Ken Livingstone hasn’t been far away from the headlines in the past few months, and this fortnight has proved no different. By incessantly drawing links between Hitler and Zionism his behaviour smacks of unrepentant anti-Semitism, and the Labour party’s failure to kick him out leaves it open to accusations that it fails to grasp the extent of the problem. There is a degree of senility in Livingstone’s repetition of the same argument again and again. And then again. He appears under the illusion that if he repeats his mistake enough times then it will become true.
Yet to view Livingstone’s views in a vacuum would be a mistake, as it is symptomatic of rising anti-Semitism across the country (and the wider world). A 36% increase in the rise of reported anti-Semitic incidents in 2016 underlines this. In terms of tangible figures, this represented 1,309 incidents in the calendar year gone by – a doubling in number from 2012. That the main opposition party’s National Constitutional Committee didn’t see fit to expel Mr Livingstone over his statements tells us a lot about the way Britain is treating its Jewish population, and tolerance isn’t the word I’m thinking of.
It was widely assumed that the days of anti-Semitism were in the past along with the other nasty aspects of the 1920s and 30s, but recent events mean such assumptions no longer hold true. Much of the Jewish population lives in the Greater London area, and this is where many of the incidents referenced have taken place (no doubt that having a former Mayor of this city linking Zionism to the most infamous individual in history has only made matters worse).
In the midst of all this, one would hope that the academic world would lead the charge against such discrimination. Apparently not. Rather than act as beacons of inclusivity for the Jewish population, universities across the country have become embroiled in accusations of anti-Semitism. One student from York University was compensated £1,000 as a result of anti-Semitic abuse ranging from ‘Jewish prick’ to ‘Israeli twat’. He’s not alone. A recent study found that 26% of Jewish university students in Britain feared being attacked because of their religion, while two thirds have been targeted on account of their religion. Things have even descended to the point where a swastika was carved on campus in Exeter University earlier this year.
Such a spate of incidents is worrying, and Labour’s failure to expel Livingstone for his comments only add fuel to the fire. When politics and academia appear rife with anti-Semitism, where does that leave the rest of the country? These are supposed to be the leaders and the intelligentsia of our country – a country that is supposed to be a bedrock of tolerance and freedom. Last year, the Oxford Union Labour Club co-chair, Alex Chambers, saw fit to claim the club had “some kind of problem with Jews”, demonstrating how the trend of anti-Semitism has transcended the political and academic worlds. Yet the failure of the Labour Party to give the students accused of anti-Semitic rhetoric so much as a warning highlights how this issue continues to be swept under the carpet.
Anti-Semitism must be treated in the same way as other forms of racism. Those who attack the Jewish community seek to portray themselves as anti-Zionist, but too often this is merely a red herring. Similarly, there are people who use the cover of criticizing Israel in order to target Jews, and this is equally unacceptable. It is high time that the problem of anti-Semitism was treated head on rather than danced around. Kicking Ken out of Labour would be a satisfactory start in dealing with the problem, but certainly not a satisfactory end.