The row over Ken Livingstone and Labour antisemitism has exposed people who think they’re anti-racist – but make a curious exception for Jews
Friday 29 April 2016
Let’s imagine for just a moment that a small but vocal section of the left was consumed with hatred for one faraway country: barely an hour could pass without them condemning it, not just for this or for that policy, but for its very existence, for the manner of its birth, for what it represented. And now let’s imagine that this country was the only place in the world where the majority of the population, and most of the government, were black.
You’d expect the racist right to hate such a country. But imagine it was that noisy segment of the left that insisted it would be better if this one black country had never been created, that it was the source of most of the conflict in its region, if not the world. That its creation was a great historical crime and the only solution was to dismantle it and the people who lived there should either go back to where they – or rather, their grandparents or great-grandparents – had come from; or stay where they were and, either way, return to living as a minority once more. Sure, living as a minority had over the centuries exposed them to periodic persecution and slaughter. But living as a majority, in charge of their own destiny – well, black people didn’t deserve that right.
And now imagine that the people who said all these things insisted they had nothing against black people. On the contrary, they were passionately against all forms of racism. In fact it was their very anti-racism that made them hate this one black country. Their objection was only to this country, its conduct and its existence, not to black people themselves. You surely were only inventing this horrible accusation of racism to divert attention from the wicked black country and its multiple crimes.
Most on the left would give such a view short shrift. They would be suspicious of this insistence that loathing of the world’s only black country was separate from attitudes to black people in general, especially because most black people had a strong affinity with this country, seeing it as a constitutive part of their own identity. The left would not be swayed by the fact these critics could point to a handful of black activists who shared their loathing of this country and wished it gone. They would want to listen to the mainstream black community and be guided by them.
I could keep going, but you get the idea. Jews have watched the events of recent days with a weariness that might surprise many, given how shocking they must seem: the sight of Ken Livingstone suspended by the Labour party over antisemitism, along with the Bradford West MP, Naz Shah. Weary because they have known of these attitudes, indeed warned that they had found a warm space to incubate on the left, for many, many years.