Campaign Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2005
TRADE UNIONISTS SEND OPEN LETTER TO SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTRE
Trades unionists in North West London have sent an Open Letter to the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, rejecting its campaign against London's mayor Ken Livingstone. The US centre has solicited signatures on the internet demanding Livingstone apologise for "antisemitic and anti-Israel comments", which it claims had fuelled a "dangerous environment" in Britain.
The US centre has persuaded the mayors of Los Angeles and Miami to declare London's mayor "not welcome". Chicago city council is to discuss a motion condemning Livingstone.
But Brent Trades Union Council, which includes Livingstone's former parliamentary constituency, says the Wiesenthal Centre is presenting a distorted and alarmist picture of events in Britain, and ignoring Ken Livingstone's record of fighting racism. (The mayor is currently president of Unite Against Fascism).
Rejecting the Wiesenthal Centre's claim that Livingstone's remarks about Ariel Sharon and Israel are "antisemitic", Brent TUC points out that Israel's Kahane Commission held Sharon culpable for the Sabra and Chatila massacres in Lebanon, and many Jewish people are critical of Israeli policies.
The trades unionists warn against lining up with right-wing newspapers which have themselves incited hostility to minorities.
Brent Trades Union Council decided to make its protest public after hearing the Wiesenthal Centre had ignored correspondence from Brent TUC secretary Ben Rickman, who is himself Jewish (as is assistant secretary Charles Pottins, who drafted the Open Letter below).
OPEN LETTER TO SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTRE
from Brent Trades Union Council, north-west London:
We are concerned at the campaign the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles has launched against London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Demanding that Mayor Livingstone "Apologise Now for Antisemitic and Anti-Israel Comments", the Centre raises an alarm about "dangerous levels" of antisemitism in Britain, lumping together swastika daubings, hate attacks, and controversy about Israel in one long sentence, without any evidence to link them, and without citing one antisemitic remark by Ken Livingstone.
As active opponents of antisemitism and every form of racism we take these issues seriously, and have no wish to play down incidents under whatever guise they occur, whether in Britain, France or the United States. But we consider the Simon Wiesenthal Centre presents a distorted, sensational picture; and its claim that Ken Livingstone's remarks "fuelled an already dangerous environment" is wholly without justification.
In echoing and amplifying the line adopted by a section of the Conservative media, the SWC comes dangerously close to intervening in British politics in an election year. What's worse, instead of warning against neo-Nazi forces like the British National Party, it has focussed its sights on a political leader who, whatever his faults, is a dedicated opponent of the racialists.
What are the facts? Pestered by a London "Evening Standard" reporter as he was leaving a party for Britain's first openly gay MP, Mr.Livingstone asked the reporter if he was a Nazi. When the reporter said that he was Jewish, the Mayor asked why he was working for Associated Newspapers. This is the group which besides the "Standard" owns the "Daily Mail", notorious once for admiring fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, and Hitler, and hostility to Jewish refugees; and more recently for headline campaigns demanding tough measures against asylum seekers, immigrants and Gypsies. It may have been unfair of Livingstone to address the young reporter as if he was to blame. But the Mayor has since stated clearly that he had no intention of offending Jewish people or of trivialising the Holocaust. The Wiesenthal Centre does not mention this.
If anything creates a "dangerous environment", it is when supposedly respectable newspapers and politicians exploit prejudices, blame social problems on minorities and encourage hostility against entire communities. This unleashes the swastika-daubers, racist thugs and criminals. Jews are not the only victims, but inevitably one form of hatred feeds others. In France, both Jewish and Muslim war graves were daubed by neo-Nazis. Britain's so-called "mad bomber David Copeland, who attended meetings of the British National Party, targeted Asian Muslims and a gay pub, killing people, and was planning an attack on Jewish people when he was arrested.
Mischievous elements have tried to use conflict abroad - in the Middle East, South Asia or elsewhere - to foment fear and hostility between London's varied communities. But by and large, relations remain good, and decent people are working to improve understanding and fellowship. >From his time as leader of the Greater London Council to now, Ken Livingstone has pursued anti-racist policies and assisted minority communities, and many Jewish groups benefited. Today the mayor is president of Unite Against Fascism, formed to oppose the British National Party.
That, together with social and economic policies vital to all Londoners, is why many Jewish people have voted for Livingstone, regardless of whether they agreed with everything he does or says, or his attitude toward Israel.
On this, however, since the Wiesenthal Centre evokes an anti-Begin cartoon during the Lebanon war (and after the massacres at Sabra and Chatila), we should acknowledge that under Livingstone's leadership County Hall was the venue for the first great historic peace meeting with Israeli and Palestinian speakers in London that year. If anything threatens to undermine relations and exacerbate tensions, rather than building bridges, it is to falsely equate Jews or any other people with a particular political leadership, or policy of state.
Israel's Kahane Commission held Ariel Sharon culpable for the massacres in Lebanon, and many Jewish people, however strong their attachment to Israel, criticise the policy of Israeli governments. To pretend that anyone who calls Ariel Sharon a "war criminal" must be antisemitic is to insult Jewish people; but worse, it creates a very dangerous smokescreen of confusion behind which real antisemites can operate.
If the issue had been fear that Nazi genocide was being trivialised, we could point to worse culprits, from the Italian premier Berlusconi (who was subsequently honoured by the Anti-Defamation League) to the extremist settlers recently rioting and accusing Israel's government of threatening them with a Holocaust.
Simon Wiesenthal earned world-wide respect and admiration as a brave and principled Nazi-hunter. The Centre which bears his name is straying after the wrong quarry. It is easy to misunderstand issues at a distance, particularly if you ignore the views of those who are there. We could criticise the Wiesenthal Centre's previous efforts on Greece and Norway, as well as wondering at the way it rallied to defend Arnold Schwartzenegger against criticism in his rise to governorship. Appreciative as we are of the Centre's concern for our position in Britain, we could express concern at neo-Nazi activity and Holocaust revisionism in the United States, including the State of California.
We can only hope that well-resourced US-based bodies liked the Wiesenthal Centre will learn to listen to those they profess to assist, and not let their view be distorted or campaigns be misled to serve particular political interests or policies.
on behalf of Brent Trades Union Council,
Trades and Labour Hall,
375 High Road,
Willesden London NW10 2JR, UK