Britain’s opposition Labour Party suspended former London Mayor Ken Livingstone for saying Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism, but the party was accused of being too soft on the veteran hard-left politician.
The row over Livingstone comes against a backdrop of criticism within Labour and in the Jewish community, rejected by party leaders, that Labour has had a persistent problem with anti-Semitism under hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“This was a chance for the Labour Party to show that it would not tolerate wilful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community,” Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said in a statement.
“Worryingly, the party has yet again failed to show that is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism.”
Livingstone, who has a history of making provocative remarks, faced a backlash after saying a year ago that Hitler “was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”.
He was suspended late on Tuesday for two years, a measure that will expire in April 2018 to take into account the period of suspension already served.
Critics, including some within Labour, said Livingstone should have been permanently expelled.
“A new low for my party this evening. Appalling decision. Why is anti-Semitism being treated differently from any other form of racism?” wrote Luciana Berger, a Labour member of parliament who has faced anti-Semitic abuse, on Twitter.
Livingstone was unapologetic, saying he had been speaking the truth when he made his remarks, and likened the disciplinary process against him to “a court in North Korea”.
Labour lawmaker Wes Streeting told Livingstone on BBC news: “Your poor judgment, your crass remarks and your lack of apology brings the Labour Party into disrepute.”
The row comes at a time when Labour is profoundly divided over the fundamental goals and direction of the party.
Corbyn, a veteran campaigner once on the fringes of the party, unexpectedly became leader in 2015 on a wave of support from young activists.
He retains strong support from grassroots party members, but many Labour lawmakers see Corbyn as a failed leader who has no chance of winning an election.
Corbyn is a long-standing supporter of the cause of Palestinian rights, which opponents say has given cover to a surge of thinly veiled anti-Semitism among some party activists.
An internal party inquiry last year cleared Labour of having a problem with anti-Semitism, but its findings were later thrown into question when its chair, Shami Chakrabarti, was appointed to the House of Lords by Corbyn.
A prominent parliamentary committee said in October Corbyn had not done enough to stamp out anti-Jewish sentiment in his party.