Amid an ongoing uproar over his statements this week that Adolf Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism, Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor and senior UK Labour official now suspended from the party, claimed Saturday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would defend his comments because he’d said the very same thing.
In an interview with radio station LBC, Livingstone again refused to apologize for asserting that Hitler was a Zionist, saying he regretted the upheaval but insisting that the claim was a “statement of fact.”
“How can I have hurt and offended the Jewish community when the prime minister of Israel said exactly the same thing?” asked an unapologetic Livingstone. He cited comments made by Netanyahu last October suggesting that Hitler had not initially intended to annihilate the Jews, only expel them from Europe, and that the idea of extermination came from Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist widely acknowledged as a fervent Jew-hater.
Said Livingstone, “The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is addressing the World Zionistic Congress. This is the sentence he says, ‘Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews, but only to expel them.'”
“If the prime minister of Israel can say, two days before, exactly what I said, it can’t mean that I’m anti-Semitic — and he’s certainly not anti-Semitic,” alleged Livingstone, giving an incorrect timeline of Netanyahu’s statements and falsely implying that Netanyahu had suggested Hitler supported Zionism.
Livingstone said he would “invite the prime minister of Israel to come over and defend me, as he clearly agrees with what I said,” according to The Telegraph.
Netanyahu walked back the controversial comments at the time, amid intense criticism in Israel and abroad. In a lengthy Facebook post, he said he wished to “clarify [his] remarks about the connection between the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Nazis.” He said that he “did not mean to claim that in his conversation with Hitler in November 1941 the mufti convinced him to adopt the Final Solution. The Nazis decided on that by themselves… The decision to move from a policy of deporting Jews to the Final Solution was made by the Nazis and was not dependent on outside influence. The Nazis saw in the mufti a collaborator, but they did not need him to decide on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, which began in June 1941.”
Also Saturday, Israel’s Labor opposition leader Isaac Herzog responded furiously to statements made by Livingstone and other UK Labour members, inviting senior officials to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem for a reminder of the results of anti-Semitism. In a lengthy Facebook post, Herzog slammed the “repulsive” comments made by Livingstone and also castigated Livingstone’s “anti-Semitic colleague” MP Naz Shah, who was also suspended this week.
In the LBC interview, Livingstone was given at least 16 opportunities by the host to apologize, the Telegraph reported, dodging each one and stating he “never regret[s] saying something that is true.”
On Friday, Livingstone claimed this “truth” was “not taught in Israeli schools.”
On Thursday, hours before he was suspended from the Labour Party, Livingstone told an audience at a meeting in east London that he could not be anti-Semitic because he’d previously had two Jewish girlfriends.
“It’s absurd to call me an anti-Semite, as two of my ex-girlfriends are Jewish. It’s offensive to them to say they were lying in bed next to someone who hates them,” the Daily Mail quoted Livingstone as saying during the meeting.
The Labour Party’s shadow chancellor MP John McDonnell told the BBC on Saturday that he wished Livingstone had “apologized for some of the offense that he’s caused,” and acknowledged that the uproar over Livingstone’s remarks and a series of instances of anti-Semitism were a “setback” for the Labour Party.
McDonnell further said an inquiry into anti-Semitism within the party, as announced by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday, would help set up a system to provide “guidance” and “training” for MPs and introduce a “procedure where we root out any form of anti-Semitism or any forms of racism.”
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell: "I wish Ken Livingstone would have apologised today for the offence he's caused" https://t.co/or6ssie7Nh
— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 30, 2016
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.”
A prominent British historian specializing in Nazi Germany, Hitler and World War II rejected Livingstone’s assertions outright, calling them ignorant and “historically illiterate.”
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.
Added fellow historian Andrew 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 Führer 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.”
Senior UK Labour Party lawmakers have called on Corbyn to take firmer action against anti-Semitism among its members, in light of the anti-Semitic remarks by Livingstone, MP Shah, and others.
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.”
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.