Mondoweiss

Why so many are twisting Ken Livingstone’s words about Hitler and Zionism

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone

Two days ago, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was sentenced to another year of suspension after a hearing by the Labour Party’s national constitutional committee (NCC) concerning his remarks on Hitler’s temporary support for Zionism.

Livingstone has been one of the most noted personalities in what has been a year-long ‘scandal’ over an alleged ‘Labour anti-semitic problem’.

The media has a part in it, a very worrying one. While blaming Ken Livingstone for supposedly distorting history, mainstream media outlets are distorting Livingstone’s own words – and this includes the Israeli liberal Haaretz.

Some background

A year ago, Livingstone was supporting Labour MP Naz Shah, who was under investigation mostly for having shared a satiric meme on her Facebook in 2014 – about ‘relocating Israel to the US’. While defending Shah, Livingstone noted in a BBC interview, that Hitler “was supporting Zionism”, before Hitler took on a mass extermination policy, remarks which became another storm. Livingstone’s remarks refer to the Transfer Agreement 1933-39 between the Nazis and Zionists. The Transfer Agreement can be read about among other places in a Yad Vashem document titled “The Transfer Agreement and the Boycott Movement: A Jewish Dilemma on the Eve of the Holocaust”, by Yf’aat Weiss. Livingstone has also been referring to this document in defense of his claim.

Last May, Norman Finkelstein commented on Livingstone’s remarks:

“Livingstone maybe wasn’t precise enough, and lacked nuance. But he does know something about that dark chapter in history. It has been speculated that Hitler’s thinking on how to solve the ‘Jewish Question’ (as it was called back then) evolved, as circumstances changed and new possibilities opened up. Hitler wasn’t wholly hostile to the Zionist project at the outset. That’s why so many German Jews managed to survive after Hitler came to power by emigrating to Palestine. But, then, Hitler came to fear that a Jewish state might strengthen the hand of ‘international Jewry’, so he suspended contact with the Zionists.”

At the time, the scandal was about Livingstone supposedly saying that ‘Hitler was a Zionist’ or that ‘Hitler supported Zionism’, whereas Livingstone’s phrase on that matter was actually more nuanced: that “Hitler was supporting Zionism” – that is, for a period of time, in a particular context, before that context changed.

As Jonathan Cook noted at the time:

“If I criticised you by saying “In lending Jim £50 yesterday, you were supporting his drug habit”, it would not follow that I thought you wanted Jim to be a drug addict. I would simply be making an observation about the consequences – intended or not – of your actions. “Supporting” in this context means “helping“, “facilitating”, “assisting”, “enabling”.

Media twist

Livingstone has had to repeatedly refute that he did not say Hitler was a Zionist. But mainstream media seems to have a habit of distorting his words. And that includes the Israeli liberal paper Haaretz.

Look at the Haaretz news story from Tuesday, headlined “Ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone Suspended From Labour for One Year Over Hitler-Zionist Comments”. Alright, you may say, “Hitler-Zionist Comments” – that’s a paraphrase, yes? So in the article itself, Haaretz writes that “Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been banned from the British Labour party for a year over comments made in 2016 in which he said ‘Hitler was Zionist,’ The Guardian reported on Tuesday” [my emphasis].

Aha, so now it’s “Hitler was Zionist” – but who said so? The Guardian, according to Haaretz. Any link there? No. I tried to find the exact quote – but couldn’t. The Guardian certainly seems to be in the habit of referring to this euphemistically as “Hitler and Zionism” or otherwise slightly misrepresenting Livingstone’s words. But in fact, The Guardian did give Livingstone some voice to refute the charge, as in the June article titled “Ken Livingstone: ‘I didn’t say Hitler was a Zionist’”.

So why is Haaretz posting it like this? Haaretz is clearly trying to condition the reader, twice, to misinterpret Livingstone’s words. Only later in the article, does Haaretz provide us Livingstone’s actual words: “He was supporting Zionism.” But then it’s probably too late for the uncritical reader.

Does Haaretz stop here? No. Merely a couple of hours later, Haaretz publishes an article by its London correspondent Daniella Peled, titled “British Jews Livid After Ken Livingstone Receives Slap on the Wrist for Saying Hitler Was Zionist”.

Here we go again – “Hitler was Zionist” – as if it was what he said, as if it was fact. Only later in the article we may read a slightly more critical, yet still erroneous mentioning, that “to the horror of many in the Anglo-Jewish community, veteran Labour politician Ken Livingstone has escaped expulsion from the party over claims he made last year that Hitler supported Zionism.”

Now I’m not the one to normally be pedantic about grammatic insertions of past tense, whether it’s past-perfect “had”, past continuous of “was” (including interrupted past) or just simple past tense. But there appears to be a pathological wish going around, to take Livingstone’s words and over-simplify them, or even worse – to rather savagely distort them into an absolute ideological notion (“Hitler was Zionist”) that Livingstone never asserted.

The question is, why? Is it simply too uncomfortable for otherwise informative media to address the issues he addressed? Is it necessary to distort in order to make the point? And what point is that? That Livingstone is an anti-Semite? This of course seems to be the point of it all. The point that reeks of a witch-hunt, that bears the marks of a cynical political game to silence and weaken Jeremy Corbyn and Palestinian solidarity, for Blairite Labourists to gain the upper hand whilst using the ‘anti-Semitic’ card. Shamefully, Haaretz is playing this dirty game too.

Jewish Chronicle

Now let’s look a bit further, because in defense of his first mentioned claim, at the time of the recent hearings Livingstone has also made further claims about “a real collaboration” between Nazis and Zionists, on other fronts than the Transfer Agreement. While Livingstone may be provoking unease amongst some, the issues he mentions are certainly worth discussion. But this discussion seems to be something many Jews want shut down and discredited.

A few days ago, the Jewish Chronicle published Paul Bogdanor’s piece titled “Ken Livingstone’s claims are an insult to the truth”. Bogdanor, who is supposed to be a Holocaust authority, claims that “The former mayor of London’s comments about Hitler, Jews and Zionism are distortions or inventions which insult the historical memory of the Jewish people”. He calls the charges of “collaboration” “unfounded”. Bogdanor notes that “Livingstone cites two sources on the [Transfer] agreement: one paper by Yf’aat Weiss and another by Francis Nicosia, who is also the author of two books examining the issue”, opining that “Neither the papers nor Nicosia’s books endorse the “collaboration” fantasy.”

Bogdanor’s rebuttal deserves some scrutiny.

First of all, the notion of “collaboration” doesn’t have to be noted as an explicit word anywhere in those documents in order to be used as a general appraisal of the Transfer Agreement. “Collaboration” doesn’t have to mean total ideological affinity. It can just mean “working together”. That is exactly what happened.

But Livingstone’s reference to “real collaboration” rests upon more than just the Transfer Agreement. In the street interview this refers to, he was saying:

“He didn’t just sign the deal. The SS set up training camps so that German Jews who were going to go there could be trained to cope with a very different sort of country when they got there. When the Zionist movement asked, would the Nazi government stop a Jewish rabbi doing their sermons in Yiddish and make them do it in Hebrew, he agreed to that. He passed a law saying the Zionist flag and the swastika were the only flags that could be flown in Germany. An awful lot. Of course, they started selling Mauser pistols to the underground Jewish army. So you had right up until the start of the second world war real collaboration.” (see interview here).

So Bogdanor in the JC tries to refute the rest of the charges. First, Bogdanor applies the notion, resting upon the former mentioned fallacy, where Bogdanor opines that “Livingstone’s other “facts” are just as unreliable”.

In attempt to refute them, he ironically affirms them. The first issue is thus addressed:

“The idea that the SS “set up training camps” for German Jews is a fabrication. It was local Zionists who founded the hachschara farms as occupational retraining centres for Jews hoping to emigrate to Palestine. The SS initially tolerated these activities, while imposing strict controls on them.”

Alright, the SS ‘tolerated’ them. Anyone with a minute historical sense knows that if the SS knew about the camps, which Bogdanor concedes they did, then they at least ALLOWED them. If the SS would not have wanted those Zionist training camps to exist, they would have shut them down. The SS did not have problems shutting institutions down. Did the SS set the camps up, or did they let the Zionists set them up? Well, we don’t really expect Eichmann himself to come down and start building tents, do we? The Nazis used to have others do their work, like with the Kapos – the prisoners who assisted them at the concentration camps. So Livingstone’s notion of the SS having “set up” the Zionist training camps, is perhaps worthy of discussion – but does not deserve to be shut down as false.

In attempting to refute the ‘Zionist flag and the Swastika’ claim, Bogdanor writes:

On the claim that Hitler passed a law permitting the flying of the “Zionist flag” as well as the swastika, historian Richard Evans states that the Nuremberg Laws banned Jews from using the Nazi banner while allowing them to display “Jewish colours”. The laws never specified those colours, nor was any “Zionist flag” officially recognised.

So, let’s get this right. The Third Reich Nazi flag was the only flag to be flown, except that Jews were not allowed to fly it. This was under the racial notion of Jews as being separate from Germans, as stipulated clearly in the Nuremberg Laws. Nuremberg Laws Article 4 notes that:

“Jews are forbidden to fly the Reich or national flag or display Reich colours.

They are, on the other hand, permitted to display the Jewish colours. The exercise of this right is protected by the state.”

In his book ‘Zionism in the Age of the Dictators’, Lenni Brenner notes Rabbi Stephen Wise, who writes in his Congress Bulletin (24 January 1936):

“Hitlerism is Satan’s nationalism. The determination to rid the German national body of the Jewish element, however, led Hitlerism to discover its ‘kinship’ with Zionism, the Jewish nationalism of liberation. Therefore Zionism became the only other party legalized in the Reich, the Zionist flag the only other flag permitted to fly in Nazi-land. It was a painful distinction for Zionism to be singled out for favors and privileges by its Satanic counterpart.”

So what does this tell us? Bogdanor seeks to refute the notion of the ‘Zionist flag’ by asserting that the colors were not specified – but this is really pedantic. The Reich flag is also mentioned as “Reich colors”, because there were various versions of the Swastika flags, same colors. The Nazis didn’t have to spell out ‘Jewish colors’ as ‘The Zionist Flag’. They conflated Judaism with Zionism, in their wish, at the time, to have Jews separate and excluded. Zionism provided Nazism with this sense of ‘kinship’ as Wise noted, in that it too was adamant about “Jewish nationalism” and shared the racial anti-assimilationist notions of the Nazis. This was what the Nazis would have Jews be – Zionists.

As Annie Stern, a Czechoslovakian Jewish survivor of Nazi persecution who had emigrated to Palestine recalled:

‘‘Are you a Zionist?” Adolph Eichmann, Hitler’s specialist on Jewish affairs, asked her. ”Jawohl,” she replied. ”Good,” he said, ”I am a Zionist, too. I want every Jew to leave for Palestine.”

In addition, Eichmann told Time magazine shortly before his execution, that

“In the years that followed (after 1937) I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.”

So now, Bogdanor claims that the “Zionist flag” wasn’t officially recognized, as a supposed refutation of Livingstone’s mention of a “Zionist flag”.

But the Zionist flag was conceived already at the first Zionist Congress in Basel (1897) by David Wolfsohn, who recalls:

“At the behest of our leader Herzl, I came to Basel to make preparations for the Zionist Congress. Among many other problems that occupied me then was one which contained something of the essence of the Jewish problem. What flag would we hang in the Congress Hall? Then an idea struck me. We have a flag — and it is blue and white. The talith (prayer shawl) with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this Talith from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations. So I ordered a blue and white flag with the Shield of David painted upon it. That is how the national flag, that flew over Congress Hall, came into being.”

Thus it was widely understood that the “Jewish colors” meant the blue and white Zionist flag. The Nazis did not have to spell it out. Zionism wasn’t a state, and calling it “Jewish colors” could just as well be a way of separating out Jews without offering them the pride of full ‘recognition’.

To summarize this point: There was a Zionist flag, and it became the Israeli flag. Livingstone’s formulation here is rather correct, whilst Bogdanor’s refute is merely pedantic.

 

So, what all this is about

It is admitted by Labour leadership, that the case against Livingstone is not about the historical facts, but whether his conduct was “grossly detrimental” to the party, as the Guardian noted, referring to a letter by Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol to Livingstone. “Grossly detrimental”, apparently because it challenged a classical Zionist narrative by which Zionism was the diametric opposite of Nazism, and the answer to Nazism. The notion of collaboration threatens to take Zionism down a rabbit-hole, which could potentially challenge the legitimacy and motives of Zionism. This might harm ‘brand Israel’. Thus there exists an interest to present any such nuances as inherently stemming from anti-Semitic motives. As Livingstone’s own words do not reflect such a motive in themselves, the words need to be twisted.

The UK Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) are not satisfied with the decision to suspend Livingstone. They want him expelled. Having launched a protest called ‘Not in my name’, they boasted yesterday: “100 Labour MPs sign statement condemning betrayal of party’s values over antisemitism”. Here they note:

Following the decision by Labour’s National Constitutional Committee not to expel Ken Livingstone, 100 Labour MPs have signed the following statement:

“This week the institutions of the Labour Party have betrayed our values. We stand united in making it clear that we will not allow our party to be a home for antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism. We stand with the Jewish community and British society against this insidious racism. This was not done in our name and we will not allow it to go unchecked.”

One may be reminded that the new JLM leader, Ella Rose, had stepped into the JLM outfit straight out from her Public Relations office at the Israeli Embassy. Rose recently featured in the Al Jazeera investigative documentary ‘The Lobby’ where she expressed the hope that journalist Asa Winstanley would “die in a hole” for having exposed her record, and vowed to use “Krav Maga” –Israeli hand-combat techniques–  to take down Jackie Walker, a leading critic and now twice suspended member of Labour.

“Anti-Semitism” and “Holocaust revisionism” – that should do it, throw all you’ve got at Ken Livnigstone.

Of course when Netanyahu enacts real Holocaust revisionism, as he did in October 2015 (putting the blame for the Final Solution on a Palestinian leader, the Grand Mufti), it was quite another story.  While Netanyahu’s own Likud defended him (Defense Minister Yaalon: “I don’t know what exactly the prime minister said”), the Germans were nearly begging to not have their Holocaust guilt taken away from them. A spokesman for the German chancellor Angela Merkel said

“All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilisation that was the Holocaust. I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.”

But of course that just passed by with no serious repercussions, Netanyahu got away once again with his incitement with his usual ‘I didn’t mean it quite that way.’ No investigation, and don’t even mention expulsion. In the same way the Jewish Labour Movement’s Ella Rose got away without investigation for her documented violent curse. Or that the infiltration by the Israeli government in British politics documented by Al-Jazeera was brushed away as a mere case of one ‘bad apple’ (Israeli Embassy operative Shai Masot), and everything moved on.

Of course, this is not really about anti-Semitism. It’s about Zionism. The Labour party doesn’t have any substantial ‘anti-Semitic problem’ – it has a Zionist problem. The conservative attacks are essentially not against anti-Semitism, they are against Palestine solidarity.

The question is, how low will they be allowed to pull down British democracy, and how low will media outlets, including Haaretz, go in their collaboration with this movement of incitement?