Ken Livingstone’s Defeat and the Jews (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Jonathan Neumann 05/07/12)
Commentary Magazine Articles-Index-Top
Politically, Boris Johnson’s victory over his challenger and former
London mayor, Ken Livingstone, in last week’s London mayoral election
means two things. First, it is a repudiation of Livingstone, to the
point that his mercilessly long career has (if we can rely on his
announcement) met its long overdue expiration. To add insult to this
injury, embarrassingly, he will now not preside as mayor over the
city’s Olympic Games this summer that he championed during his two
terms in office. Second, it is an important endorsement of Boris
Johnson, who secured a critical victory in the capital despite a tide
of Tory defeats nationwide. The talk of Boris eventually leading the
Conservative Party itself will now only get louder.
But Boris’ victory was closer than predicted. This was likely because
Red Ken was better at getting his supporters to the voting booths.
But does the closeness of the call make it possible that London’s
Jewish community played a pivotal part in the election, and in Ken’s
The present paucity of polling data precludes analysis. This has not
stopped the speculation, however, and some outlets have showered the
Jewish community with blame or praise for the result: the leftist,
Livingstone-supporting Guardian put his defeat down to the ‘‘Jewish
political establishment,’’ a regrettable choice of phrasing which the
newspaper surreptitiously scrubbed. And conservative pundits – as
well as journalists in the Jewish community – are apparently happy to
give credit to Jewish voters.
Such speculation only goes so far, though, and there are two other
noteworthy and more interesting observations to be made.
First, Livingstone’s anti-Semitic comments before the election (for a
recap, see here and here) – not to mention throughout his sorry
career – courted not only controversy, but by design, the Muslim
community. Of course, whether that community (a far larger
demographic than London’s Jews) ultimately came to Ken’s support at
the ballot box or not, and whether the Jewish community which Boris
wooed came to his, is unclear, but the very obviously divergent
electoral strategies are a lamentable reflection of London politics,
ethnic relations, and the reality and expression of antipathy toward
Jews and Israel in areas (and elections) where they should have no
place. Moreover, these dynamics are not limited to London (as
evidenced by George Galloway’s recent by-election victory), or merely
to the UK.
Second, it was interesting to follow the Jewish reaction to events
during the campaign. On the one hand — and encouragingly – some Jews
apparently did, if not shift support from Labour, at least stay home.
For example, take D.D. Guttenplan, the Nation’s London correspondent
and a longtime Livingstone supporter, who withheld his support this
time around, proclaiming that the Labour candidate’s defeat was the
price of Jewish self-respect.
On the other hand, it also turns out that many Jews simply do not
care enough about Ken’s attitude toward Israel and his comfort with
anti-Semitic tropes to oppose him — and several of the high-profile
community leaders involved in the original controversy still decided
to support him. In part, this is down to a pathology of Anglo-Jewry,
which, in its effort to be more British than the British, forgets it
has other concerns as well. But it is also in part a worrying
worldview particular to the Jewish Left, and unfortunately extends
beyond the Anglo-Jewish community. If Ken Livingstone does not
alienate such Jews, one wonders what it would take.
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY