From: Robert Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession. 2010. Random House.
The Red-Green Axis
In September 2006 an all-party parliamentary committee of the House of Commons concluded that anti-Semitism had indeed become an acute problem in British society.1 Their findings corresponded with a growing sense of siege within the Anglo-Jewish community, despite its economic success, professional achievements, and sociocultural integration. The figures for anti-Semitic incidents were depressingly high, including 112 violent assaults recorded in 2006—the largest number ever registered by the Community Security Trust (CST) and a 37 percent rise over the previous year.2 Police statistics revealed that Jews were four times as likely to be attacked in the United Kingdom because of their religion than Muslims.3Moreover, Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah led to a new wave of anti-Semitic attacks in the summer of 2006, spread out across the British Isles, with Muslims noticeably overrepresented among the perpetrators.4 There were several attacks in Golders Green and other areas of North London with a large Jewish population. The owner of a café-restaurant in the Golders Green Road, Ruth Cohen, was physically threatened by two young men: “They said they were going to kill me and called me a ‘dirty Jew,’ a ‘stinking Jew.’ One of them had a knife. A colleague came out. They started punching him and throwing chairs.”5
This pattern continued in 2007 with 547 anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the CST, escalating still further at the beginning of 2009.6 Though extremely difficult to measure, the negative portrayal of Israel in the British media has almost certainly contributed to an atmosphere in which local anti-Jewish hostility can only increase.7 No less than 30 percent of the known attackers involved in anti-Semitic acts in 2006 were Asian Muslims, from the Indian subcontinent. A smaller percentage among the known perpetrators were Arabs or blacks. Whites were still the largest group of perpetrators (47 percent) by a diminishing margin.8 In 2005 two events acted as specific triggers for Far Right though anti-Semitic incidents—the sensational pictures of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform and the angry remarks of London mayor Ken Livingstone gratuitously accusing a Jewish journalist, Oliver Finegold, of acting like a concentration camp guard.9
Livingstone’s relations with the Jewish community had been strained for more than two decades, despite his antiracist record and known opposition to fascist anti-Semitism. However, London’s mayor refused to apologize for his slur against Finegold, criticizing the reporter’s employer, the Evening Standard (part of the Daily Mail group) for its history of supporting anti-Semitism and fascism in the 1930s. Shortly thereafter, he published a harsh piece in The Guardian, claiming that Ariel Sharon “is a war criminal who should be in prison, not in office;” adding for good measure that “Israel’s expansion has included ethnic cleansing.”10 At the same time Livingstone reiterated his view that the Holocaust was the “worst crime of the 20th century.” He warmly acknowledged the great contributions of Jews to human civilization and to the city of London, and he duly emphasized his commitment to police action against anti-Semitic violence. But without any evidence, the mayor also accused the Israeli government of wholly distorting the question of racial and religious discrimination in Western society. He insisted that “the great bulk of racist attacks in Europe today are on black people, Asians and Muslims.” Predictably, Livingstone also resurrected the left-wing canard that Israeli governments had attempted for the last two decades “to portray anyone who forcefully criticizes the policies of Israel as antisemitic.” The mayor strikingly ignored any reference to the fact that the Jewish community had suffered a 41 percent escalation in anti-Semitic incidents during 2004, much of it in London and under his own stewardship. All appeals to him for contrition and for an apology to Finegold were also ignored—a mayoral position that was backed by fully three-quarters of all Londoners. Thus, far from seeking to combat the rising flames of anti-Semitism, the mayor appeared to be resolutely fanning it with his crass provocation. As a Jerusalem Post editorial put it in March 2005: “Livingstone demonizes, applies double standards and delegitimizes Israel. Indeed he portrays Israel as ‘a threat to us all.’”11
As if determined to compound his troubles, Livingstone then publicly insulted two Jewish property developers—David and Simon Reuben—whom he declared to be obstructing progress and overcharging in the preparatory work on the 2012 Olympic Games site in East London. The mayor told them to “go back to Iran and try their luck with the Ayatollahs”—this at a time when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was loudly calling for the annihilation of Israel. The fact that the Reuben brothers were born in India of Iraqi extraction and had lived in the United Kingdom for more than forty years made the mayor’s call for their return to Iran seem even more glib and offensive.12 The politically correct chief administrator of a “great, multicultural city” had descended to the level of a common fascist street thug.
Livingstone’s loutish behavior in the Finegold affair led to an initial one-month suspension from office.13 He followed up by accusing the Board of Deputies of British Jews of using “McCarthyite” tactics to silence him, and then posing as the common man’s martyr in the cause of democracy.14 Repeatedly, “Red Ken”—the people’s friend—claimed that he was being targeted by a Zionist witch hunt. This posturing for the media did nothing to damage his popularity with Londoners. It was also perfectly in tune with the Marxist revolutionary credo that he had adopted since the 1970s, which continually sought to demonize Israel as a pariah state.15
Instead of promoting communal harmony between Jews and Muslims, Livingstone polarized tensions during his eight years in office. The problem was not solely his defense of the Palestinian suicide bombers, whose actions he conveniently blamed on Israel. It was also his embrace of Islamists in such organizations as the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). Moreover, by sucking up to the Egyptian-born fundamentalist cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, the mayor of London not only dismayed Anglo-Jewry but also deeply disappointed his rainbow coalition of gays, feminists, Sikhs, Hindus, and secularists. To quote The Economist: “Mr. Qaradawi, whom Mr. Livingstone lauds at the ‘leader of a great world religion,’ supports the murder of Israeli children by Palestinian terrorists, praises female genital mutilation and thinks that homosexuals deserve to die.”16
The mayor vigorously argued that Qaradawi was a liberal “progressive figure” and a “moderate.” He turned a deaf ear to gay protests that the sheikh openly supported the right of Islamic theocracies to murder homosexual citizens using various barbaric methods. Livingstone also disregarded the fact that Qaradawi’s sermons had called for the destruction of “the American and British aggressors” as well as the Zionists, and his fervent belief that “Islam will return to Europe as a Conqueror.” The sheikh had admittedly softened the pill by maintaining that this conquest would be achieved through “preaching and ideology rather than by the sword,” but his intentions could hardly be termed pacific. After all, this was the same cleric who repeatedly proclaimed that “every man has the right to become a human bomb,” especially if engaged in “martyrdom” operations inside Israel. In a sermon on October 18, 2002, Qaradawi had called on Muslims to “destroy the aggressive Jews;” and on his Al-Jazeera show of May 15, 2004, he demonized Judaism as “the number one propagator of violence”—blaming the propagation of brutal deeds on American mass culture and “Torah” Judaism, as if these two antithetical worldviews were bound together into some kind of malevolent conspiracy. Yet this was the very same Kuwait-based sheikh whom the Socialist mayor of London had invited in mid-2004 to preach a sermon at Regents Park Mosque—a wretched example of red carpet left-wing sycophancy toward “clerical” Islamofascism.17
Livingstone also ignored the sheikh’s very publicly expressed desire to die a “virtuous death” for Allah as a jihad warrior, repeated once more at a solidarity conference in Qatar on February 17, 2005.18 During the conference a film about Qaradawi’s life was shown, in which Livingstone praised his teaching, calling his ideology “utterly remote from extremism” and attacking “the unbridled distortions” spread about his work by Israeli sources such as the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Not surprisingly, such positions were much appreciated by British Muslim leaders including the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Great Britain (MCB), Sir Iqbal Sacranie. During the Feingold affair, Sacranie had publicly declared that he was “proud” to stand by the mayor. This was the same Iqbal Sacranie who nearly twenty years earlier had vilified Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, suggesting that execution was perhaps “a bit too easy” as a punishment for the apostate British Muslim author. Yet Sacranie was nonetheless rewarded with a knighthood by Her Majesty’s government.19
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