When the former London mayor Ken Livingstone said in an interview that Hitler was “supporting Zionism” before he “went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”, he was quickly suspended from the Labour Party, which was already in the throes of a painful row over anti-semitism. But while Livingstone’s tone-deaf comments came at a very politically sensitive moment, the historical error at their heart is all too familiar.
Claims that Hitler was a Zionist, or supported Zionism, before his anti-Jewish policies turned into murder and extermination flare up at regular intervals.
Any claim that Nazis and Zionists ever shared a common goal is not only cynical and disingenuous, but a distortion of clearly established historical fact.
If you think that is an accurate summary of the issue, and that Ken Livingstone said Hitler was a Zionist, you haven’t been paying attention – and neither has Rainer Schulze. Now watch this:
Did you spot it?
At around one minute 15 seconds in, Ken Livingstone quite clearly says: “Hitler was a mad anti-Zionist; his policy was to kill all Jews.”
So there you have it. Schulze is peddling a misinterpretation of the facts. He should be barred from participation in this debate.
… What? You think that’s harsh? You think he has a point because, after all, didn’t Livingstone tell Vanessa Feltz that Hitler supported Zionism?
He did. But supporting a cause in a particular project and being a member of that cause are two separate things – as I explained to Schulze, on Twitter, on Saturday.
To get the point across in the easiest way, I used an analogy. Suppose an atheist attends a ceremony at a Catholic church and pays into the collection, I tweeted. Is that person a Catholic or just supporting them?
“He might just be supporting the particular purpose of the collection of that particular Sunday,” responded the great historian.
“Or indeed, the particular people in that particular church and congregation,” I concluded.
The meaning was clear – that Hitler was not a Zionist, but that he did support the German Zionists in that particular project. Rainer Schulze did not dispute that – he went away, in the same manner that Hugo Rifkind did after I so roundly defeated a false claim by him.
I had hoped that he had accepted my point, but then his article appeared in the Independent. Ah well.
Ken Livingstone never said the Nazis and the Zionists shared a common goal, if by that we are asked to assume the goal was a Jewish nation state. But the German Zionists came to the Nazis with a proposal for Jewish people to leave Germany at a time when the Nazis wanted that to happen, and the Nazis supported it. In that sense – and that sense only – they were supporting Zionism.
That is what Ken Livingstone said.
And no, I’m not twisting his words or adding interpretations that aren’t there.
I leave that to people like Rainer Schulze. And that’s why he should be excluded from this debate.
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