'I didn't say Hitler was a Zionist,’ says Ken Livingstone at anti-Semitism hearing

'If I had said that Hitler was a Zionist, I would apologise for that because it’s rubbish'

Alexandra Sims
Tuesday 14 June 2016 22:59
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Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the Labour Party after being accused of antisemitism
Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the Labour Party after being accused of antisemitism

Ken Livingstone has denied accusations of being anti-Semitic and defended his claim that Hitler supported Zionism during a parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism.

Giving evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday, the former London mayor said he stood by his comments, adding he “absolutely” felt his suspension from the Labour party was the result of MPs seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

“If I had said that Hitler was a Zionist, I would apologise for that because it’s rubbish,” Mr Livingstone told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. “What I said was… he wanted all the half million German Jews out.”

“If I’d said it, I would agree it was abhorrent. But I didn’t say it, I was stating simple historical fact.”

Mr Livingstone was suspended from the Labour party in April after he said during a radio interview: “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 – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."

Mr Livingstone’s comments came amid a string of suspensions of Labour party officials and activists for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks over social media.

The comments led Mr Livingstone to become involved in an angry dispute with another Labour MP, John Man, who accused him of being a “disgusting racist” and a “Nazi apologist”, which was captured by television cameras.

Mr Livingstone insisted he was right to say Hitler had, at one point, supported Zionism as a way of "getting rid" of Jewish people from Germany. He repeatedly told the cross-party committee he had been approached in the street by Jews agreeing with his comments.

In a written statement to the committee, he said: "I detest racism and condemn anti-Semitism. Indeed my political career has totally opposed any such views concerning any religious or ethnic group."

When asked if he would like to apologise for his comments, he said: "If I had said something that was untrue and caused offence, I would have apologised, but what I said was true.

"What caused offence was a group of embittered old Blairites running around lying about what I said."

"The MPs who smeared me have been criticising Jeremy Corbyn and stabbing him in the back for the last nine months.

"What I find appalling about the motivation of these MPs is they are prepared to cause worry and doubt and confusion amongst our Jewish community in this country for short-term political gain."

Livingstone on anti-semitism

Labour committee member Chuka Umunna told Mr Livingstone he was an "embarrassment" to the party.

The Streatham MP said: "By needlessly and repeatedly offending Jewish people in this way, you've not only betrayed our Labour values, you betray your legacy as mayor, because all you are now going to be remembered for is becoming a pin-up for the kind of prejudice that our party was built to fight against."

Keith Vaz, HASC chairman, said the committee found Mr Livingstone's evidence "unconvincing".

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, told the committee he regarded Mr Livingstone’s comments as “hateful” and that Labour's shift to the left under Mr Corbyn had "emboldened" anti-Semites on the far left to voice their prejudices.

"The election of a leader who is associated with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, with Stop the War, with a very, very hostile position on Israel… has clearly sent the wrong sort of message to some people," said Mr Arkush.

“Some people feel that a space has been opened up for them, or they feel emboldened to say things which previously they felt they couldn't say in polite society,” he added.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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