Facing intense criticism and calls to expel him from the UK Labour Party over his claims that Zionism was initially supported by Adolf Hitler, former London mayor Ken Livingstone doubled down on those statements on Friday, saying they were a “truth” that isn’t taught “in Israeli schools.”
Meanwhile a prominent British historian specializing in Nazi Germany, Hitler and World War II rejected Livingstone’s assertions outright, calling them ignorant and “historically illiterate.”
Labour on Thursday suspended Livingstone after he claimed Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews,” and charged that for decades in the UK there has been a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as anti-Semitic.”
Asked about the storm of controversy he had caused, Livingstone was unrepentant on Friday, saying he believed he should be reinstated.
“How can the truth be an offense — if I had lied that would be offensive,” he told journalists, according to the Telegraph. “Everything I said yesterday was true.
“I suspect most of the pro-Israel Labour MPs have no idea about the history, they certainly don’t teach about 1930s Zionist policy in Israeli schools… Almost everyone in the Jewish community grows up in complete ignorance of this.
Livingstone said he was basing his assertion on the writings of American Marxist historian Lenni Brenner. He said he would be “presenting the academic book about that to the Labour Party inquiry.”
George Galloway, a former MP well known for his anti-Israeli positions, defended Livingstone’s words as “historical fact” and said Livingstone “said absolutely nothing wrong,” according to the Independent.
“There was an agreement between the Nazi filth of Hitler and the Zionist leaders in Germany to send Germany’s Jews to Palestine, because both of them believed that German Jews were not Germans. So in that sense, Nazism and Zionism were two sides of the same coin,” he said.
In a blog post on Friday, World War II historian Roger Moorhouse dismissed Livingstone’s proclamations.
“Hitler was an anti-Semite. He was an ingrained and impassioned anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism was the guiding principle of his political life and it ran through his career,” Moorhouse wrote.
Moorhouse acknowledged an agreement in 1933 between Germany’s new Nazi rulers and Zionist German Jews to allow emigration to Mandatory Palestine for those who wished it, as Hitler sought to rid himself of the country’s Jews in any way he could. But he noted that this was only a temporary solution for the Nazi leader, who disliked the idea of Jews concentrated anywhere in the world; and that the Nazis hardly made emigration easy for the Jews, charging a £1,000 fee (over $90,000 in today’s money) for every person wishing to leave. He added that Zionism was hardly supported by all German Jews, and was simply “a particular strand of Jewish political thought.”
To conclude that Hitler supported Zionism “is not only historically inaccurate, it is historically illiterate,” Moorhouse wrote.
Senior UK Labour Party lawmakers have called on party leader Jeremy Corbyn to take firmer action against anti-Semitism among its members, in light of the anti-Semitic remarks by Livingstone, Naz Shah, an MP who was suspended on Wednesday, and others.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson told BBC radio that the remarks about Hitler were “provocative” and “obviously caused great offense”, promising “zero-tolerance” against anti-Semitism. “We are going to deal with this,” he said.
Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard wrote an editorial in the Daily Telegraph saying Labour “is now run by a cadre for whom anti-Semitism really is ok, so long as it is dressed up as anti-Zionism.”
Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff said Thursday night: “The ferocity of the backlash against Livingstone from left to right of the party is a measure of MPs’ deep frustration and shame that a party that prides itself on fighting discrimination should have come to this.
“This is about a party trying desperately to stop itself being dragged into the gutter, and to assert values it once thought people took as read,” she said.
The Labour Party’s shadow home secretary Andy Burnham told Sky News on Friday that opposition party members “have made anti-Semitic comments” and that “these allegations, when they are surfacing, are not being dealt with properly and quickly enough.”
And fellow Labour MP Jess Philips said Livingstone “appears incapable of contrition” and “must be thrown out of the Labour party.”
At least 39 members of the Labour Party’s 230 members of Parliament have criticized Corbyn’s handling of the scandal, according to The Telegraph, which has included the party leader’s suggestion that the crisis was created by “those who are nervous of the strength of the Labour Party at local level.”
Labour’s anti-Semites “need to be dealt with much more speedily in the future,” Burnham said. “If anti-Semitism is found, expulsion should follow, no ifs or buts.
“I would resign tomorrow if I thought I was in a party promoting anti-Semitism,” he added.
MP Wes Streeting, vice chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, told the British news outlet that Corbyn’s insistence that anti-Semitism was limited to a few members of the party was incorrect.
Corbyn on Thursday denied his party had an anti-Semitism problem, saying it was “totally opposed to anti-Semitism in any form within the party. The very small number of cases that have been brought to our attention have been dealt with swiftly and immediately, and they will be.”
“I don’t see how we can’t say there isn’t at least a serious problem,” Streeting told Sky.
The comments by Livingstone prompted outraged calls, including by many of his colleagues, for his removal from the party.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said Livingstone should be kicked out of Labour altogether. Board President Jonathan Arkush said: “Ken Livingstone’s comments were abhorrent and beyond disgraceful. His latest comments combine Holocaust revisionism with anti-Semitism denial, when the evidence is there for all to see. He lacks any sense of decency. He must now be expelled from the Labour Party.”
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in the current campaign for the London mayoralty, had called Livingstone’s remarks “appalling and inexcusable.” On Friday, Khan added: “The comments from Ken Livingstone are appalling and disgusting and there should be no place in the Labour Party for anyone with those views. Racism is racism. There should be no hierarchy when it comes to racism and nobody with these views should be in our party.”
Labour colleague John Mann MP confronted Livingstone in an extraordinary face-off caught on video to call him “a Nazi apologist,” a “fucking disgrace,” and a “disgusting racist” who was rewriting history. Mann, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, told Livingstone he “should read Mein Kampf” and would learn that Hitler was opposed to a Jewish state, since he thought that it would create a Jewish power base. “I think you’ve lost it, Mr. Livingstone,” stormed Mann. “What are you on at the moment?”
Mann was summoned by the party leadership, in the wake of those comments, “to discuss his conduct” and told that his conduct had been “completely inappropriate.” The telling-off for Mann also prompted complaints from several of his Labour colleagues.
On Friday a petition by Labour member Kate Hillier to discipline Mann for his “appallingly unprofessional and toxic behavior” towards Livingstone received over 10,000 signatures.
The Livingstone controversy erupted a day after Corbyn, a bitter critic of Israel who has referred to Hamas and Hezbollah representatives as “friends,” reluctantly suspended MP Shah, who had called for the dismantling of Israel, compared Israelis to Hitler and posted pro-Hamas tweets.
Livingstone gave an interview Thursday morning in which he attempted to defend Shah. He told BBC London, “There’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this.
“Frankly,” Livingstone also said, according to the Guardian, “there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as anti-Semitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticize what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians.”
Relating to Shah’s Facebook post calling for Israel to be “relocated” to America, Livingstone brought Hitler into the conversation, saying: “Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism — this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
Defending Shah, Livingstone said: “She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over the top but she’s not anti-Semitic. I’ve been in the Labour Party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the State of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians, but I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic. It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-Semitic.”
Corbyn suspended Shah on Wednesday afternoon, after initially standing by her.
Also Wednesday, fellow Labour MP Streeting told The Times of Israel in an interview that his party’s response to anti-Semitism has thus far been “flat-footed and ineffective” and that “now there is media scrutiny in light of Jeremy Corbyn’s election. It’s a bit like lifting up a stone and having insects crawl out from under it.” (On Thursday, Streeting added his voice to those calling for Livingstone to be “suspended immediately,” saying he had a track record of anti-Semitism.)
Battling the storm over her stance on Israel, Shah on Wednesday afternoon issued a personal apology in the House of Commons for her remarks, which she stressed she had made before she became an MP, and vowed to build better relations with Jews and all others.
“I hope you will allow me to say that I fully acknowledge that I have made a mistake and I wholeheartedly apologize to this house for the words I used before I became a member,” said Shah. “I accept and understand that the words I used caused upset and hurt to the Jewish community and I deeply regret that. Anti-Semitism is racism, full stop. As an MP I will do everything in my power to build relations between Muslims, Jews and people of different faiths and none.”
But Corbyn, having initially accepted her apology, suspended her a short time later. Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party had earlier called it “quite extraordinary” that Labour had not suspended Shah. The Guardian quoted an aide to the prime minister saying, “If the Labour Party had a shred of decency she would be immediately suspended… Jeremy Corbyn should be ashamed of himself.”