Labour an “Apartheid party”? Really?

Picture of Ken Livingstone wearing a dark grey jacket, a yellow tie with a logo partly visible, and a blue scarf round his neck under his jacket. He is walking through a corridor with wooden doors with glass windows behind him.There’s an article in today’s Mail on Sunday by Dan Hodges, a Blairite columnist and former GMB union and Labour party staffer (and son of Glenda Jackson), proclaiming that anyone who remains a member of the Labour party after it failed to expel Ken Livingstone for his remarks about Hitler last year is a racist. He proclaims that it is now an “Apartheid party”, accepting everyone except Jews who are tolerated only as second-class citizens:

Imagine if a Labour member casually used the word ‘Paki’. Or accused ‘the blacks’ of being responsible for the slave trade. Or toured the airwaves claiming radical Muslims were Nazi collaborators. Retribution — rightly — would be swift and sure. But use those same slurs against Jews — ‘Zios’ is the favoured phrase — and you will be punished only with the Labour shrug.

He also accuses the anti-Corbynites who remain within the party of being responsible for “destroying [their] party”, including an anti-Corbyn MP who he doesn’t name but calls a “good, dedicated MP” who has “steadfastly refused to take the Shadow Cabinet shilling”, by talking of staying and fighting but in fact quietly acquiescing and not rocking the boat. It’s all quite ridiculous.

Hodges drops Apartheid and “institutional racism” into this article, plainly intending to use the language of minorities, of oppression of a visible ‘other’, to defend a section of the white majority from criticism or from being offended — something that members of real minorities are increasingly expected to tolerate. Apartheid was a legal régime which forced people of different races to live apart (hence the term), banned them from marrying each other and which denied everyone but the White minority the right to vote. Institutional racism was a term coined by the MacPherson report into the failure of the police to prosecute the murderers of Stephen Lawrence, a young man stabbed to death by five racist white youths in south-east London in 1993. It’s worth pointing out that the Daily Mail itself has on many occasions run stories in which the MacPherson report is attacked for lowering police morale and burdening them with bureaucracy in pursuit of equality. The Labour party does not have a special status for Jewish members; it does not require them to work apart from non-Jews or sit apart from them at conferences; if a Jew was stabbed to death at a Labour conference, I do not doubt that they would detain the stabber and hand him over to the police immediately. Police racism was associated with policies such as stop and search which disproportionately targeted Black youth; it was also not a Jewish member who was barred from attending the most recent conference on security grounds, but a Muslim one.

I do not doubt that Hodges knew that Apartheid is a common comparison for the practices of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians whose land it occupies: the illegal settlements, the water theft, the harassment of Palestinians travelling within their own country, the separate roads, the imprisonments of children for trivial aggressions against soldiers, the collective punishments such as house demolitions, the shooting of Palestinian civilians without good reason, or any reason. As I have explained here before, the comparison is not exact, but it is not far-fetched, and the Israelis’, and their friends’, justification for the status quo gets thinner and thinner as the Occupation gets older and the circumstances which led to it slip further back into history. Needless to say, the plight of Jewish members of the Labour party does not bear much resemblance to that of the Palestinians either.

A screenshot of a FB status shared by Naz Shah, showing the state of Israel superimposed in the middle of the much larger USA.Much of what is commonly likened to “anti-Semitism” is criticism or condemnation of the Israeli state and its behaviour towards the Palestinians. The entire Livingstone affair stems from an incident in which a Muslim female MP, Naz Shah, was discovered to have retweeted a meme on Twitter before she became an MP, suggesting that there was plenty of room in the USA, a country whose government has consistently supported Israel with massive financial and military aid, however atrocious its treatment of the native Palestinians, for the Jewish population of Israel. Douglas Murray, in an article for the Spectator, used the word “deportation” in this context, which was used as a euphemism for the transportation of the Jews of Europe to the Nazi concentration and death camps. However, millions of Germans were deported from countries such as Czechoslovakia and the former German territories in East Prussia after the War so that the Poles could be compensated for the seizure of their eastern territories by the USSR and so they could not be a pretext for further German aggression. Of course, the foundation of the state of Israel also required the displacement of much of the native Arab population, as has the construction of Israeli settlements and the expansion of Jersualem. The world, and the white liberal establishment accepts this, emitting the odd grumble and the occasional acknowledgement of the illegality of the settlements, yet it bridles the mere suggestion that the perpetrators be subject to the same treatment, so that their victims can live in peace in their home country.

Livingstone’s comments about Hitler supporting Zionism (he tolerated it merely as a way of accelerating the removal of Jews from Germany, not of facilitating Jewish national aspirations) are historically inaccurate, but for people who see Zionism as nothing more than a racist ideology that facilitates the displacement and oppression of Palestinians (or whoever got in their way — the British offered them territory in Uganda, though they refused it), it makes some degree of sense; the term Nazi has been thrown around at totalitarians and tyrants of all sorts since the War as well as organised racists in the West, after all. In my experience, anti-Zionist and anti-Settlement campaigners go to great lengths that it is the Israeli state or its policies they oppose, not Jews in general; those who equate Jewishness with Zionism tend to be either Zionists or anti-Semites.

It’s also a nonsense to suggest that Jews are expected to be particularly tolerant of prejudice towards them; as David Baddiel whinged in a letter published in the Guardian last Thursday (in response to Steve Bell’s cartoon on the Labour tribunal), “No black, Asian or LGBT sensibility offended by a public figure could possibly be subject to such complacent — for want of a better word — ‘splaining by a member of the majority culture”. Quite apart from the fact that members of other minorities and less advantaged groups do frequently encounter ‘splaining (the term originated as mansplaining, but terms like whitesplaining, ablesplaining, etc. have appeared as well), the political mainstream, including the Labour Party, also offend or threaten minority populations with what seem to them like reasonable political debates. The debate on immigration, for example, translates for members of visible minorities as a licence to split families and to harass or threaten anyone who “looks like an immigrant”, i.e. a non-white person. It’s certainly not racist, much less “Apartheid”, to refuse to tolerate the open support for oppression wherever it takes place.

After the decision was made to suspend Ken Livingstone from the party for another year but not expel him, I saw a lot of tweets from MPs proclaiming their disgust at the decision, and wondered who would be the first to announce they would be resigning the whip; not one has, so far. The reason, I suspect, has a lot to do with the fact that setting up a new party may be easy, but establishing a big political party is not easy and not cheap, and the experience of the Social Democratic Party (also in response to a far-left takeover of the party) would deter any Labour MP from defecting, especially given the reduced stature of the Liberal Democrats. It might well suit the Daily Mail’s agenda for the Labour vote to be split, but that would not be high on any Labour MP’s list of priorities, which means that for now, they will sit tight until Corbyn’s moment has passed.

Image: Wikipedia, sourced from RWendland, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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