Today's Ken Livingstone photograph. [Image: REX/Shutterstock].

Today’s Ken Livingstone photograph. [Image: REX/Shutterstock].

The controversy over Ken Livingstone’s remarks about Naz Shah, anti-Semitism and Hitler is becoming increasingly unreasonable, it seems.

This Blog’s comment inbox is full of opinion about it, and I should apologise for my slowness in moderating the correspondence. Some is from people who support my earlier article, some is from those who oppose, some is from people who are generally anti-Semitic and many are highly emotive, if not downright offensive in certain respects. Where people are quoting sources to support them, I have to look up the material and check it before deciding whether to allow the comments. It’s a verbal minefield.

And that is what this issue has become – mostly because people are keen to add their own interpretations to what was originally said. So the debate has mutated to such a point that people who should know better have been reduced to discussing whether Hitler was a Zionist, for example. Of course he wasn’t.

Let’s remind ourselves of Ken Livingstone’s original, controversial interview with Vanessa Feltz:

When he mentions Hitler and Zionism, he is responding to a question about the statement “Everything Hitler did was legal”, which had been retweeted by the MP Naz Shah, along with an image suggesting that Israel should be relocated to the American Midwest. Ms Shah has been suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation into whether her actions were anti-Semitic.

It seems likely, to This Writer, that Livingstone only mentioned Hitler because of that comment, “Everything Hitler did was legal”. We’ll come back to the meaning of the comment itself later. It seems to have sparked a memory of the Haavara agreement mentioned in a previous Vox Political article.

I would suggest that he mentioned it as a tangent to any argument about Ms Shah. She had retweeted an (offensive) image about relocating Israel and she had retweeted a comment about Hitler, and Livingstone recalled that Hitler’s Nazi government had entered into an agreement with Zionists to relocate German Jews to what was then Palestine.

We can safely take it that he said “Israel”, rather than Palestine, in an attempt at clarity and to prevent confusion with the current Palestine, but of course this has been attacked by his critics as well.

Here’s the background to that comment:

Zionists came to the Nazis with a plan to move as many Jewish people as possible from Germany to Palestine. The Nazis agreed, most probably because an international agreement like this was likely to grant them legitimacy on the world stage, and also because there were economic benefits to be had. They then devoted resources to the project, which lasted six years until the outbreak of World War II.

So they were supporting Zionism, in that way.

Hitler himself was anti-Semitic to the core, and had been at least since World War I. He wanted the Jews out of Germany, one way or the other, and my opinion – based on what I’ve seen in the last couple of days – is that he had no problem running his genocidal policies against the Jews (and many other people) alongside this one. We should not expect rational or reasonable behaviour from such a creature.

The only questionable aspect of Livingstone’s comment is where he said this happened “before [Hitler] went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”. Was he mad, or simply evil? He was certainly unreasonable, as mentioned above, but the level of derangement is debatable (and a side issue).

We should also clarify our terms here. Zionism was originally a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. I don’t think we can equate the people who signed the Haavara agreement with the debatably supremacist movement that many Jewish people oppose today.

Hitler, as an anti-Semite, clearly did not want the Jews to establish a state of their own. My opinion is that he agreed with them leaving Germany because it allowed him to concentrate on creating the power base he wanted, from which to launch his war of genocide against everybody who didn’t conform to his narrow definition of humanity (one in which he himself didn’t fit, which tends to support the argument that he was mad) – including, if he had the chance, the Jews who had moved to what was then Palestine.

Now let’s look at John Mann’s confrontation with Livingstone on a BBC(?) stairwell. Mr Mann appeared while Livingstone was carrying out a phone interview, with a camera crew in tow – is that normal behaviour for a Labour MP? – and berated him for being “A disgusting racist” for “re-writing history”, “a Nazi apologist”, “factually wrong” and a “calculated lie” put about by “conspiracy theorists”.

We can see that these accusations simply aren’t true. Nothing Livingstone said in his Feltz interview was racist; he didn’t re-write history but merely quoted it; so he wasn’t being a Nazi apologist. It was factually accurate, so could not be a calculated lie, no matter who Mann said put it about.

Mann also quoted Nazi acts including the creation of Dachau concentration camp and the race purity laws. He was right that these were created in 1933, although Dachau did not at first admit Jewish prisoners and the race laws were initially moderate. Both these attitudes changed as the Nazi grip on Germany tightened but the fact that the situation was different in the early 1930s supports what Livingstone said, rather than undermining it.

Livingstone’s later comment that he was echoing what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said is correct up to a point, as the BBC reported. But Netanyahu was trying to claim that Palestinians persuaded Hitler into the Shoah and This Writer doesn’t believe that for a second. In Netanyahu, we’re seeing a manipulator who was trying to wrap a falsehood inside a fact in the hope that people would believe it. The same could be suggested of John Mann.

The BBC put a curious spin on it. Presumably trying to find a rationalisation for Livingstone’s comments to Vanessa Feltz, a report states: “Mr Livingstone defended the Bradford West MP, saying anti-Zionism was not the same as anti-Semitism.

“He told BBC London: ‘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 six million Jews.'”

Livingstone had said on the stairwell that Hitler was anti-Zionist, and it may be hard for some to reconcile that with his government signing an agreement with Zionists. Consider this: Every government signs treaties with other governments or organisations it opposes. That’s politics. Chamberlain signed an agreement with Hitler, and we all know how that ended.

The claim that Livingstone said anti-Zionism was not the same as anti-Semitism appears to be false, although the statement is accurate. They aren’t the same, as the Jewish Socialist Group has made clear.

Getting back to Naz Shah, some have pointed out that she has admitted her tweets were anti-Semitic and apologised for them – the aim being to undermine Livingstone by pointing out he was defending someone who had admitted her own guilt. My problem with that is, I’m not surprised she caved in to pressure. I’ve had two days of people screaming at me on Twitter and This Blog’s comment column, in increasingly shrill ways, because I said something they didn’t like; undoubtedly she had people doing it to her face. In that situation, the urge to give them what they want, if only to have an easier life, can be highly persuasive. Whether that’s why she agreed her behaviour was anti-Semitic or not, I can’t say.

But that doesn’t mean Livingstone had to agree with her. The Labour Party has opened an inquiry into the matter, at which one hopes more level heads will prevail and the evidence will be studied very carefully.

Ms Shah made her retweets at a particularly emotive time in 2014, when Israelis and Palestinians were fighting each other viciously (see Scriptonite‘s reports including, but not limited to, this one). Emotions were extremely strong, and it is in this context that Ms Shah’s behaviour should be examined. There’s a reason we have the saying, “Act in haste, repent at leisure”, and it seems likely that a person who normally would not act in such an inflammatory way ended up doing so in a spontaneous reaction to reports from the Middle East, that would not reflect her normal reasoning.

This has become a very complicated subject very quickly, but one can see that much of the problem is that what actually happened is not a clear-cut as some commentators want us to believe. Hitler could happily pursue two apparently contradictory policies at the same time, but people like John Mann seem keen to deny that.

The moral of this story is: Don’t believe the people who deal in broad absolutes. The facts are in the details.

Oh yes… Getting back to the retweet stating “Everything Hitler did was legal”. Here’s a little test for you: If someone posted up an image with somebody who had died after losing money due to the Conservative Party’s “reform” of sickness and disability benefit, or an image of someone who had committed suicide claiming the Bedroom Tax was the cause, overlaid with the words, “Everything Cameron did was legal”…

What would you think then?

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