Ken Livingstone has told Vanessa Feltz during an interview on BBC Radio London that Hitler “was supporting Zionism before he went mad”. He made the comments whilst claiming that disgraced MP Naz Shah’s comments were not antisemitic even though she had apologised for them.
The Labour Party must expel Ken Livingstone. Today he has claimed that Hitler was “supporting Zionism”. Enough is enough. He should not be suspended, he should be expelled today. He is a hardened politician who has spent his political career accommodating antisemitic extremists and making antisemitic gaffes. Jeremy Corbyn should understand that zero tolerance for offensive comments like these is all or nothing, and it is time for Ken Livingstone to be banished.
Vanessa Feltz (VF): You will have seen yourself written about in the Telegraph today. It’s their editorial. It says: “Others are furious about the conduct of Mr Corbyn’s friend and ally, Ken Livingstone, who says Naz Shah’s comments were not antisemitic.” Now she’s profusely apologized for them, said she made a mistake. If she’s apologized for them, presumably she acknowledges they are antisemitic. Do you still maintain they were not?
Ken Livingstone (KL): No, she’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over the top but she’s not antisemitic. I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say something antisemitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of the Palestinians but I’ve never heard someone be antisemitic.
VF: She talked about relocating Israel to America; she talked about what Hitler did being legal; and she talked about ‘the Jews rallying’, and she used the word ‘Jews’, not ‘Israelis’ or ‘Israel’. You didn’t find that to be antisemitic?
KL: No, it’s completely over the top; it’s not antisemitic. Let’s remember, When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing 6,000,000 Jews. The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians. And there’s one stark fact that virtually nobody in the British media ever reports: in all these conflicts, the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes. It’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.
VF: You see, some people will say there’s a double standard operating in the Labour Party, that what’s really a flagrant kind of antisemitism, a deeply-embedded systemic antisemitism is hidden behind a mask of anti-Zionism or criticism of Israeli foreign policy, but that’s not what it really is. It’s really – as John Rentoul the political commentator for the Independent said on my programme, using a phrase that I would hesitate to use but he used this morning – he said “these are Jew haters, long-term Jew haters, and they can use criticism of Israel as a cloak behind which to mask that sentiment”
KL: He’s lying. As I said, I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic but there’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as antisemitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this, and being denounced, because back in 1981 we were campaigning to say the Labour Party should recognize the PLO. We were accused of antisemitism and then 12 years later the leader of the PLO’s on the White House lawn, shaking hands with the Prime Minister of Israel
VF: How could it be therefore that you would think it was alright for Naz Shah to mention Hitler at all. If her comments were anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli foreign policy, why would that be part of the argument? Why would Hitler’s name even come into it?
KL: I don’t think she should have done that. As I said, she was over the top but we need to step back and look at the anger there is at the sort of double standards. We’ve just had nearly a decade of painful sanctions against Iran. We invaded Iraq because we thought they were going to get nuclear weapons but Israel’s had nuclear weapons for 40 years at least, and there’s never any sanctions any complaint by anyone in the West. It’s these double standards that make people angry.
VF: What do you think “over the top” really means? If I say, “Was it antisemitic?” and you say, “No, it wasn’t. Categorically no. Anyone who says it was is a liar but it was over the top”, over the top of what?
KL: Basically, to think of antisemitism and racism as exactly the same thing, and criticising the government of South Africa, which is pretty unpleasant and corrupt, doesn’t make me a racist. And it doesn’t make me antisemitic when I criticise the brutal mistreatment by the Israeli government. Let’s look at someone who’s Jewish, who said [… unclear …] Albert Einstein, when the first leader of Likud, the governing party now in Israel, came to America, he warned American politicians, “Don’t talk to this man because he’s too similar to the fascists we fought in the second World War.” Now if Naz or myself said that today, we’d be denounced as antisemitic but that was Albert Einstein.
VF: Lord Levy, a senior Labour peer I think you’ll agree, I said to him on the programme, “I’m going to be speaking to Ken Livingstone. What would you like me to say to him?” He said, “In saying what Hitler did was legal, in talking about moving all Jews from Israel to the United States (and of course, there are more Jews now in Israel than in any other country in the world), Ken Livingstone, in saying those things were legal, must be living on another planet. Vanessa, will you ask him, is he living on another planet and, if so, which planet is it?”
KL: Well, after Jeremy became leader, I was having a chat with Michael. He said he was very worried because one of his friends who was Jewish had come to him and said, “The election of Jeremy Corbyn is exactly the same as the first steps in the rise to power of Adolf Hitler.” So frankly, there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as antisemitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticize what is one of the most brutal regimes that’s going in the way it treats the Palestinians.
Conversation moves on at this point to the London mayoral election