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.

Tony Benn versus the EU

And they don’t make UK Labour party politicians like him anymore.

These videos are from 2013:

And while we are on this subject, this was also one of the few issues on which Thatcher was right: