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Caught in the act: Ken Livingstone’s anti-semitic conspiracy smear of Labour government minister

This is a cross post from Adloyada

At 3:16 minutes into this clip, you’ll hear Ken Livingstone, speaking in 2009 in Tower Hamlets, push this anti-semitic conspiracy smear against  Labour MP Ivan Lewis and a Jewish “they” who he says conspired to keep the voice of the elected representatives of the Palestinian people silenced by keeping it out of the mainstream press.

Here’s my transcript of the key section:

A character called Ivan Lewis who- I discovered- I’d seen hanging round the House of Commons, and he’s saying- I’d assumed he was a lobbyist for the Israeli government- I’d no idea he was a Labour MP! [laughter] And he’d been given a job, because he’s one of that small group of Labour MPs who only ever seems to talk about the defence of the state of Israel, and denounce any Arab that may have a different point of view! And he came out and said, I had made a huge mistake in having this interview, and publishing it, and I assumed   avalanche of denunciations and outrage, and how someone like me should never stand for mayor again or something! And then, it went completely quiet – a little bit in the Jewish Chronicle in the next week – and of course! the last thing they wanted to do, was, they realised this-- a lot of denunciations would mean people would buy it! More of them would read it!

I wish there had been more denunciations! I wish great extracts of it, had been published in the Sun! And the Daily Mail! And the Express!They’re not gonna do that. So, do get hold of copies of that, and just take a few photocopies and circulate it amongst your friends, groups at work, in your community, so more people get to see that. The silence spoke volumes, of how they don’t really don’t want the Palestinians to express themselves through their elected leaders.

What Livingstone doesn’t say is that Ivan Lewis’ statementwas made in his capacity as a then junior Foreign Office Minister of State in Gordon Brown’s Labour government. It was issued by the Foreign Office in support of the official and continuing foreign policy of the UK, of considering Khaled Meshaal to be the head of a designated terrorist organization. It’s still on the Foreign Office web site to this day.

Here, Livingstone contrives to misrepresent and spin this story using some modern classic anti-semitic conspiracy stories.

Firstly, Lewis supposedly did nothing in the House of Commons but speak for Israel, and in such a way that he could have been assumed to be a lobbyist of the Israeli government. Not only that, but on that basis he’d been “given a job”.

Lewis had in fact been a junior Minister in the Blair and Brown Labour governments going back to June 2003, when he took on a succession of roles in the Education ministry, going on in 2005-2006 to being a junior Treasury minister , to May 2006 when he was given responsibilities for Care Services in the Health Ministry. He was then promoted to a junior role in the Foreign Office as Parliamentary Secretary of State for International Development by Gordon Brown in October 2008 and further promoted to the Minister of State role in June 2009.

Whether Livingstone was reference to him being “given a job” was to Lewis’ former role as Vice Chair of the Labour Friends of Israel, or to his Ministerial role at the time is unsurprisingly, given Livingstone’s reputation for political evasiveness, unclear. If it is the latter, the smear implies that he got his job as a Minister because he was a lobbyist for Israel.

Whichever way, there is no way Lewis could have made the statement he did out of personal animus, let alone, as Livingstone suggests, as a mouthpiece of the Israeli government or some shadowy “they” Jewish lobby.

All UK government ministers, however junior, are required to make only statements which are fully in line with the UK government policies and priorities of the day. The Foreign Office will only publish statements which conform with those policies. And the policies include condemning Israeli settlements over the Green Line as being illegal, as well as supporting radical anti-zionist Palestinian groups protesting against Jewish purchasers of homes in the overwhelmingly Palestinian-inhabited quarters of East Jerusalem and Hebron. Any Minister who uses his position to voice the view of any lobby group great or small which conflicts with government policy will find himself, quite rightly, instantly relieved of his office and sent back to the back benches.

In fact so far was Lewis from being in any position to impose his views on the government of Gordon Brown that in 2008, he was regarded as having had his personal reputation deliberately undermined in a classic Gordon Brown coterie revenge attack job, because he’d had the temerity to publish a highly coded criticism about the Brown administration’s need to refresh and renew itself.

Then we come to Livingstone’s portrayal of Lewis as the mouthpiece of the unspecified Jewish “they,” who then conspired to make no further condemnations of the propaganda coup Livingstone gave Hamas, because “they” wanted to see the interview kept out of view. This was supposedly because “they” realised that “they’d” end up drawing the attention of ordinary British people to his very rosy presentation of Damascus resident and Hamas terrorist group leader Meshaal, who he pushes as those of the elected representative of the Palestinian people. Khaled Meshaal was incidentally never elected to the leadership of Hamas by the Palestinian people.

Livingstone conveniently makes no reference to the more damning reasons Lewis cited in his Foreign Office condemnation of Livingstone’s action in choosing to fly to Damascus to interview Meshaal and use the entirely supportive interview as the big central feature of his guest edited New Statesman:

It is therefore particularly regrettable that he learned the wrong lessons from history by handing a propaganda coup to the leader of a terrorist organisation.

Hamas has not only breached international law by firing rockets at civilian populations in Israel but continues to violate the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza“.

I posted a couple of weeks ago on the significance of the role the New Statesman played in 2009 in Ken Livingstone’s campaign to rebrand himself from tired dinosaur far left has-been to contest-winning candidate for the Labour Party nomination for the London 2012 Mayoral election. I included a link to this fisking of the interview and the way Livingstone conducted it.

The New Statesman gave Livingstone the opportunity of a lifetime by inviting him to be a guest editor, with carte blanche to determine the main features and most of the content of the magazine, at the crucial period just before the Labour Party Conference of that year.

It’s not clear why they did that. Martin Bright, the most high profile NS Political editor in recent years had left early in 2009. He had played a major role with a series of articles and contributed to a Channel 4 TV programme in exposing Livingstone’s far left coterie and manipulation of his then Mayoral office,  which contributed to his defeat by Boris Johnson in 2008.

The New Statesman had appointed the Shia Islamist activist Mehdi Hasan as their Senior Editor (political) in the Spring of 2009.

It’s not clear whether it was the new editor and management of the NS who first decided to given Livingstone the guest editorship, or whether it was the result of an initiative from Mehdi Hasan or some other key NS staffer.

It’s very curious that although the New Statesman WIkipedia site lists the people who have been offered guest editorships of the magazine since the start of 2009, there’s just one left out. And that’s Ken Livingstone.

In the New Statesman in the week following the Foreign office statement, the anonymous “Staff blogger” quoted the statement, whilst dropping in the additional information that Lewis was formerly chair of Labour Friends of Israel (in fact, he was actually Vice Chair).
However, the “staff blogger” did not attempt to suggest Lewis was still actively acting as a Labour Friends of Israel spokesman, since he would have had to relinquish that position on being appointed to the Foreign Office.

No such reservations held back  Muslim Brotherhood-supporting Islamist mouthpiece for the Muslim Council of Britain, Inayat Bunglawallah, writing in the Guardian that same day in September 2009> He’s always been a routine promoter of tropes about ” traditional zionist tactics” of attempting to “silence critics of Israel”. Here’s what he wrote about Ivan Lewis’s statement and his affiliations:


It is worth noting that Lewis did not appear similarly outspoken during the visits to the UK of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, and Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, despite the very credible reports of Israeli war crimes perpetrated in Gaza during the Israeli bombardment and invasion in December 2008/January 2009 as documented by Amnesty International, the Israel campaign group Breaking the Silence and, most recently, by the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict.

Indeed, while the bombing of Gaza was going on earlier this year, Lewis attended an Israel solidarity rally in Manchester, where he declared: “It is essential that we send a clear and responsible message from the great city of Manchester that this community stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel.”

Just as Livingstone left out the key contextual information in his speect, Bunglawallah didn’t mention in his article that at the time of all those events, Lewis was not a Foreign Office minister, so would have had no official role in making statements about visits by Israeli politicians and the events of Cast Lead.

It also makes it all abundantly clear whose politics Livingstone was following then and now on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And they certainly weren’t those of the Labour Party then or now.

HAT TIP Joseph W in this Harry’s Place blog post, who included his version of what I’ve transcribed above.