UK Israel-basher Livingstone wonders if he has Jewish roots

Ex-London mayor, suspended by Labour for insisting Hitler supported Zionism, says he felt completely at home when he visited a kibbutz

Ken Livingstone (BBC)
Ken Livingstone (BBC)

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone, recently suspended from the UK Labour Party after claiming that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism and a series of alleged anti-Semitic remarks, discussed the possibility he has Jewish roots.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Livingstone, who also said last month that the creation of Israel was wrong and a catastrophe, mused on whether he has Jewish ancestors on his mother’s side.

The former mayor cited the late Lord Greville Janner, a Labour MP and later member of the House of Lords, as a Jewish friend. “Greville Janner used to drive me home from the House of Commons at night. We would chat away about the Middle East. He would speculate about whether or not I was Jewish because my grandmother’s name was Zona,” Livingstone said in the interview published Thursday. (Zona is not a common Jewish name, being the Hebrew word for whore and a commonly used slur.)

“I have lots of Jewish friends and I always have. I have had members of the Board of Deputies (the British Jewish leadership body) round for parties. When I went to Israel and stopped by a kibbutz, I felt completely at home there. Everyone was a leftie like me,” Livingstone told the JC.

Livingstone told the Jewish paper he would go to court if Labour does not reinstate him.

“I find it bizarre that people who were suspended after me have already been reinstated; I am certain the reason my case is being dragged out is because next week is the closing deadline for nominations for Labour’s National Executive Committee and I won’t be allowed to stand unless I have been readmitted. It is the old Blairites trying to keep me off the NEC because I support Jeremy (Corbyn)” — the Labour leader.

Leader of the UK Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn seen during a VICE documentary about his leadership. (YouTube/VICE News)
Leader of the UK Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn seen during a VICE documentary about his leadership. (YouTube/VICE News)

“It’s not really about anti-Semitism; it’s just about undermining Jeremy because I am one of Jeremy’s key supporters. All I want to focus on is Jeremy’s economic policies. Jeremy and I have been campaigning side by side for 45 years,” Livingstone said in reference to Corbyn, who was chosen as Labour’s leader last year following the party’s election defeat. Corbyn, a relentless critic of Israel, has called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends.”

According to a report in the Telegraph last month, Labour has recently suspended 50 members for racist and anti-Semitic views.

Livingstone rejected the view that his anti-Israel opinions are an indication of anti-Semitism. “It is an absolutely ridiculous thing to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel,” he said. “I criticize David Cameron’s government, that doesn’t mean I’m anti-British.”

Denying that he was “obsessed” with Nazi history, Livingstone said that he never read the Nazi party’s manifesto or Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

“I haven’t read Karl Marx either,” he said. “I have never seen the Nazi manifesto. If I would have seen it, I would have read it. I have a thousand books I am still waiting to read, that I am trying to find time to read. Now I am retired, I am catching up. If anyone actually wants to send me a copy of it…” he said.

Jewish supporters have stopped him near his home in north-west London, Livingstone said, to express support. “They tell me they’re Jewish. They say: ‘We know what you said was true, don’t give in’.”

He was interviewed by the JC after testifying at the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into anti-Semitism earlier this week.

On Tuesday, before that panel, Livingstone doubled down on his claim that Hitler supported Zionism, declined to apologize for the remark, and insisted it 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 committee. “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 had said Hitler was “supporting Zionism” before “he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

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.”

Board of Deputies chief Jonathan Arkush appears before a parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism in London on June 14, 2016 (screen capture:
Board of Deputies chief Jonathan Arkush appears before a parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism in London on June 14, 2016 (screen capture:

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.

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