Chief Rabbi: Labour has 'failed the Jewish community' with Ken Livingstone ruling
The Chief Rabbi has led the backlash against Labour’s decision not to expel Ken Livingstone – despite finding him guilty of three counts of bringing the party into disrepute over comments about Adolf Hitler.
Labour’s National Constitution Committee ruled yesterday that the former mayor of London should be suspended for another year from representing the party or standing for any internal positions - though he will be allowed to remain a member.
The row began last April when Mr Livingstone told the BBC that Hitler had been “supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”, while defending Labour MP Naz Shah for a post on social media – for which she has since apologised – suggesting moving Israel to the United States.
He has since given numerous interviews defending his stance and offering his take on 1930s Nazi history.
Despite being found guilty of all the charges against him, the NCC decided to hand him a two-year suspension on holding office which, since he was already suspended after the remarks were made, will expire next April.
In response to last night's NCC decision, Mr Livingstone said: "I do think it's important that the Labour party should not expel or suspend people for telling the truth."
But decision has infuriated a number of Labour backbenchers, a member of the Shadow Cabinet and senior figures in the Jewish community, including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
He said Labour had “yet again failed to show that it is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism”.
Rabbi Mirvis said in a statement: “This was a chance for the Labour Party to show that it would not tolerate wilful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community, by shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offence.
“Worryingly, the party has yet again failed to show that it is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism.
“The Labour party has failed the Jewish community, it has failed its members and it has failed all those who believe in zero tolerance of anti-Semitism.”
Jeremy Newmark, the chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, described the decision as a “betrayal of the values of our party and what it stands for”.
“It seems the party is operating some kind of revolving door policy where one can make deeply hurtful and offensive comments, denies the history of the Holocaust, and dip in and out of party membership,” he added.
The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said the ruling “represents the death throes of the Labour party’s long relationship with the Jewish community”.
A string of Labour MPs also tore into the decision, including Ilford North MP Wes Streeting who told Mr Livingstone on Newsnight that his refusal to apologise was “losing us votes hand over fist and is morally wrong”.
Barry Gardiner, who sits in the Shadow Cabinet as the party’s international trade spokesman, was one of many MPs who took to Twitter to make plain their unhappiness.
One Labour MP told PoliticsHome Mr Livingstone’s support for Jeremy Corbyn had been behind the decision not to kick him out of the party.
The backbencher added: “Corbyn's cronyism is worse than the Tories. Turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism because it's an old chum is a new low.”
But Shami Chakrabarti, the Shadow Attorney General who led a highly-contentious review into anti-Semitism in Labour last year, argued the party had proven its “ability to look at itself fairly and carefully in the mirror”.
She said: "Labour is the party of both equality and natural justice. This is demonstrated by its record of legislation in government and its ability to look at itself fairly and carefully in the mirror in more difficult times, however painful this might be.
"I hope people might now revisit my report and remind themselves of better ways to argue about difficult issues without compromising our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect."
But one Labour MP told PoliticsHome: "Corbyn is adding insult to injury by putting Shami up to defend Livingstone. She has zero credibility and no self respect."