Ken Livingstone: this is what the Iranians pay him for

Ken Livingstone has already collected plenty of flak for taking thousands of pounds from Press TV, the Iranian dictatorship’s official broadcaster, a relationship terminated only last week, under heavy pressure from Labour. When you look at the actual content of his shows, however, it gets worse.

Ken is (and will, until March, continue to be) one of the presenters of a programme called Epilogue, a half-hour book review. That, at least, is the theory. Remarkably often, the book is used merely as a pretext for thirty minutes of attacks by Ken and his guests against the West and Israel, sometimes coupled with extravagant praise of – well – the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On his show of 23 August 2010, Ken stated: “All my political life, I’ve watched anything that looks like it might unite the Arab world, going back to Nasser and now through al-Qaeda, is seen as a threat by the West. We fear some united Arab republic, or whatever. I mean, I don’t see why we fear…”

Is Labour’s candidate for the mayor of London – a city attacked by al-Qaeda – really saying that the West is wrong to see the terrorist group as a threat? And does he really see al-Qaeda as a legitimate expression of Arab unity? I think we should be told.

On his show of 28 June 2010, discussing a book called Israel And The Clash of Civilisations, Ken attacked the “demonisation” of the Iranian revolution and the “alarmism” in the West about Tehran’s alleged nuclear programme. He also called for the forcible disarmament of Israel.

He said: “All through this demonisation of the Iranian revolution, I’ve heard so much about the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie. I’ve never heard about the fatwas he issued against the development of nuclear weapons. And here you have the spiritual leader of Iran saying it is against the laws and will of God to build nuclear weapons. And yet we’re all still led to believe that Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons. But as the book shows, we were being told they were on the verge of nuclear weapons 18 years ago….

“Would Saddam Hussein have looked for weapons of mass destruction if Israel didn’t have nuclear weapons? I mean, we have this alarmism in the west that Iran might get nuclear weapons. That Saddam Hussein – all the excuse of the war was that he might be trying to get them. Yet for the best part of 40 years, Israel has sat on 200 nuclear warheads, and there is not a word of protest in the West about this. What do you think the world can do to say:  there’s got to be a level playing field here, between the various regimes in the Middle East? I mean, the best route to peace is: Israel must be forced to give up its nuclear weapons.”

It is true that in 2005 the current supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons (his predecessor, Khomenei, merely said that they were “un-Islamic;” Ken is getting his ayatollahs mixed up.) But Iran’s rhetoric seems inconsistent with its behaviour: only ten days ago, nuclear talks between Iran and the IAEA again broke down. Iran’s co-operation with weapons inspectors was “insufficient,” the UN agency’s chief, Yukiya Amano, said, adding: “We cannot provide … assurance on the absence of (undeclared) nuclear activities or the exclusively peaceful nature of all the nuclear activities of Iran.”

On his 24 February 2010 show, the book of the day was Zionist Israel And Apartheid South Africa and the clear message was that Jews had no right to be in Israel. The introduction to the show described both apartheid South Africa and present-day Israel as “the products of outside implantation imposed on the indigenous population.”

Saying the book “makes a powerful case,” Ken described Israel as a “semi-theocratic state,” asking: “Is not the problem here that when Zionism was conceived in the 1880s, the world was one which accepted racial division… and that was the origin of Zionism? We see that today in… that racial exclusivity [of Judaism.]”

It’s a theme he returned to in his most recent show, on 11 January, discussing a memoir of occupied Palestine: “Is this a problem – Zionism was conceived at a time when everyone felt their race was superior, and while the rest of the world has moved on, this sort of embattled Zionism has hung on?”

Earlier, he asked his guest: “Is it fair to say what the Israelis have created is a form of apartheid, or is this an overstatement? Usually, Zionists go mad as soon as anyone links apartheid and Israel in the same sentence.”

The guest replied: “It is [fair]. Apart from watching Zionists bursting a blood-vessel… the difference between coloniality and apartheid is nothing.”

In a show on a book called The Invention of the Jewish People, the introduction describes how the author “finds present-day Palestinian Arabs to be the true heirs of the Biblical Jews.” An animation shows the Jewish diaspora spreading, not from Israel, but from somewhere near Tunis, across the Middle East to everywhere except Israel.

Ken’s programme only really seems to have two subjects – (1) America is bad; and (2) Israel is very bad, devoting roughly three-quarters of its airtime to these enticing propositions. Other recent Epilogue shows, not presented by Ken, have discussed books called A Discourse On Domination In Mandate Palestine: Imperialism, Property And Insurgency (27 December), Washington Rule: America’s Path To Permanent War (20 December), Israeli Apartheid, A Beginners’ Guide (13 December) and Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destablising Logic Of Zionism (15 November).

And that’s just the last two months! Earlier very special treats last year included The American Age of Unreason, In The Graveyard of Empires (guess whose), America’s Kingdom (about Saudi Arabia), From Co-Existence to Conquest (Israel again), and Zionism, The Real Enemy Of The Jews.

My earlier attacks on Ken’s continuing to work for this station brought forth a classic outbreak of lefty “whataboutery” in the comments. What about you? You used to work for Press TV, too! Indeed I did – until the year before last (I also, as I’ve said several times before, made two one-off appearances on the channel nine months ago.)

But I can quite categorically say that my show never, ever peddled stuff like this.

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