Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London with a despicable track record of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitic utterances, chose carefully with his latest assault. Defending a Labour MP, Naz Shah, who had been suspended from the party for having called to “relocate” Israel to the United States — in other words, to dismantle the world’s only Jewish state — Livingstone on Wednesday inserted Hitler, the Nazis and Zionism into the spiraling debate by asserting that “before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews,” Hitler had been “supporting Zionism.”
The content and fallout from Livingstone’s attempt to rewrite history dominated British media throughout Thursday, led the front pages of many of Britain’s newspapers Friday, and continues to resonate, drip-dripping the fallacy into tens of millions of minds.
His obscene revisionism was succinctly debunked by historians Andrew Roberts and Roger Moorhouse. Wrote Roberts: “The idea that Hitler ever wanted a fully-functioning successful Jewish state in Palestine – the dream of Zionists – is ludicrous, as Mr Livingstone undoubtedly knows. The sole reason Ken Livingstone brought up the Fuhrer in his interview was to be as vicious and loathsome as he possibly could to any Jews listening, rather than genuinely intending to make some valid historical point about the migration policies of the putative Third Reich in the 1930s.”
But this categorical debunking by eminent historians did not take center stage as the story rumbled on. Amid all the chaos and by-the-minute reporting of Livingstone’s utterances, the outrage they caused, his suspension from the party, and the calls to expel him permanently, Livingstone’s cynical lie, his foul and ridiculous depiction of Hitler as a Zionist, was not energetically challenged in much of the mainstream media coverage.
Livingstone must be quite delighted.
In planting and nurturing the notion that Hitler and the Zionists were in league, that Hitler was by extension a factor in the establishment of Israel, Livingstone serves and advances his long-term efforts at demonizing Israel, the better to isolate and weaken it.
What Livingstone would have Britons believe is that an equation can be drawn between the Nazis, the very epitome of evil, and the Zionists whom he so reviles. All those who rightly abhor the Nazis — Livingstone would hope to convince those tens of millions of viewers, listeners and readers — must likewise abhor and oppose Zionists and Israel.
Labour’s recently elected leader Jeremy Corbyn, who succeeded the inept Ed Miliband after last year’s general election failure, was demonstrably unhappy to have to suspend Shah on Wednesday, and reluctant to suspend his ally Livingstone on Thursday. Corbyn, after all, is also a relentless critic of Israel who has described representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah — terrorist organizations that kill civilians, use their own hostage populations as human shields and avowedly seek the destruction of Israel — as his “friends.”
Corbyn’s success in winning the Labour leadership was unexpected, and his positions on several key issues are at odds with many of the party’s own members of Parliament, activists and voters. But in a Britain bedeviled by class divides, a Britain beset by economic inequalities, a Britain where many are fed up with a perceived arrogant and indifferent establishment, the conventional wisdom that the radically anti-establishment Corbyn could not possibly become prime minister appears foolish. Just look at America and Donald Trump.
The English Liberal rabbi, Danny Rich, quickly recognized on Thursday what Livingstone is up to. “Claiming Hitler was a Zionist is not only a huge historical perversion, but it directly equates Nazism and Zionism,” wrote Rich. “It suggests they share objectives and values; it is guilt by association. It is hard to think of a more offensive linkage.”
But it is a linkage most deliberately perpetrated by Livingstone, a linkage that he continues smugly to assert, in the cause of an Israel-demonizing agenda that is shared by his party leader.
Soon after Livingstone unleashed his Hitler-was-a-Zionist falsehood, he was confronted by a Labour MP, John Mann, who heads a parliamentary committee that is grappling with the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK. Apoplectic and outraged, Mann told Livingstone he was “rewriting history” and was a “Nazi apologist” and a “disgusting racist.”
Rather than praising Mann for restoring some honor and integrity to the Labour name, Corbyn had him summoned by the party “whip” — its disciplinary authority — where Mann was told his conduct was “completely inappropriate.”
That, dismally, is the face of today’s British Labour leadership, of Her Majesty’s Opposition, of the would-be next government of the United Kingdom: a leadership stained by anti-Semitism, reluctant to so much as suspend offenders, and critical of those within its ranks who confront them.