Former London mayor and senior Labour party official Ken Livingstone on Tuesday doubled down on his controversial claim that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler supported Zionism, a comment that led to his suspension from Britain’s opposition party in April.
Addressing members of a parliamentary committee tasked with investigating a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents within the Labour party, Livingstone declined to apologize for the remark, insisting his claim was historically accurate.
He said that in recent weeks “hundreds” of people have approached him to express their support for the statement.
“If I had said that Hitler was a Zionist, I would apologize for that, because it’s rubbish,” he told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
“What I said was… that when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy was that the Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism. He wanted all the half-million German Jews out. At that stage, his view was to move them out by the autumn of 1933. He negotiated a deal with a German Zionist organization that did lead to 66,000 German Jews being moved to what is now Israel.”
In an April radio interview, Livingstone said Hitler was “supporting Zionism” before “he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
During the hearing, Livingstone dismissed several offers to retract or apologize for the statement.
Rather, Livingstone said he regretted making the remark because of the “hysterical” response that followed.
“I regret using it because it became this hysterical issue,” he said, adding that the backlash “allowed all the anti-Jeremy [Corbyn] people in the party to whip it up into a bigger issue.”
Livingstone said accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against him were the result of his condemnation of Israeli government policies.
“I have had this accusation thrown at me many times. It is only ever thrown at me when I am critical of the Israel government,” he said.
An inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Labour party was announced by party leader Corbyn in April amid multiple suspensions of members for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks and posts on social media.
A visibly frustrated Labour MP Chuka Umunna tore into Livingstone Tuesday, telling him that “by needlessly and repeatedly offending Jewish people in this way, you’ve not only betrayed our Labour values, but you betrayed your legacy as mayor.”
The head of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, also addressed the parliamentary panel, saying he was “horrified” to hear Livingstone’s “hateful” claim that Hitler supported Zionism.
“I felt a feeling of complete disbelief, especially as the row was raging with suspensions in the Labour party, people saying some really ridiculous things about Jews having big noses, or that Jews were this or that. Most recently someone said that Jews were apparently the financiers of the slave trade,” Arkush told MPs.
Chuka slams Ken, calling him: "a pinup for the kind of prejudice that our party was built to fight against" pic.twitter.com/e03D5STmRM
— Sunny Hundal (@sunny_hundal) June 14, 2016
Acknowledging that criticism of Israel does not amount to anti-Semitism, Arkush called Livingstone’s Hitler remark “not just absurd and ridiculous, but it was a hateful thing to say.”
Angus Robertson, the leader of the Scottish National Party, said he shared Arkush’s concerns, and that there was “no excuse” for Livingstone’s remarks.
Robertson, who defended his party’s spotlighting of Palestinian rights in parliament to the inquiry, said the used of words like “Zionists and Zionism” are sometimes used as a code for “Jews.”
“We should be very careful about how that kind of language is used,” he said, adding that if Livingstone were a member of his own party, he would have sought his dismissal.
“I am a strong critic of the government of Israel,” Robertson said. “I am very concerned about the treatment of Palestinians and would wish there to be a two-state solution.”
Robertson went on to express concern that criticizing Israel breeds anti-Semitism, where, he said people “start using language and imagery which we know from history has been used before, to cast that back to all Jews in Israel.”
Tropes such as “Jewish ownership of press or the financial system to influence public opinion — that is anti-Semitism,” Robertson added.