to be a Zionist, it is as Jonny F says, pretty diffcult to vote for him.
I have no idea what Paddick’s views of the community are and that neutrality is how it should be. I don’t hear any other candidates stating that they are going to focus their time and taxpayers money on any one religious community like Livingstone has with the Islamic community. Do we want as mayor someone who plays off one community against another?
I have been able to vote for almost 30 years. Never have I been so concerned about one candidate winning an election. I would vote for a monkey against Livingstone and pray that we finally see the back of this divisive individual.
Serge Katz says:
Jonathan, you’re demonstrating exactly what I’m arguing against – that we should vote with loyalty to the candidate who takes the interests of the “community” most seriously, rather than considering the far bigger issue of who’s best for sorting the major social problems in London.
You claim that Ken would focus time and money on the Islamic community – something I’ve not seen proven anywhere in what he’s said. But even if that’s true, his past record is one where he advocates for the most disenfranchised, excluded and discriminated against, and I support that. It’s Muslim groups in London who are far more economically and socially in need than Jewish groups, so I’m not surprised Ken’s public advocacy veers more towards them, as poorer and more-discriminated sections of London society. It may be an uncomfortable truth that some of those groups’ political values clash with Zionism or mainstream Labour values, but do they reflect Ken’s views? No.
More to the point, do most Jews in London need Ken’s abiding love? No, we’re mostly doing comparably fine on all measures of quality of life. So let’s take a mature view and think about the bigger issues.
Whether Livingstone has truly made the transit from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism is unclear, the fact that he seems willing to dismiss and diminish Jewish concerns is hard to ignore.
By D.D. Guttenplan, Haaretz
As an American I cannot vote in British elections, but I joined the Labour Party here in 1999 so I could support Ken Livingstone. When Labour expelled him in 2000 I rang doorbells and handed out leaflets for his campaign; in 2004 I did the same, and in 2008 I even made a donation. Today, while the rest of London goes to the polls, I’m staying home, checkbook firmly shut, and I’m not happy about it.
Because Ken Livingstone was a truly great mayor. It wasn’t just getting through the congestion charge (a toll for cars to enter central London)—something Mike Bloomberg and all his billions couldn’t manage in Manhattan. Or the successful introduction of the Oyster travelcards. Or his opposition to Gordon Brown’s idiotic (and ruinously expensive) devotion to Public – Private Partnerships to finance capital projects. Or the brilliant re-design of Trafalgar Square from death spiral traffic island to one of the world’s great public stages. Or even the truly statesmanlike way he kept the city together in the wake of the July 7, 2005 bomb attacks.
Livingstone understood, more than any other British politician, the way cities worked, what they needed to grow and prosper, and why people came to live in them—sometimes at great cost and across enormous distances. Livingstone often reminded me of New York’s Ed Koch, whose arrogance he also shared, though of course their politics were very different, with Koch’s fanatical Zionism and increasing neo-conservatism much less congenial to me than Livingstone’s frankly pro-Palestinian leftism.
Even now Ken’s proposals to cut bus and tube fares, buy energy in bulk (and pass the savings on to Londoners) and build affordable housing are all far superior to Boris Johnson’s platform of trickle-down economics in which a supposedly resurgent financial sector serves as the engine of prosperity for the whole country.
Livingstone is a genius at leveraging the minimal powers granted the office—chiefly over public transport, urban planning, and police numbers. He pushed through the congestion charge, he once told me, because it was his only chance for revenue that didn’t depend on Whitehall’s largess.
But his Conservative successor Boris Johnson, for all his buffoonish antics, has not been a terrible mayor either. His self-appointed role as tribune of the plutocrats can be galling, and Londoners who depend on public transport have had to pay more than they might under Livingstone, but Johnson has also proved willing to defy his party on immigration and housing policies that would force the poor to leave London.
Elections are about more than policy choices, though—particularly mayoral elections. When Livingstone compared a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard I wasn’t that bothered. He’d been provoked, and although his refusal to apologize seemed boorish, and his sudden discovery that the reporter’s employer, the Evening Standard, was “a load of scumbags” was laughable, given that he’d been perfectly happy to serve as the paper’s restaurant reviewer in the 1980s.
Some British Jews have been after Livingstone for years—including the Jewish Chronicle. But what made the latest row so painful is that this time Livingstone’s bile was aimed at Jews who were trying hard to support him. In March a group of longtime Labour backers requested a private meeting to clear the air on a number of issues—and to seek reassurance. They came away feeling disregarded and distressed—and said so in a confidential letter to Labour leader Ed Miiband.
The meeting itself may have been a set-up; certainly someone leakedthe letter to the Jewish Chronicle, which gleefully reported Livingstone’s remark that Jews wouldn’t vote for him because they are “rich.” But Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, who was at the meeting, and who took a lot of heat for endorsing Livingstone in 2008, says the report was accurate. When it comes to Jews, Freedlandwrote, Livingstone “simply doesn’t care.”
Whether Livingstone has truly made the transit from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism, or has simply calculated that any perceived deference to Jewish opinion would count against him among London’s far more numerous Muslim voters, I can’t say. But neither can I ignore my own sense that he seems seem willing to dismiss and diminish Jewish concerns in a way that doesn’t seem true for other minority groups. Anshel Pfeffer’s tragicomic portrayal of Livingstone and Labour Jews talking past each other was completely convincing; his conclusion that Livingstone’s abrasiveness actually makes him “the most Israeli” of British politicians may also be right.
But Britain isn’t Israel, and London isn’t New York. Public life here is more decorous, and Jews less assertive. British Jews of all political persuasions have a long, dishonorable history of swallowing slights and excusing unsavory alliances.
Last week Livingstone again maintained his comments had been misrepresented—a non-apology sufficient for five of the letter’s six signatories to endorse his candidacy.
I wish I could agree with them. But the argument that a progressive stand on social issues excuses callousness toward Jewish pain is no better than the claim, frequently heard among American and British conservatives, that support for Israel trumps any concern for social justice at home.
Jews in Britain have turned the other cheek far too long. If Livingstone’s defeat is the price to be paid for self-respect, so be it.
D.D. Guttenplan is London correspondent for The Nation. His latest book, American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone, has just been published in paperback by Northwestern University Press.