Ken Livingstone ‘won’t get easy ride’ at Oxford Union debate

Ken Livingstone ‘won’t get easy ride’ at Oxford Union debate

The veteran politician, suspended by Labour after claiming Hitler supported Zionism, will address the prestigious union on Wednesday.

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone is to address the prestigious Oxford Union this week.

The veteran politician was suspended last month after suggesting Hitler supported Zionism – and subsequently refused to apologise.

His future in the party won’t be known until next month but senior politicians and community leaders have called for his expulsion.

A Facebook page promoting Wednesday’s event says the former mayor strove during his time at City Hall to improve the rights of “women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities, though he has been accused by some of cronyism and anti-Semitism”.

Isaac Virchis, president of the Oxford University Jewish Society, said: “The Oxford Union and Oxford University has a proud tradition of freedom of speech and Oxford students are amongst the best in the country at challenging those with problematic views.

“Mr Livingstone will not be given an easy ride and I look forward to seeing him scrutinised and discredited during his address later this week.”

A spokesman for the Oxford Union said; “The Oxford Union is historically the ‘last bastion of free speech’ – as such, we are strongly against the ‘no-platforming’ policies advocated by many organisations today. We are not a platform – we are a forum for discussion, and, as such, any speaker at the Oxford Union is open to be challenged by members in the discussions we host.

“We therefore look forward to welcoming those who seek to challenge Mr Livingstone when he visits, as we have welcomed those challenging our many other controversial or topical guests over our nearly-200 year long history.”

The news comes just days after Jewish News exclusively revealed that he will not return to the LBC airwaves following the row. It also follows an investigation by Baroness Royall into claims of intimidation of Jewish students at the Oxford Labour Club – which found that Jews didn’t always feel welcome or able to debate without starting with criticism of the Israeli government.

In an address to the Union last week, the Chief Rabbi said: “We’re seeing in Europe, and here in the UK as well, an increase in anti-Semitic sentiment and activity. And one is saddened to read the essence of the report of Baroness Royall, concerning the Oxford University Labour Club and the events that have happened here on this campus.”

He added: “I’m sure you join with me in recognising that there can only be zero tolerance towards all anti-Semitism, here in Oxford, on all campuses in this country, and indeed, within our society at large.”

Describing Zionism as a reflection of Judaism, Rabbi Mirvis said: “Zionism today is best defined as the right of the Jewish people, like all peoples, for self-determination in our own homeland within secure borders.

“Therefore, if one accepts this definition, which is the definition that most people hold, that whole notion of anti-Zionism amounts to an attack on the Jewish people.”

He described as “regrettable” the recent election of NUS president Malia Bouattia, who has previously spoken of “Zionist-led media”.

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