Former Mayor Livingstone’s ‘Israel lobby’ comments created ‘hostile environment’ for Jewish Labour members, says EHRC

Former Mayor Livingstone’s ‘Israel lobby’ comments created ‘hostile environment’ for Jewish Labour members, says EHRC

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has been described as having created “an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for members, and prospective members, of the Labour Party, particularly those who were Jewish” in the report of an investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published today.

Livingstone, who was the capital’s first directly-elected executive Mayor and served in that role from 2000 until 2008, is one of two individuals named in the report whose comments in relation to Jewish identity it found amounted to “unlawful harassment” by the Labour Party “through the actions of it agents”. Livingstone is defined as an agent of Labour because he made the comments in question, which related to social media postings by a Labour MP, when he was a member of its ruling National Executive Committee.

The EHRC report cited comments by Livingstone in media interviews in April 2016 as examples of a type of “antisemitic conduct that amounted to unlawful harassment” that breaches the Equality Act 2010. The row over the comments at the time, which coincided with the final days of the 2016 London Mayor election campaign, prompted Labour’s candidate Sadiq Khan to acknowledge that they would make it harder for Jewish Londoners to vote for him.

The comments by Livingstone found to constitute unlawful harassment on the part of Labour are highlighted in the report as an example of “Labour Party agents” denying there was antisemitism in the party and dismissing claims to the contrary as false or as smears designed to be detrimental to it. Suggestions of that type are also described in the report as conduct which “ignores legitimate and genuine complaints of antisemitism in the party”.

The EHRC report focuses on comments by Livingstone about criticisms of social media postings by Naz Shah MP – for which she apologised to Parliament – which he “repeatedly denied” had been antisemitic and “sought to minimise their offensive nature”. The report says that, “In his denial, Ken Livingstone alleged that scrutiny of Naz Shah’s conduct was part of a smear campaign by ‘the Israel lobby’ to stigmatise critics of Israel as antisemitic, and was intended to undermine and disrupt the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn MP.”

The report continues: “We have taken into account Ken Livingstone’s right to freedom of expression, which is protected by Article 10 of the ECHR. Article 10 is relevant when Labour Party members, for example, make legitimate criticism of the policies of the Israeli government. The comments made by Naz Shah went beyond legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, as she acknowledged, and are not protected by Article 10. Neither is Ken Livingstone’s support for those comments.”

The report records that Labour Party members had told the investigation that “the comments by Ken Livingstone in relation to Naz Shah…caused shock and anger among Jewish Labour Party members. They felt his comments were appalling, highly offensive and very distressing. They said the effect of these comments was humiliating, denied the victims’ experience, diminished the issue, and had the effect of stirring up and fuelling hatred for Jews.”

Livingstone, who also led the Greater London Council from 1981 until its abolition in 1986 and was MP for Brent East from 1987 until 2001, was given a two-year suspension from the Labour Party in April 2017 after complaints against him were upheld. He resigned from the party on 21 May 2018.

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