Former London mayor Ken Livingstone on Monday quit the Labour Party, saying his 2016 suspension for alleged anti-Semitic comments had become a “distraction” to a party dogged by allegations that its leader Jeremy Corbyn is failing to tackle anti-Semitism in its ranks.
“After much consideration, I have decided to resign from the Labour Party,” Livingstone said in a statement on his website. “The ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour Party have become a distraction.”
Livingstone, the mayor of the capital between 2000 and 2008 and a close ally of Corbyn’s, denied that he had “brought the Labour Party into disrepute,” and that he was “in any way guilty of anti-Semitism.”
“I abhor anti-Semitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so,” he said.
“I also recognize that the way I made a historical argument has caused offense and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that,” added Livingstone.
Corbyn said it was “sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics” that Livingstone had quit, but that resigning was “the right thing to do.”
Livingstone, 72, was suspended in April 2016 after saying on a radio show that when Hitler won power in Germany in the early 1930s, “his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
Amid on ongoing furor over the claim, Livingstone insistently defended the statement.
Last year, he caused fresh uproar by claiming that German Zionists received assistance from the SS and were close collaborators of the Nazi regime.
In March, the Labour Party extended Livingstone’s suspension past its April 27 expiration, until the conclusion of an internal probe into his conduct over allegations that his claims were anti-Semitic or otherwise offensive to Jews.
The decision to suspend and not expel Livingstone was strongly criticized by Jewish groups at the time, and came as the party grappled with allegations that it has been lax on anti-Semitism under leader Corbyn.
Corbyn had refused to expel Livingstone despite calls from many MPs and party members.
Livingstone has also charged that for decades in the UK, there has been a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israel policy as anti-Semitic.”
Under Corbyn, who in 2009 called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends,” thousands of people, many from the far left, joined Labour, in a development that leaders of British Jewry say has generated an anti-Semitism problem in the party’s ranks.
Dozens of Labour members have been kicked out for rhetoric deemed anti-Semitic, but many others have been allowed to stay or were readmitted.
This means that “most people in the Jewish community can’t trust Labour,” Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said in 2016. A British parliamentary committee of inquiry in 2016 upheld claims that the party’s leadership was failing to confront seriously anti-Semitism in its ranks.
Leaders of the British Jewish community have repeatedly urged Corbyn to tackle anti-Semitism in the party, but say he has failed to do so. Community leaders in March organized a march outside Parliament, attended by 1,500 people, including several Labour MPs, to protest the party’s failure to tackle the problem.
Corbyn has denied his party has an “anti-Semitism problem.”