The suspensions of Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah has brought the bubbling issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party to the boil. There seems to be general agreement that Naz Shah’s apology was sincere and heartfelt. But not only has Livingstone failed to apologise, he has a long history of ‘form’ when it comes to going out of his way to offend Jews. There was, for example, that incident when he accused a Jewish journalist of being no better than a ‘Nazi concentration camp guard’ when the journalist was simply doing his job.
But let’s get one thing out of the way. Livingstone’s claim that Hitler supported Zionism is based, presumably – because he didn’t actually state it at the time – on the Haavara agreement (1933 -1939) and other well documented links between Nazi Germany and Zionists. This excellent and informative review by Hugh Murray of Francis R. Nicosia’s The Third Reich and the Palestine Question. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985, from the respected journal New German Critique, Number 42, Fall 1987, 176-180 and republished by Anthony Flood, outlines the history and details of that relationship.
There can be no doubt that the Nazi-Zionist relationship was born out of desperation and the sense of impending tragedy. In the years before the outbreak of WW2 the Nazis just wanted rid of Germany’s Jews, and they really didn’t care where they went. Many countries including the USA and the UK had strict Jewish immigration quotas, which – shamefully – shrank significantly as the crisis for Jews in Germany worsened and increasing numbers wanted to leave. So if someone came along and offered some sort of deal to help Germany cleanse itself of its Jewish population, why on earth wouldn’t the Nazis accept that – even if those making the offer were Jewish and Zionist, and the destination was the then British Mandate of Palestine?
As Nicosia makes clear in his book, those links and agreements probably saved more German Jews (c. 60,000) than the ‘closed door’ policies of the USA and other countries.
All that came to an end with the war and the German occupation of large parts of Europe. The Nazis now found themselves with a massive ‘Jewish Problem’, which they ‘solved’ by devising and implementing the industrial-scale genocide of the ‘Final Solution’. Livingstone even manages to reduce the Holocaust to a mental aberration on the part of Hitler, because madness reduces the moral content of actions and belittles the horror and evil of the events.
As for Hitler, his loathing of Jews was well established, and while there is no evidence that he actively supported those Nazi-Zionist links, there is some evidence that he tried to stop them. Later, in 1942, he promises the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem that once the Middle East is ‘liberated’ the Nazis will leave the region alone except for ensuring the complete annihilation of the Jews currently living under the British Mandate of Palestine. So much for his support for Zionism.
What Ken Livingstone has done has been to take what is an historical fact i.e. the Nazi – Zionist links and distort it in such a way that it feeds directly into the current and virulent anti-Israel, anti-Zionist agenda amongst some sections of the Left, which itself then bleeds – sometimes unconsciously, sometimes imperceptively, sometimes explicitly – into outright antisemitism. One has to wonder why such an informed and intelligent person as Livingstone, who clearly know his history, stated that Hitler supported moving the Jews ‘Israel’ when he must have known that there was no Israel in the 1930s. Livingstone also – although I’m sure he doesn’t intend it – provides succour to the ‘classic’ antisemites on the Right, and it was instructive to see the Fascists and Holocaust-deniers coming out in ‘We’ve always told you so’ support of him on Twitter and other social media.
It appears, judging from the media coverage and the reactions both within and outside the Labour Party, that we have now reached the chaotic ‘moral panic’ stage in regard to anti-semitism. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll all ‘Calm down, dears’, and be able to have a rational debate about Israel, Palestine, Jews, Palestinians, Zionism and Antisemitism…but somehow I doubt it.
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Some useful further reading: