Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Hysteria over Ken Livingstone

I’ve now had the time to look at this recent brouhaha in more detail.

Ken Livingstone’s original BBC radio interview is here.

Listen to it carefully.

First, let us examine the suspended Labour MP Naz Shah’s original comment, which can be seen here. Obviously that is absurd, unrealistic, and anti-Israel, but as anti-Israel remarks go, there are far, far worse things amongst the viciously anti-Semitic elements of the minority community from which Naz Shah comes, who no doubt increasingly form part of the British Labour party base.

Plenty of criticisms of Livingstone can be made over his view of Naz Shah’s original comment, but that is not something I am disputing here, and at least Livingstone explicitly said that Naz Shah’s comments were “over the top” and that she shouldn’t have compared Israel to Nazi Germany.

The actual point is this: did Ken Livingstone actually say that Hitler was a Zionist in this interview?

No, he did no such thing – but this vicious falsehood is being spread about him all over the media, e.g., just look at Nick Cohen in the Guardian here, who implies that this is what Livingstone actually said.

Livingstone said “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.”

So Livingstone said that Hitler supported Zionism but in the sense that he was in favour of emigration of Jewish Germans to Palestine or other countries, and implicitly with reference to Haavara Agreement of 25 August 1933. This is true.

In fact, even old Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has said that Hitler in the 1930s was essentially in favour of forced Jewish emigration from Germany.

And the policy of expulsion and cooperation with the Zionists is well documented in the Haavara Agreement of 25 August, 1933, signed between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the Nazi government.

It is well known to historians, even to Jewish historians who strongly support Israel.

In fact, it was a Jewish American journalist called Edwin Black, who first wrote a popular work of history that drew public attention to this forgotten bit of history in his book The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine (Carroll & Graf, New York, 2001). Note well: Edwin Black is Jewish and pro-Israeli.

He talks about the Haavara Agreement below in this video (which is part 1 of a 5 part interview, but you can easily go to the next videos after it ends).

More scholarly accounts of this period as follows:
Nicosia, Francis R. 1986. The Third Reich and the Palestine Question. I. B. Tauris, London.

Nicosia, Francis R. 2008. Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York.
This of course does not mean that the Nazis were Zionists, nor that Hitler was a Zionist, nor that the Zionists approved of Nazism. But Livingstone never made any of these assertions.

The Nazi policy in the 1930s was essentially to encourage Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine, although obviously 1930s Germany saw brutal and murderous violence against Jews too, such as Kristallnacht and the sending of Jews to concentration camps in large numbers after that pogrom of November 1938.

The Nazis, in their desire to appease the British in the 1930s, also gave basic support for the imperial status quo in the Middle East, but with a Jewish homeland in Palestine but not an independent Jewish state (whether the latter was actually envisaged in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 is a different question, since it only speaks of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine), and at the same time the rejection of Arab self-determination, at least before the war.

So what has arisen in Britain is a media storm over Livingstone’s assertion of a well-known piece of history.

There is also another statement of Livingstone’s which has been mostly ignored at the end of his interview.

Livingstone pointed out that when Menachen Begin came to America in 1948, Albert Einstein signed a letter, with Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook and others, protesting against him and his Herut (“Freedom”) Party.

Why, you ask?

Well, why not read the letter:
Visit of Menachen Begin and Aims of Political Movement Discussed
To the Editors of New York Times:

Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the ‘Freedom Party’ (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.

The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.

Before irreparable damage is done by way of financial contributions, public manifestations in Begin’s behalf, and the creation in Palestine of the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel, the American public must be informed as to the record and objectives of Mr. Begin and his movement.

The public avowals of Begin’s party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state.”
Read the whole thing here.

So once again Livingstone was not lying (though Begin’s party was not part of Likud when he came to America, and the Herut Party only merged with Likud much later).

And it seems now that much of this media storm is more likely to be caused by internal Labour party politics and the opposition of New Labour neoliberal charlatans and Blairite war criminals to Jeremy Corbyn, and part of a campaign to remove Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour party leadership (see here and here).

As I argued here, the real anti-Semitism today comes not from critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians on the West bank, but from within the religious minority all over Europe that has deeply anti-Semitic attitudes. Read about it here. It’s not pretty.


  1. LK
    thank you again for your interesting blog i have some notes.

    1.hitler first intention indeed been to deport jews from germany (its not make him any better and i am saying it as israeli).

    its easy to understand when we simply looking at madagscar plan.


    but of course hitler and his leadership changed the plans when they saw that as an impractical solution and started more horrible solution as we know it the final solution.
    (again even if he deported jews by force instead of killing them it would not make him a better person).

    2.we cannot ignore the fact that elements (a non mainstream minority) of the zionist movement about a cynical "mutual" benefitcial plan where germans deport jews to israel and there is some kind of "win win" situation and i cant deny that but most of the zionist movement rejected it and the motives been sincere and honest to safe as much jews as possible and to note the more extreme groups as kind of zionist mainstream movement is a disgusting move.

    3.Hirut party been indeed pretty radical i cant deny that the origins of this party is organization which you mentioned zvai leumi and jabotinski (which is pretty interesting character but really controversial as well),and Lekhi (the even more radical chauvinist nationalistic organization).

    but i have to note that in 1973 Hirut party merged into likud party (while you can describe Hirut party as neoconservative party with strong elements of nationalistic chauvinism) they had to share coalition with israeli liberal party to gain enough sits in the parilament and the liberal party been social liberal party with touches of neoliberalism but supported the welfare state and theyve been moderate on issues like the peace agreement with egypt and issues like how to solve the palestinian conflict).

    and in the 1988 the liberal party merged with likud.

    so my point here is that since 1973 the party had a slow but steady transition toward moderation.

    and the fascistic elements more or less faded away (well at least if you dont ask post modernist).

  2. Also to use the antisemitic anti sraeli card is a cheap trick which will influence the popular opinion about israel in uk negatively,

    1. Thanks for all these comments, Daniel. Much appreciated.

      Also, my major point is also: all this cheap political fighting within the Labour party with smears like this distracts attention away from the *real* ugly and vicious anti-Semitism from Islamists. That is the major source of it in Europe these days. Real anti-Semitic *attacks* are happening from these religious extremists on Jewish people in Europe more and more now. It's ugly and frightening.

    2. Exactly you are right 100%

      Labour as rational party shouldnt fight loonies or muslims as general but it should fight radical islamiam as well as other western countries in the same way western countries fight radical nationalism and racism.

      Otherwise left movements like labour will be the best friends of right wing populist movements which are defiently not a better alternative.

  3. LK, this isn't related to your post but I was wondering if you could take a look at this paper for me. I am not an economist so I cannot offer a real critique of its methods and conclusions.


    1. There is something similar, here?
      “This picture is misleading because comparing wage and productivity growth is like comparing apples to oranges. The two are not directly comparable for two reasons.
      First, the government measures productivity and wage growth differently. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses a different method to adjust productivity for inflation than it uses to adjust wages.[4] A simple comparison of these two series reveals the differences between these two measures of inflation, not the actual difference between wage and productivity growth.
      Second, wages are only part of what workers earn. Benefits, such as health coverage, 401(k) plans, and paid sick leave are an increasingly large part of workers' earnings. Economic theory says that companies will raise workers' earnings when their productivity rises, but it does not say that those increased earnings will take the form of cash wages. The correct comparison is between productivity growth and workers' total compensation, including benefits, not just the cash wages portion of that compensation.
      To make an apples to apples comparison of productivity and workers' pay, one needs to look at total compensation, and use the same measure of inflation to adjust both series. Chart 2 shows such a comparison. Over the past forty years compensation per hour and output per hour-that is, productivity-have moved almost in unison. Productivity rose 110 percent since 1968, and total compensation rose 103 percent.”

  4. But the point was that this was not about a fine point of historical accuracy. This is politics and too many Labour Party members are indulging in proverbial political dog-whistling. There remains a minority's but notheless significant hard core section of the constituency that is genuinely anti-Semitic ( as revealed by other social media comments); and Livingstone's and Nah's language was carefully calibrated to appeal to them

    1. "Hamas just wants rid of all the Jews in Israel. Comparing Hamas to Hitler like that means they want to kill all the Jews is so unfair. Even Hitler didn't really want to kill the Jews, not at first, but it was just so hard to get rid of them. Let's make sure it doesn't get to the same point again. Let's resettle tehm in the eas, er, .. USA."

      Nothing antisemitic there!