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Livingstone and the Left’s Jewish Problem

London’s former mayor Ken Livingstone has treated the BBC to some more of his infamous thinking on Jews. During an interview he explained that while Jews in Britain had once voted for Labor, as they have become richer they have switched to voting Conservative. On their own these comments might not be thought particularly alarming—although the assertions presented here are questionable—yet they come as part of a whole series of hostile remarks that Livingstone has made about Jews over the years. Such sentiments may be those of a crackpot, but they come from a crackpot who up until just a few years ago was the elected mayor of one of the world’s most significant metropolises. More importantly, however, they represent the tip of the iceberg of more widely held views about Jews that proliferate on the far left, a constituency that Livingstone still represents.

This is not the first time that Livingstone has made known his views about the voting habits of Britain’s allegedly wealthy Jews. During the 2012 mayoral election Livingstone reportedly told supporters that he didn’t expect Jews to vote for him because, by his account, they are rich. If some parts of Britain’s Jewish community have become more affluent, it is certainly far from being a universal reality. And unlike in America where it might be true to suggest that the Jewish community has typically leaned more heavily toward the Democrats, in Britain it would appear that the community is far more evenly split between left and right. Although with comments like these, Livingstone ensured that the Jewish vote swung in favor of his Conservative rival Boris Johnson in that election at least. Still, even then a number of figures in the community came out and reiterated their unfathomable endorsement of Livingstone.

Over the years Ken Livingstone has provided an unending and rambling feed of comments all deemed offensive to Jews in one way or another. His memoir, ironically titled You Can’t Say That, takes an inexplicable detour from recounting Livingstone’s own career path and somehow finds cause to speak about Jews, Zionism, and Israel on numerous occasions. It goes without saying that Livingstone’s views on Zionism are far from favorable, and in the past he has condemned Jewish support for Israel. Despite all of this, it would be easy, but mistaken, to become hung up on Livingstone’s dubious record. His voice simply speaks for a wider sentiment that permeates much of the left.

Livingstone’s claim that Jews won’t vote Labor because they are rich, much like his previous allegations of Jewish betrayal on account of their support for Israel under Begin, is part of a wider left-wing angst that bemoans the Jews being on the wrong side of the barricades. Which side of the political spectrum Jews actually choose to identify with is irrelevant; the left has increasingly come to imagine the Jews as their adversaries. That said, perhaps this sentiment has always been there–even in the 1840s left Hegelians like Bruno Bauer were chastising the Jews for requesting emancipation while not sufficiently helping to emancipate mankind from a system that they themselves were in part guilty of constructing.    

As Britain’s Education Secretary Michael Gove once observed, when the Jews were weak, impoverished, and persecuted the left saw them as natural allies. Yet if Jews have had the audacity to become successful and assertive then the left now views them as having broken ranks. But perhaps the more important division today is not one of class or affluence, but rather one of race and geopolitics. If, as many have suggested, the left’s disappointment with the docile workers of the West has instead led it to seek a global proletariat in the peoples of the Third World, then this is certainly a dividing line that the Jews fall on the wrong side of. The struggle against Zionist colonialism, which is closely followed by the equally ridiculous notion that there is such a thing as American imperialism, serves as the very revolutionary battleground that the left seeks so as to justify its own worldview.

The stream of comments about Jews that come forth from Livingstone are surely the utterances of someone who just can’t help himself. For people like Livingstone, try as they might, there’s just no hiding their worldview. Just as many of those who talked about the wealth and power of the so-called 1 percent eventually couldn’t avoid referencing Jews, so the far left in general cannot get away from what it really believes about Jews and Zionism.   



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