The Labour party has suspended Ken Livingstone “for bringing the party into disrepute” after MPs accused him of antisemitism and making offensive comments about Hitler supporting Zionism.
The former mayor of London and veteran politician said that the accusations of antisemitism were part of a campaign against the Labour leader.
“Frankly, there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as antisemitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians”
Livingstone has refused to apologise, saying that those who criticise Israel should not be confused with antisemites.
Prime minister David Cameron meanwhile said it was “clear Labour had a problem with antisemitism”.
The Guardian reports:
In his first comments on the row engulfing Labour, Jeremy Corbyn said: “We are not tolerating antisemitism in any form whatsoever in our party.”
More than 20 MPs, including Sadiq Khan, Labour’s current London mayoral candidate, had called for Livingstone to be expelled over the remarks he made while trying to defend the suspended Bradford MP Naz Shah.
The party’s chief whip has also called in John Mann, a Labour MP, to discuss his confrontation of Livingstone at the BBC in which he called him a “disgusting Nazi apologist”.
Pressure mounted on the Labour leader to suspend Livingstone after MPs made their anger known. It is understood the deputy leader, Tom Watson, made clear he was angry and offended by the comments and concerned about their potentially damaging effect on the electoral prospects of hundreds of candidates.
While on a regional tour, Corbyn said suspending people who made offensive comments was about “sending a message” and such cases would be investigated.
“There were grave concerns about the language he’d used. We had a discussion about it and decided we would suspend him and he would go through an investigation by the party.”
He said anyone who claimed the party was not “cracking down” on antisemitism was wrong.
A Labour spokesman said: “Ken Livingstone has been suspended by the Labour party, pending an investigation, for bringing the party into disrepute. The chief whip has summoned John Mann MP to discuss his conduct.”
It is understood Livingstone was suspended because the remarks were considered highly inflammatory rather than necessarily antisemitic.
There is some anxiety at the top of the party that the row about antisemitism should not be allowed to shut down debate about a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict – an issue on which Corbyn has campaigned for many decades.
At the same time, supporters of Corbyn fear the issue of antisemitism is being used to undermine his leadership. It is understood Mann’s conduct will be seriously investigated and viewed in the context of a pattern of behaviour.
The decision to suspend Livingstone was taken after he appeared on BBC London to claim that, while Shah’s remarks were “over the top”, she had said nothing that amounted to antisemitism.
Shah has apologised and been suspended from the party for promoting a Facebook post in 2014 suggesting Israelis should be deported and claiming “the Jews are rallying” to support a poll about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
During his interview, Livingstone said Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews” and claimed there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israel policy as antisemitic”.