Scribblings: Exposing the Livingstone Formulation
May 4, 2017 | Tzvi Fleischer
The AIR doesn’t often quote the UK’s Guardian newspaper positively, given that paper’s dyed-in-the-wool anti-Israel editorial stances and slant to its reporting. However, the Guardian deserves full credit for an April 5 editorial exposing an ugly formulation which has become increasing common on the anti-Israel left.
The editorial was written in response to the British Labour Party’s decision to give a mere slap on the wrist to veteran left-wing politician and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, when it had widely been expected he would be expelled for bringing the party into disrepute. Livingstone has lately been insisting repeatedly that Zionists were allied with and collaborated with Hitler in the 1930s.
As the paper noted, the “rhetorical purpose” of this claim by Livingstone – accepted by no reputable historian – “is to imply intellectual or actual Jewish complicity with the perpetrators of their genocide, diminishing the crime of the Holocaust, and so undermine the moral foundations of the State of Israel.”
The groundbreaking insight of the editorial comes in the following paragraphs:
In modern times it is not Labour’s normal practice to belittle the views of those who say they have been victims of racial prejudice, to query their motives and to reject the premises of their complaint. For good reasons, the party’s default position has become a determined readiness to define racism as its victims would like it to be defined. But there is arguably now an exception to this basic ethos of sensitivity: Jews. When the allegation is antisemitism and a Labour politician is being accused, the dynamic is often reversed. A presumption can take hold that the offence cannot have been committed because the left is opposed to all racism.
Warped logic then unfolds: anti-racists cannot be guilty of prejudice against Jews, so it follows that Jewish complaints about prejudice are dishonest. The offence is pushed back on to the people who thought they had been offended. It is reconfigured as a plot to discredit political foes; part of a hidden agenda connected to Israel-Palestine. This argument then feeds the idea that an accusation of antisemitism is a weapon deployed by Jews (usually for decorum’s sake recast as “Zionists”) for nefarious purposes. Thus the ancient racist narrative of kosher conspiracy and shadowy machination thrives even among those who imagine they are policing racism.
This is a refutation of something that, as noted above, has become widespread on the anti-Israel left but is actually named after Ken Livingstone himself, and is known as the “Livingstone formulation”. As British academic expert David Hirsch has defined the term, it is an ad hominem response to any accusation that a claim or argument has some relationship to antisemitism which includes the following four elements:
To refuse to discuss the content of the accusation by shifting focus instead onto the hidden motive for the allegation.
To make a counter-accusation that the accuser is not mistaken, has not made an error of judgment, but is getting it wrong on purpose.
To collapse everything, some of which may be demonisation of Israel, support for boycott, or antisemitism, into a legitimate category like “criticism”.
To allege that those who raise the issue of antisemitism are doing so as part of a common secret plan to silence such “criticism”.
The Guardian gets exactly right what is most destructive about this rhetorical trick (which, interestingly, Livingstone pioneered in 2006 in a controversy over an allegedly antisemitic statement that had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel). It not only singles out the Jews as the one group whose claims to be victims of racial prejudice should prima facie be ignored, it actually argues that the very fact they make claims about such prejudice, regardless of the details of the actual claim made, is reason to regard the Jews as engaging in shadowy machinations and conspiracies. In other words, it is in itself a reason to hate and despise Jews.
The truth is that the Guardian has previously and even recently published material effectively invoking the Livingstone formulation that this editorial condemns – but nonetheless deserves credit for rejecting the concept. The formulation is also sometimes invoked in Australia by the pro-Palestinian left. What everyone should understand today – given that even the Guardian gets it – is that this is an inherently discriminatory technique used against Jews and no other groups, which actively promotes the belief that antisemitic attitudes are justified. If you are supposedly anti-racist and use the Livingstone formulation, then the bottom line is you are no anti-racist.
Gaza’s Forgotten Electricity Shortages
You probably didn’t hear about it, because it wasn’t reported here, but in mid-April, the Gaza Strip’s only power station ran out of fuel. Israel is still supplying Gaza with 120 megawatts of electricity and Egypt a further 30 megawatts, but Gaza needs around 400 megawatts. This means Gazans will now receive only four hours of electricity a day, rather than the 16 they got before.
This shortage has nothing to do with Israel’s blockade of Gaza, but is the result of a long-standing Palestinian Authority (PA)-Hamas disagreement over who should pay for fuel for the power station. The PA buys the fuel from Israel and asks Hamas, which controls Gaza, to pay it back, including some taxes, but Hamas argues the PA should subsidise the costs and is refusing. In January, Turkey and Qatar donated three months worth of fuel to Gaza but that has now been used up.
Israel is trying to help, building a new high-voltage power line to Gaza to boost the power it gets from Israel, as well as a natural gas pipeline to supply fuel for the power plant, but these projects will take years to complete.
Meanwhile, Gazans suffer and no one cares because Israel cannot be blamed.