World News

Livingstone Quits U.K. Labour Party in Anti-Semitism Dispute

Posted May 21, 2018 7:54 p.m. EDT

Ken Livingstone, once a leading political figure and a former mayor of London, on Monday quit Britain’s opposition Labour Party more than two years after being suspended over comments that fueled claims of anti-Semitism within the party.

Livingstone, an ally of Labour’s left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said in a statement that he was leaving the party because his position had become “a distraction” from key political issues.

His resignation ends a long-running dispute over whether the Labour Party should expel Livingstone, 72, who had fought disciplinary proceedings against him. His membership in the party had become a growing embarrassment to the leadership.

Once one of Britain’s best-known politicians, Livingstone was criticized in 2016 for telling the BBC that in 1932 Hitler had championed Jewish emigration to Israel and was “supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”

On Monday, Livingstone rejected claims that he had brought the Labour Party into disrepute and said he was not guilty of anti-Semitism, while acknowledging that his comments had upset Jews and offended others.

“I am truly sorry for that,” he said in a statement.

Corbyn described Livingstone’s departure as “sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics,” but added that it “was the right thing to do.”

Under Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party has been accused of failing to root out anti-Semitism within its ranks. Demonstrators gathered outside Parliament in March, asserting that Jews no longer felt welcome in the party.

That followed the revelation that, in 2012, Corbyn had endorsed a mural that was widely considered anti-Semitic — something for which he has since apologized.

With Corbyn under pressure to address the continuing contention over anti-Semitism, Livingstone’s departure may have been inevitable.

The outcome became more likely when Shami Chakrabarti, who conducted an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, recently said that she thought Livingstone should no longer be a member.

Not all of Livingstone’s critics were satisfied with his statement. Ruth Smeeth, a Labour lawmaker, described his behavior as “grossly offensive to British Jews.”

“His departure is welcome, but the fact that he still refuses to accept responsibility for his actions is a disgrace,” she said.

Livingstone was expelled from the Labour Party in 2000 after challenging its official candidate in London’s mayoral election, but he was later allow to return.