Ken Livingstone has been called to present oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry on the rise of anti-Semitism on 14 June.
The committee is inquiring into anti-Semitism, looking at whether prejudice against the Jewish community has increased and the particular dangers facing Jewish people arising from terrorism.
Below is the written statement Ken Livingstone submitted to the committee on the issues it is investigating.
Written statement submitted by Ken Livingstone to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry on the rise of anti-Semitism
I have been called to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into anti-Semitism, which is looking at whether prejudice against the Jewish community has increased and the particular dangers facing Jewish people arising from terrorism. These are very serious issues which I do not claim to be an expert on, but I can provide some evidence to the committee based on my experience in public office. I was Leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 to 1986 and Mayor of London from 2000 to 2008. I was Mayor of London on 7 July 2005 when terrorists killed fifty-two civilians and injured more than 700 others on London’s public transport system.
1. Racism is a uniquely reactionary ideology, used to justify the greatest crimes in history – including the slave trade, the extermination of all original inhabitants of the Caribbean and apartheid. The Holocaust was the ultimate, “industrialised” expression of racist barbarity.
2. Racism is a belief that due to genetic, cultural, religious or some other feature an entire group is inferior or has negative features.
3. Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Birkbeck College, University of London, in his report prepared for the UK All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism offered two distinct but complementary definitions of anti-Semitism, one focused on discourse, the other on discrimination:
(i) “When we consider discourse we focus on the ways in which Jews are represented. Here we can say, following the philosopher Brian Klug, that antisemitism is ‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’ Accordingly, antisemitism is to be found in representations of Jews as stereotyped and malign figures. One such stereotype is the notion that Jews constitute a cohesive community, dedicated to the pursuit of its own selfish ends”.
(ii) “In addition to antisemitism which arises within the process of representation there is also antisemitism which stems from social and institutional practices. Discriminatory practices which disadvantage Jews are antisemitic. Taking a historical view, we can say that British society and the British state became less antisemitic in past centuries as Jews were allowed to live in the country, to pray together, to work, to vote and to associate with others in clubs and societies to the same degrees as their Christian fellow-subjects. Discrimination against Jews need not be accompanied by discursive antisemitism, even though in many cases it has been.”
4. Racism serves as the cutting edge of the most reactionary movements. An ideology that starts by declaring one human being inferior to another is the slope whose end is at Auschwitz. I totally reject such a view of Jews, black people or any other group. I detest racism and condemn anti-Semitism. Indeed my political career has totally opposed any such views concerning any religious or ethnic group.
5. The contribution of Jewish people to human civilisation and culture is unexcelled and extraordinary. You only have to think of giants such as Einstein, Freud and Marx to realise that human civilisation would be unrecognisably diminished without the achievements of the Jewish people.
6. I was therefore very pleased when Mr Justice Andrew Collins, in his 2006 High Court Of Justice judgement of the case between myself and The Adjudication Panel for England, stated: “It could not sensibly be suggested that he [Ken Livingstone] is or ever has been anti-Semitic. He has not approved of some of the activities of the State of Israel and has made his views about that clear. But that has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.”
7. When I was Leader of the Greater London Council (GLC), it funded a number of Jewish community organisations, including: the Jewish Social Responsibility Council, the Jewish Association for the Physically Handicapped, the Jewish Employment Action Group, the Redbridge Jewish Youth Association and Agudas Israel in Hackney.
8. As London Mayor, I hosted, took part in and promoted events to mark the annual Holocaust Memorial Day. I hosted the Anne Frank exhibition at City Hall and also lighting of the Menorah ceremonies for the Hanukkah festival. I organised, in partnership with Jewish cultural organisations, a Jewish festival in Trafalgar Square – the Simcha on the Square. I also supported the Jewish Museum’s exhibition on multicultural Britain and published several guides to Jewish London.
9. The protection of the whole population, including Jewish people, from terrorism and other attacks has to be treated by all levels of government with the highest priority.
10. As Mayor of London I was given and took the advice of the security services on how the city’s government could best contribute to work of combating terrorism.
11. I understand that at present the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) has set the UK threat level from international terrorism at “SEVERE”, meaning an attack is highly likely. This is the second highest of five possible UK threat levels. When it was raised from “SUBSTANTIAL” in August 2014 the Home Secretary said it was in response to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
12. The present danger comes from several sources, including from terrorists based outside the UK, and from those inside who are chiefly influenced by international events, those who may conspire with terrorists abroad, or those have returned from participating in violence outside the UK.
13. Security chiefs often warn that military intervention overseas increases the risk of domestic terrorism. President Obama has also pointed out that “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences.” Currently UK armed or special forces are actively engaged in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
14. The Community Security Trust, which is also giving evidence to this inquiry, has previously reported that “trigger events” in the Middle East involving Israel can spark a rise in anti-Semitic incidents against British Jews. Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon and its military attacks on Gaza in 2008-9 and 2015 all saw significant “spikes” in the numbers of anti-Semitic incidents.
15. To date, as far as I am aware, terror attacks within the UK have targeted the general public rather than any particular sector of the public. There have been no terrorist anti-Semitic attacks in Britain that I am aware of. I have no knowledge whether this is also true of plots that have been stymied by the police. However, some attacks in other countries have combined targeting the general public with targeting locations perceived to be connected with Jewish citizens. This deplorable targeting of Jewish citizens may be an anti-Semitic proxy for targeting the State of Israel, such targeting would also be deplorable, or may be motivated by sheer anti-Semitism alone. The latter may be less likely, but that is no comfort to anyone, particularly Jewish citizens.
16. The UK government has to ensure that a high level of preventative, defensive and protection measures are being taken by the security services and police. To mitigate and reduce these threats in the longer term, thereby stabilising the security of our citizens, also requires parallel measures in the realms of social and diplomatic intervention directed domestically and internationally.
17. Security is a vital issue, including the police presence on our streets. In my view it was a mistake of my successor as London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to cut the numbers of police officers on the streets of London.
18. Also essential for combating terrorism is getting intelligence from communities in which terrorists operate. Making these communities feel stigmatised does not aid this flow of information. I view the government’s “Prevent strategy” as counterproductive. It undermines confidence building within communities and fosters a climate of mutual suspicion and distrust, which can only impede the work of communities with the police and security services to identify extremism. I agree with Andy Burnham, the Shadow Home Secretary, that the government should scrap the strategy.
19. I am aware that in recent years there has been a rise of physical and verbal attacks in London motivated by racism and faith hate. This is very concerning.
20. As Mayor I introduced the monitoring of faith hate crime in 2008 and the Metropolitan Police has done that since. I believe that all police authorities in the UK should undertake similar monitoring. The approach I advocated for this monitoring was that of the Macpherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence: that for the purposes of recording racist or anti-Semitic incidents the opinion of the victim should inform the way a reported incident was recorded.
21. The Metropolitan Police have reported a worrying increase in hate-crime of all types. Recent data I have seen shows anti-Semitic hate crime, virtually doubling from 2010 to 2015 to just under 400 crimes where the police have issued a charge or summons. This is utterly deplorable. Islamophobic hate crime also rose in London over the same period by 120% to 731. Total racist and faith hate crime rose to 11,400 in 2015.
22. As Mayor I took the view that bridge-building initiatives between different communities, and between communities and the police and other authorities, are integral to making the capital a safer place and promoting community cohesion. London is literally the most diverse city in the world, with over 300 languages spoken daily, places of worship linked to every faith on the planet, and the main feast days and commemorations of every global community are celebrated here.
23. In order to promote understanding, respect and interaction between these diverse cultures and communities we promoted public, free, celebrations and commemorations of all the main faith and secular cultural festivals and anniversaries observed by London’s communities: from St Patrick’s Day to Eid on the Square, a giant Menorah lighting on Trafalgar Square to mark Hanukkah to St George’s Day, Chinese New Year to Newroz (Kurdish and Iranian New Year), Holocaust Memorial Day was marked each year and we organised a range of events for the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery. I am delighted that most of these festivals were continued under my successor as Mayor and they have become part of the regular London calendar. The purpose of such events is twofold. On the one hand to celebrate the cultural and social contribution of London’s diverse communities and on the other to encourage inter-faith and inter-community awareness to reduce prejudice born of ignorance and promote understanding.
24. I believe that the good practices developed at the GLC and when I was Mayor of London, should be taken up by other local authorities and central government. This includes the adequate funding of the police and monitoring of race and faith hate crime. Plus the funding of community organisations and promotion of celebrations and commemorations across all the main faiths and secular cultures. The BBC could give greater emphasis to noting such festivals and convey the appropriate greetings or thoughts. These latter practices have an important role to play in promoting community cohesion.
25. In my view the government needs to pay greater attention to the growing problem of hate crime and combating it, alongside maintaining a paramount focus on protecting people’s lives from terrorism.