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Jonathan Freedland – can’t back Ken

Jonathan Freedland regularly speaks out against antisemitism, including antisemitism which happens to take the form of antizionsm.  However he has often been criticised for his links with the Guardian, his views about some of Israel’s actions, and his general Pollyannishness. And his initial response to the meeting between Ken Livingstone and Jewish Labour supporters was characteristically cautious; he tweeted (as Judy noted in the comments to an earlier post):

KL certainly made the point about voters shifting rightward as they get wealthier. I’d need… check my notes to see if he put it as crudely as the letter suggests ie “Jews are rich”

Freedland’s moderate-to-a-fault profile makes his recent post for CiF all the more telling and noteworthy.  He explains that although he has backed Ken Livingstone in the past, he simply cannot bring himself to do so this time round.  Neither, apparently, can one in three of London’s Labour supporters:

I can no longer do what I and others did in 2008, putting to one side the statements, insults and gestures that had offended me, my fellow Jews and – one hopes – every Londoner who abhors prejudice. Back then I tried to shrug off Livingstone’s quip to property developers the Reuben brothers that they could “go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs”, even though telling immigrants to go back to where they came from is the language of a pub racist from the 1950s. (The Reubens are in fact an Iraqi-Jewish family and the brothers were born in India.)

His autobiography is similarly unrepentant and notable for its repeated interest in Jews, Israel and Zionism. I’m told that Miliband’s office saw an early draft which had plenty more on those subjects, including statements that had them raising their “eyebrows to the heavens” – and which they were mightily relieved to see did not make the final version.

The case against Ken Livingstone is not that he is some crude racist. It is rather that, when it comes to this one group of Londoners and their predicaments, their hopes and anxieties, he simply doesn’t care. Consistently warm to some communities – this week he went to Finsbury Park mosque, quoted Muhammad’s final sermon and expressed the hope that as mayor he would educate Londoners in the teachings of Islam – he doesn’t care what hurt he causes Jews. He shows Jews, says one Labour parliamentarian, a “hard heart”.

It’s well worth reading in full, here.  His criticisms are measured, and he avoids any over-egged rhetoric.

There’s the usual mixture of encouraging and dispiriting comments below.  Here’s a saner one from TokenDissent:

Hear hear. A honest and, dare I say, brave article Jonathan.

The continued prominence of Livingstone is an embarrassment His cosying up to repulsive bigots signifies so much of what is wrong with the left – and I say that as someone well to left of the Labour front-bench.

I sympathise with the horrific decision Londoners are faced with.

(I really wish I could remember what teaandchocolate said, in an early comment, to get deleted – because my memory was that it was innocuously supportive of Freedland.)

I sympathise with those who are torn, those (like Jonathan Freedland) who perhaps approve of much of Livingstone’s programme.  I’m glad I don’t live in London, and thus don’t have to grapple with this one – but if I did, I’d be one of those Labour supporters who just couldn’t vote for Ken.