The Ken Livingstone dispute in its cultural and historical context | Letters

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‘As a Jewish member of the Labour party, I feel I must support Ken Livingstone, and oppose the punishment imposed on him,’ writes Dr Ian Saville. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Steve Bell’s If… cartoon on Ken Livingstone’s suspension from the Labour party (G2, 5 April) demonstrates, as ever, the old left’s tin ear for antisemitism. In the dock, the Ken figure, looking weirdly like Roy Hattersley, complains that “this is a kangaroo court, trying me for an offence which is not an offence and which I didn’t actually commit” and the judge – a kangaroo – shouts “How dare you resort to such a blatantly anti-semitic stereotrope”.

There are many issues here, but the key one is: no other minority has to suffer the calling-out of racism against it being so easily dismissed by people who are not of that minority. No black, Asian or LGBT sensibility offended by a public figure could possibly be subject to such complacent – for want of a better word – ’splaining by a member of the majority culture. There would, correctly, be an outcry. And the Guardian, in that case, would simply not print a cartoon.
David Baddiel
London

• Steve Bell is my favourite cartoonist – a graphic genius whose right to offend I would happily defend against all would-be censors. But when it comes to racism against Jews, he – and the Guardian – just don’t get it.

Ken Livingstone’s comments weren’t antisemitic in content: the Haavara agreement between the Nazis and some German Zionists is a historical fact. But in making use of that fact to defend Naz Shah’s flippant suggestion to “relocate Israel into United States” – a remark Ms Shah herself has properly apologised for as antisemitic – Livingstone was indeed guilty of bringing the Labour party into disrepute. In Livingstone’s travesty of history the Jews of Germany, accurately foreseeing their own peril and desperate for escape, are depicted as equal partners with the Nazi regime. That Livingstone’s repeated willingness to make crude use of Jewish pain to further his own political career may be due to opportunism rather than racism is hardly a defence. It is impossible to imagine any other victim of oppression – whether of racial slavery, religious bigotry, or even individual sexual assault – who would be expected to endure similar “explanations” of why they were actually complicit in their own oppression. Yet Bell apparently believes that Jews who object to such blatant bigotry – or a Labour party that takes their suffering seriously – are appropriate targets for his satire. That, to me, is deeply saddening.
DD Guttenplan
Editor at large, The Nation

• I read the article about Ken Livingstone (Labour holds back from expelling Livingstone in antisemitism row, 5 April), and it’s almost all about people accusing him of antisemitism. There is no real discussion of what he said or whether he was right until the very end of the article, and not much there.

Ephraim Mirvis, for example, is quoted as accusing Livingstone of “shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offence”. This baffles me. Livingstone was talking about what the Nazis did in 1932/33, long before the Holocaust, so I cannot understand why the comment was included. It generates more heat than light.

The last two paragraphs of the article mention the Haavara agreement, signed by the Nazi government, that aided the relocation of Jews to Israel. Livingstone has used this as a basis for his claim that Hitler supported Zionism. An article giving the historical background to this agreement and the bearing it has on what Livingstone has said would be helpful. Let’s have more light and less heat.
Ken Vines
Horrabridge, Devon

• Ken Livingstone may be tactless and self-indulgent, but the facts of collaboration between the Zionist leadership and the Nazis are well established, uncomfortable though they may well be. My late friend Rudi Vrba, imprisoned in Auschwitz, was helped by his fellow prisoners to escape in 1944 with the remit to warn the Hungarian Jewish community of their imminent deportation to the camps. Instead, as he documents in his book, I Cannot Forgive, the Zionist leadership, under Rudolf Kastner, cut a deal with Adolf Eichmann that enabled them to leave without alerting the community they led to the threat. When, after the war, Vrba himself went to Israel, he found Kastner and the same Zionist leadership well ensconced.
Professor Steven Rose
London

• It may have been politically inept to bring up the question of Nazi support for Zionism in the way Ken Livingstone did, and in the context of the discussion at that time. However, while it is possible to argue about the extent or motivation of Nazi-Zionist support and collaboration, the transfer agreement and other Nazi endorsements of some aspects of Zionism really did happen. It is chilling to insist that a member of a democratic party believing in free speech should resile from what is indisputable historical fact. So as a Jewish member of the Labour party, I feel I must, therefore, support Ken Livingstone, and oppose the punishment imposed on him. If that means I will be expelled from the party, so be it.
Dr Ian Saville
London

• Would it not enrich the whole tone of public political discourse if the media refrained from highlighting the views of semi-retired politicians such as Michael Howard (PM would go to war over Gibraltar, says senior Tory, 3 April) and Ken Livingstone? They seem to be accorded an importance beyond their relevance. Readers might want to add some other names to this list of past-its.
Jim Michie
Christleton, Cheshire

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