Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ken Livingstone

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.

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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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Ken Livingstone’s Defeat and the Jews

Politically, Boris Johnson’s victory over his challenger and former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, in last week’s London mayoral election means two things. First, it is a repudiation of Livingstone, to the point that his mercilessly long career has (if we can rely on his announcement) met its long overdue expiration. To add insult to this injury, embarrassingly, he will now not preside as mayor over the city’s Olympic Games this summer that he championed during his two terms in office. Second, it is an important endorsement of Boris Johnson, who secured a critical victory in the capital despite a tide of Tory defeats nationwide. The talk of Boris eventually leading the Conservative Party itself will now only get louder.

But Boris’ victory was closer than predicted. This was likely because Red Ken was better at getting his supporters to the voting booths. But does the closeness of the call make it possible that London’s Jewish community played a pivotal part in the election, and in Ken’s defeat? Read More

Politically, Boris Johnson’s victory over his challenger and former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, in last week’s London mayoral election means two things. First, it is a repudiation of Livingstone, to the point that his mercilessly long career has (if we can rely on his announcement) met its long overdue expiration. To add insult to this injury, embarrassingly, he will now not preside as mayor over the city’s Olympic Games this summer that he championed during his two terms in office. Second, it is an important endorsement of Boris Johnson, who secured a critical victory in the capital despite a tide of Tory defeats nationwide. The talk of Boris eventually leading the Conservative Party itself will now only get louder.

But Boris’ victory was closer than predicted. This was likely because Red Ken was better at getting his supporters to the voting booths. But does the closeness of the call make it possible that London’s Jewish community played a pivotal part in the election, and in Ken’s defeat?

The present paucity of polling data precludes analysis. This has not stopped the speculation, however, and some outlets have showered the Jewish community with blame or praise for the result: the leftist, Livingstone-supporting Guardian put his defeat down to the ‘‘Jewish political establishment,’’ a regrettable choice of phrasing which the newspaper surreptitiously scrubbed. And conservative pundits – as well as journalists in the Jewish community – are apparently happy to give credit to Jewish voters.

Such speculation only goes so far, though, and there are two other noteworthy and more interesting observations to be made.

First, Livingstone’s anti-Semitic comments before the election (for a recap, see here and here) – not to mention throughout his sorry career – courted not only controversy, but by design, the Muslim community. Of course, whether that community (a far larger demographic than London’s Jews) ultimately came to Ken’s support at the ballot box or not, and whether the Jewish community which Boris wooed came to his, is unclear, but the very obviously divergent electoral strategies are a lamentable reflection of London politics, ethnic relations, and the reality and expression of antipathy toward Jews and Israel in areas (and elections) where they should have no place. Moreover, these dynamics are not limited to London (as evidenced by George Galloway’s recent by-election victory), or merely to the UK.

Second, it was interesting to follow the Jewish reaction to events during the campaign. On the one hand — and encouragingly – some Jews apparently did, if not shift support from Labour, at least stay home. For example, take D.D. Guttenplan, the Nation’s London correspondent and a longtime Livingstone supporter, who withheld his support this time around, proclaiming that the Labour candidate’s defeat was the price of Jewish self-respect.

On the other hand, it also turns out that many Jews simply do not care enough about Ken’s attitude toward Israel and his comfort with anti-Semitic tropes to oppose him — and several of the high-profile community leaders involved in the original controversy still decided to support him. In part, this is down to a pathology of Anglo-Jewry, which, in its effort to be more British than the British, forgets it has other concerns as well. But it is also in part a worrying worldview particular to the Jewish Left, and unfortunately extends beyond the Anglo-Jewish community. If Ken Livingstone does not alienate such Jews, one wonders what it would take.

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Ken Livingstone Does It Again, Again

Last month, London’s Labour Party mayoral-candidate Ken Livingstone, speaking before (irony alert) an audience of Labour-supporting Jews, proclaimed that Jews won’t vote for him because they’re rich. The Anglo-Jewish community leadership was finally able to relay its disgust in an anticipated meeting with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband last night.

Previously, Miliband had defended Ken, maintaining that there was not a prejudiced bone in the former mayor’s body – which may be true, given the tongue, brain, and heart aren’t technically ‘‘bones.’’ In any case, Miliband, recognizing his party’s reclamation of the London mayoralty to be a critical boon to his leadership, pushed the usually recalcitrant ‘‘Red Ken’’ to apologize. The candidate agreed, though it seems not so readily: Haaretz reports the precise wording of the apology was the ‘‘subject of lengthy negotiations.’’ Read More

Last month, London’s Labour Party mayoral-candidate Ken Livingstone, speaking before (irony alert) an audience of Labour-supporting Jews, proclaimed that Jews won’t vote for him because they’re rich. The Anglo-Jewish community leadership was finally able to relay its disgust in an anticipated meeting with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband last night.

Previously, Miliband had defended Ken, maintaining that there was not a prejudiced bone in the former mayor’s body – which may be true, given the tongue, brain, and heart aren’t technically ‘‘bones.’’ In any case, Miliband, recognizing his party’s reclamation of the London mayoralty to be a critical boon to his leadership, pushed the usually recalcitrant ‘‘Red Ken’’ to apologize. The candidate agreed, though it seems not so readily: Haaretz reports the precise wording of the apology was the ‘‘subject of lengthy negotiations.’’

Well, that wording was published today in the Jewish Chronicle, and, despite having backed up his claim that Jews are rich and won’t vote for him by insisting that ‘‘Every psychological study I’ve seen in the 40 years I’ve been following politics shows the main factor that determines how people how vote is their income level…And it’s not anti-Semitic to say that,’’ he now acknowledges that ‘‘Jewish voters are not one homogeneous bloc. A 2010 report for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research shows the range of Jewish voting preference. In North London Labour was the preferred party, for example.’’

So what does all this mean? It means that a meeting called to dispel Jewish reservations about voting for Ken Livingstone because of his history of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions ended in controversy about a new anti-Semitic position – a position now retracted. And so London’s Jews find themselves where they were a month ago: looking to Livingstone to dispel reservations about voting for him in May’s election. Now, though, there may not be enough time for another meeting – but maybe that’s good for Livingstone.

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Ken Livingstone Does It Again

Ken Livingstone, the intolerable former mayor of London – and presently the Labour Party mayoral candidate – has done it again. ‘‘It,’’ meaning an anti-Semitic outburst, and ‘‘again’’ referring to his long history of inflammatory and offensive statements and behavior. To wit: referring to a Jewish journalist as a concentration camp guard; embracing extremist Islamist cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who promotes the destruction of the Jewish people; telling the Indian-Jewish Reuben brothers to ‘‘go back to Iran;’’ obsessively venting hate for Israel and Zionism, as manifest, for instance, in his autobiography; and so on.

His current contribution to this contemptible catalogue stems from a meeting on March 1, where he stood by his embrace of Qaradawi, as well as his employ at Press TV, a notorious Anglophone network funded by the Iranian government and anchored by, among others, George Galloway. That’s just context though; the problem was, according to Jewish observers, as follows: Read More

Ken Livingstone, the intolerable former mayor of London – and presently the Labour Party mayoral candidate – has done it again. ‘‘It,’’ meaning an anti-Semitic outburst, and ‘‘again’’ referring to his long history of inflammatory and offensive statements and behavior. To wit: referring to a Jewish journalist as a concentration camp guard; embracing extremist Islamist cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who promotes the destruction of the Jewish people; telling the Indian-Jewish Reuben brothers to ‘‘go back to Iran;’’ obsessively venting hate for Israel and Zionism, as manifest, for instance, in his autobiography; and so on.

His current contribution to this contemptible catalogue stems from a meeting on March 1, where he stood by his embrace of Qaradawi, as well as his employ at Press TV, a notorious Anglophone network funded by the Iranian government and anchored by, among others, George Galloway. That’s just context though; the problem was, according to Jewish observers, as follows:

Ken toward the end of the meeting stated that he did not expect the Jewish community to vote Labour as votes for the left are inversely proportional to wealth levels, and suggested that as the Jewish community is rich we simply wouldn’t vote for him.

Not only is the undertone of this statement anti-Semitic, but it is factually false, on two counts: first, one cannot help recalling Milton Himmelfarb’s observation that, contra Livingstone, Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans — which, to the chagrin of British conservatives, is also applicable to the Jewish community in the UK; and second, plenty of British Jews do earn like ‘‘Puerto Ricans’’ (perhaps substitute a different ethnicity here, though!) and vote accordingly. Indeed, the Jews at the meeting were Labour supporters! The indubitable falsity of the statement accentuates the anti-Semitic sentiment.

The Jews present have penned a letter to Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, and the Jewish community’s leadership is due to meet with the Opposition leader later this month. No doubt this issue will be high on the agenda, and with the recent forced retirement of Baroness Jenny Tonge as [junior governing coalition partner] Liberal Democrat whip in the Lords for the most recent of her recurrent anti-Jewish eruptions, Miliband might be under greater pressure. Nevertheless, with the mayoral election less than two months away, expectations shouldn’t be high.

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Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

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So, What’s the British Outcome Mean?

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

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The League of Totalitarians

As a coda to my earlier post on the flocking together of the far left and the far right under the banner of the Palestinian Telegraph, you should read Nick Cohen’s superb piece in Standpoint magazine, which explores in painful detail the unwillingness of the BBC to tell the truth about recently deceased actor Corin Redgrave. The BBC memorialized him as a fighter against “all forms of injustice and oppression.”

Redgrave was actually a devotee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist cult led by Gerry Healy, who reveled in what 26 of his female followers described as “cruel and systematic debauchery.”  Naturally, Healy, as a born totalitarian, took money from Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, spied on Iraqi dissidents, and adopted the anti-Semitism of the far right as his own.  Redgrave — like another devotee, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — stuck by Healy through it all.

The dangers and stupidities of this far-left/far-right alliance, centered on anti-Semitism and admiration for foreign tyrannies of all varieties, are what Oliver Kamm, among others, has been banging on about brilliantly for years. It is, of course, sinister enough on its own demerits. But it also has an amazing capacity to fool people, including quite a few who should know better.

For example, the day the Iraq war began, I was speaking at a private and very elite prep school in Connecticut. I was amazed to find the hallways festooned with signs from the ANSWER coalition. When I pointed out to my host that ANSWER was an outgrowth of the Workers World Party, the hardest of hard-line Communists who defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and today support North Korea, she was astonished. The word “peace” was all the proof she needed that it was on the side of human rights. The BBC’s memorial to Redgrave is the kind of journalism that makes that confidence trick work.

As a coda to my earlier post on the flocking together of the far left and the far right under the banner of the Palestinian Telegraph, you should read Nick Cohen’s superb piece in Standpoint magazine, which explores in painful detail the unwillingness of the BBC to tell the truth about recently deceased actor Corin Redgrave. The BBC memorialized him as a fighter against “all forms of injustice and oppression.”

Redgrave was actually a devotee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist cult led by Gerry Healy, who reveled in what 26 of his female followers described as “cruel and systematic debauchery.”  Naturally, Healy, as a born totalitarian, took money from Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, spied on Iraqi dissidents, and adopted the anti-Semitism of the far right as his own.  Redgrave — like another devotee, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — stuck by Healy through it all.

The dangers and stupidities of this far-left/far-right alliance, centered on anti-Semitism and admiration for foreign tyrannies of all varieties, are what Oliver Kamm, among others, has been banging on about brilliantly for years. It is, of course, sinister enough on its own demerits. But it also has an amazing capacity to fool people, including quite a few who should know better.

For example, the day the Iraq war began, I was speaking at a private and very elite prep school in Connecticut. I was amazed to find the hallways festooned with signs from the ANSWER coalition. When I pointed out to my host that ANSWER was an outgrowth of the Workers World Party, the hardest of hard-line Communists who defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and today support North Korea, she was astonished. The word “peace” was all the proof she needed that it was on the side of human rights. The BBC’s memorial to Redgrave is the kind of journalism that makes that confidence trick work.

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Is Europe Heading Right?

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

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Welcome to The 18th Century

Many Muslims in London are reeling over yesterday’s mayoral victory for conservative Boris Johnson. After the terrorist attacks of 7/7, Johnson wrote “When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s medieval ass?”

18th century? That kind of radical modernization is a bit too much for groups like muslims4ken, which threw its support behind incumbent Ken Livingstone. “How YOU can help save us from a Zionist Mayor,” was the catchphrase employed by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which also supported Livingstone. (One commenter on the MPAC’s website wrote “Not wanting Londoners to get blown to bits. That is reason enough for not wanting a Zionist Mayor.”)

Livingstone, elected as an independent in 2000 and reelected as a Labour candidate in 2004, embraced radical clerics such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and seemed to consider “Islamophobia” a greater threat to England than Islamism. Not two weeks after the 7/7 bombings, Livingstone told Sky News, “Given that the Palestinians don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons.”

One can see why Islamists are heartbroken about Livingstone’s departure. Johnson is no great shakes, himself. (He’s written in favor of Western technical support for Iranian nukes). But for Livingstone, all the world is a maligned Palestine and the Westerner’s first order of business is to apologize.

The most telling bit of election analysis comes from Asim Siddiqui at comment is free:

The last time I recall the “Muslim vote” being mobilised so counter-productively was in the US during the 2000 presidential elections when American Muslims were urged to vote for George W Bush (against Al Gore and Joe Lieberman). It was felt that an Al Gore victory, coupled with an assassin’s bullet, would leave a Jewish, and presumed pro-Israel candidate, as president. Instead, they got Bush and Cheney! How’s that for a counterproductive strategy?

In other words, if Muslims knew how sympathetic George Bush was going to be towards Israel, they would have been better off taking their chances on a Jewish vice president. It’s disturbing that Muslim radicals, in London and stateside, weigh every candidate’s utility in achieving the destruction of Israel and the enactment of a Palestinian right of return.

Many Muslims in London are reeling over yesterday’s mayoral victory for conservative Boris Johnson. After the terrorist attacks of 7/7, Johnson wrote “When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s medieval ass?”

18th century? That kind of radical modernization is a bit too much for groups like muslims4ken, which threw its support behind incumbent Ken Livingstone. “How YOU can help save us from a Zionist Mayor,” was the catchphrase employed by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which also supported Livingstone. (One commenter on the MPAC’s website wrote “Not wanting Londoners to get blown to bits. That is reason enough for not wanting a Zionist Mayor.”)

Livingstone, elected as an independent in 2000 and reelected as a Labour candidate in 2004, embraced radical clerics such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and seemed to consider “Islamophobia” a greater threat to England than Islamism. Not two weeks after the 7/7 bombings, Livingstone told Sky News, “Given that the Palestinians don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons.”

One can see why Islamists are heartbroken about Livingstone’s departure. Johnson is no great shakes, himself. (He’s written in favor of Western technical support for Iranian nukes). But for Livingstone, all the world is a maligned Palestine and the Westerner’s first order of business is to apologize.

The most telling bit of election analysis comes from Asim Siddiqui at comment is free:

The last time I recall the “Muslim vote” being mobilised so counter-productively was in the US during the 2000 presidential elections when American Muslims were urged to vote for George W Bush (against Al Gore and Joe Lieberman). It was felt that an Al Gore victory, coupled with an assassin’s bullet, would leave a Jewish, and presumed pro-Israel candidate, as president. Instead, they got Bush and Cheney! How’s that for a counterproductive strategy?

In other words, if Muslims knew how sympathetic George Bush was going to be towards Israel, they would have been better off taking their chances on a Jewish vice president. It’s disturbing that Muslim radicals, in London and stateside, weigh every candidate’s utility in achieving the destruction of Israel and the enactment of a Palestinian right of return.

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The Red Ken and Georgeous George Show

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

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Livingstone, Confused

In 2004, London Mayor Ken Livingstone—who has long held a soft spot in his heart for terrorists of the Muslim and (perhaps of weightier concern to his constituents) Irish variety—welcomed the fanatical Egyptian cleric (and al-Jazeera commentator) Yusuf al-Qaradawi to his city for a conference (see this great anti-Livingstone advertisement). Peter Tatchell, the heroic gay rights campaigner and anti-Islamist advocate, as well as Livingstone’s most vocal and persistent critic on this issue, offered this brief and all-encompassing summary of the Islamist “scholar”:

Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals, destruction of the Jewish people, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, and the punishment of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Yesterday, at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, in an exercise that truly strains belief, Livingstone published a piece supporting the British Labour government’s attempts to pass a law banning incitement to homophobic hatred.

Livingstone writes:

Consistency in the protection the law provides is essential for two reasons: to provide justice to the individuals concerned, and as a line drawn by society against prejudice. This is the approach I have taken towards the government’s impending Single Equality Act and it is the approach that politicians and government must adopt in providing equal protection against incitement to hatred.

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In 2004, London Mayor Ken Livingstone—who has long held a soft spot in his heart for terrorists of the Muslim and (perhaps of weightier concern to his constituents) Irish variety—welcomed the fanatical Egyptian cleric (and al-Jazeera commentator) Yusuf al-Qaradawi to his city for a conference (see this great anti-Livingstone advertisement). Peter Tatchell, the heroic gay rights campaigner and anti-Islamist advocate, as well as Livingstone’s most vocal and persistent critic on this issue, offered this brief and all-encompassing summary of the Islamist “scholar”:

Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals, destruction of the Jewish people, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, and the punishment of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Yesterday, at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, in an exercise that truly strains belief, Livingstone published a piece supporting the British Labour government’s attempts to pass a law banning incitement to homophobic hatred.

Livingstone writes:

Consistency in the protection the law provides is essential for two reasons: to provide justice to the individuals concerned, and as a line drawn by society against prejudice. This is the approach I have taken towards the government’s impending Single Equality Act and it is the approach that politicians and government must adopt in providing equal protection against incitement to hatred.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “an intelligent person is one who can hold two contradictory ideas in mind simultaneously.” There’s a degree of truth in that assertion. But this is just ridiculous.

To be sure, hate-crimes laws are in and of themselves a specious proposition: aren’t all violent crimes, in the end, motivated by hatred? Proponents have not sufficiently explained why crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s racism or homophobia—as opposed to his hatred, say, for an ex-lover—should be treated more harshly, and such laws therefore run the risk of valuing certain victims more than others. The proposed law in Britain goes even further by rendering whole categories of speech illegal. Actual hate crimes already are prosecuted more vigorously than other violent crimes.

But the debate about the merits of the suggested law is an academic one and secondary to addressing the unmitigated gall behind Livingstone’s assuming the mantle of gay-rights champion. It’s frankly shocking that an ostensible progressive like Livingstone, who has hosted a prominent religious fascist advocating the execution of gays, would not see the inconsistency in his arguing on behalf of a law to ban incitement to violence against gays.

Normally, the reader comments section at the Guardian is rife with Stalinist apologetics and conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This time, however, the commentators outdo themselves in expressing amazement at how Livingstone could pen such an outrageously oblivious article without any mention of his own affiliations with inciters to homophobic crime. Were this bill law at the time Livingstone welcomed Qaradawi to London, the mayor quite possibly could have been prosecuted under its statues for aiding and abetting incitement to murder. Given his remarkable obtuseness, one cannot help but conclude that the irony of this situation is lost on Livingstone.

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News from the Continent: False Prophets

The new anti-Semitism described by Alvin H. Rosenfeld in a controversial essay published by the American Jewish Committee is not a myth, as his critics would have us believe. It is, sadly, all too real a phenomenon. If one criticism can be levelled at Rosenfeld’s essay on the succor that anti-Semitism receives from the anti-Israel rhetoric of liberal Jewish intellectuals, it is that his pool of examples, with the single exception of the British academic Jacqueline Rose, is drawn exclusively from the U.S. In fact, the emergence of Jewish voices demonizing Israel (and making condemnation of Israel, in some cases, their only expression of Jewish identity) is not unique to America.

This phenomenon is well known in Europe. If Rosenfeld ever publishes a second version of his essay, he will not have any difficulty bringing in literally dozens of additional examples. The continental landscape is littered with Jewish intellectuals engaged in exactly the kind of rhetoric he criticizes.

One of their newest outlets is Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an organization now bidding to be the voice of Anglo-Jewry, as evidenced by its role in a debate hosted last week by the ultraliberal Guardian blog, Comment Is Free. Having taken part in this debate, I will not repeat what I said there. But a few more considerations are in order, as they apply to the debate triggered in America by Rosenfeld’s essay.

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The new anti-Semitism described by Alvin H. Rosenfeld in a controversial essay published by the American Jewish Committee is not a myth, as his critics would have us believe. It is, sadly, all too real a phenomenon. If one criticism can be levelled at Rosenfeld’s essay on the succor that anti-Semitism receives from the anti-Israel rhetoric of liberal Jewish intellectuals, it is that his pool of examples, with the single exception of the British academic Jacqueline Rose, is drawn exclusively from the U.S. In fact, the emergence of Jewish voices demonizing Israel (and making condemnation of Israel, in some cases, their only expression of Jewish identity) is not unique to America.

This phenomenon is well known in Europe. If Rosenfeld ever publishes a second version of his essay, he will not have any difficulty bringing in literally dozens of additional examples. The continental landscape is littered with Jewish intellectuals engaged in exactly the kind of rhetoric he criticizes.

One of their newest outlets is Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an organization now bidding to be the voice of Anglo-Jewry, as evidenced by its role in a debate hosted last week by the ultraliberal Guardian blog, Comment Is Free. Having taken part in this debate, I will not repeat what I said there. But a few more considerations are in order, as they apply to the debate triggered in America by Rosenfeld’s essay.


First, the oft-repeated claim (framed in identical terms by both IJV and New York University professor and leading anti-Zionist Tony Judt) that the views of anti-Zionists are being censored is risible. Jaqueline Rose’s The Question of Zion was published by Princeton University Press, not by the Jewish underground in Warsaw circa 1943. Judt’s tirades against Israel feature in the New York Review of Books (and Haaretz, no less). The price that Jimmy Carter has paid for his book is, aside from exactly the robust debate he wished to trigger, a hefty financial gain from over a half million copies sold. Not exactly, in other words, the fate of beleaguered dissenters.

As for IJV, the percentage of professors in its membership suggests that establishment figures with access to mainstream publishing options predominate over the disenfranchised and voiceless. Antony Lerman, for example, is the director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, a once-serious Jewish think tank based in London, and a frequent guest at the court of London’s radical mayor, Ken Livingstone. IJV’s initiator, Brian Klug, and his colleague Avi Shlaim are both Oxford dons. Shlaim routinely publishes in the Guardian, the International Herald Tribune, and the London Review of Books (the same journal that published John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “The Israel Lobby”). It is hard to pretend, with such credentials, that IJV does not enjoy all the privileges of membership in Britain’s intellectual establishment. How can these people claim that their views are suppressed? What they really object to, it seems, is the fact that their views are challenged.

The claim that these anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals are dissidents whose daring words against Israel are an act of courage is absurd. By posing as victims, these quintessential establishment figures wish to hide their intolerance for opponents. Demonizing their opponents as the enemies of free speech and human rights serves, as University of London professor David Hirsh remarked in the IJV debate, one purpose only: to create a self-mythologizing narrative of resistance, through which liberals can reclaim their role as the enlightened but stifled vanguard.

Through their self-nomination as the true heirs of the biblical prophets, Lerman, Klug, and company demonstrate a complete ignorance of what the prophets actually stood for. They claim that the essence of Judaism lies in fighting for social justice, human rights, and pacifism. Yet the prophets they invoke—as even a cursory reading of scripture will demonstrate—were neither pacifists nor champions of human rights, but rather advocates of absolute rule by the divine, a system hardly palatable to the modern Left.

Such a clumsy effort at biblical interpretation reveals more than ignorance of Jewish thought. It shows that, for this class of liberal Jewish intellectuals, being Jewish is equivalent to being progressive. And if this is the case, then the converse must also be true: to be a progressive is to be Jewish. These days, most self-respecting progressive thinkers view Israel, the nation-state of the Jews, as nothing other than an embarrassment and “an anachronism,” as Judt wrote. Small wonder, then, that Jewish intellectuals avid of membership in the liberal elite must denounce Israel.

But surely the real question is not whether pro-Israel views are mainstream in the Jewish world; nor is it fruitful to debate who censors whom in the Jewish battle of ideas over Jewish identity and the place Israel occupies in that battle. The real question is whether liberal Jewish intellectuals, by speaking against Israel, merely exercise their freedom of speech, or whether by doing so they offer succor to Israel’s enemies.

The answer to this question is, sadly, the latter. The most extreme views of Israel, including distortions, fabrications, and double standards aimed at demonizing the Jewish state and providing a mandate for its destruction, become legitimate once Jews endorse them. This alibi—i.e., that Jews themselves level these criticisms—becomes a vital tool for those who harbor the oldest hatred but cannot freely express it. The cover offered by liberal Jews enables the anti-Semites, under the pretext of anti-Zionism, to attack all other Jews who fail to comply with the political orthodoxy of the age.

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Clash of Civilizations

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

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