The former London mayor claimed on Thursday that Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews”. He also said there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israel policy as antisemitic”. He has since been suspended by Labour.
Speaking to the Guardian on Friday, Livingstone praised Lenni Brenner, the author of Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, and said the book was full of details that he would cite in his defence.
“All the detail is in there. The striking thing that does confirm there was an ongoing dialogue between the Zionists and Nazi government is, in 1935 Hitler passed a law banning any flag being displayed except the swastika and the blue and white Zionist flag, which is pretty amazing.”
He added of Brenner’s book: “It confirms there was clearly an ongoing dialogue, even if the Israeli government now tries to pretend that none of that all happened.”
Asked how the book would practically help his case against his suspension from the party, he replied: “I haven’t a clue. I haven’t thought about it. I’ll wait until I hear from them.”
Livingstone said he met Brenner when the writer visited the UK in 1983. “At the time no one objected. The Jewish community was traumatised to read all the stuff in it, because they didn’t believe it … but, you know … no one in the Labour party complained about my appearing with him or citing him,” he said.
Thomas Webber, a professor of history and international affairs and an expert on the Hitler era, Jewish relations and German history, said he was not immediately familiar with Brenner’s book.
However, he added: “Brenner’s book lies well outside academic mainstream. It is mostly celebrated either by the extreme left and by the neo-Nazi right.”
Brenner’s book is cited by, among others, the Institute for Historical Review, which is widely regarded as antisemitic and is listed by the US Southern Poverty Law Center as a group that has engaged in Holocaust denial.
Commenting on the broader points made by Livingstone about the extent of Zionist contacts with the Nazi party, Webber said: “As far as I am aware there were contacts, but they did not involve Hitler himself.
“The way to look at it is the bigger context. What was Hitler’s goal from the making of Hitler until the final solution? The point is that Hitler’s preferred final solution well into the 1930s was to get the Jews out of Germany by whatever means it takes.
“Hitler was of course shifting policy and was not quite clear himself about how it came about. In that sense it is certainly clear that Hitler had no plan to kill Jews but wanted to get them out. I don’t think it is accurate as Ken Livingstone says – or at least is quoted as saying – that in 1932, before Hitler went mad or something like that, that he wanted to send them to Israel. There was no Israel at that point.”
Asked about Livingstone’s claim that Hitler permitted the flying of only the swastika and the blue and white flag of the Zionist movement, Webber replied: “That’s news to me.”
A 1983 review by CC Aronsfeld, a respected scholar of the Holocaust, in the journal International Affairs was critical of Brenner’s book.
“Brenner has produced a party political tract that unhinges the balance of history by ignoring too many difficulties, especially psychological. For once Stalinists will be pleased with the work of a Trotskyist,” he concluded.
A Guardian report from the time on Brenner’s visit to the UK recorded that the police were investigating an attack by “rightwing Zionists” on the author at Lambeth town hall. Two people including the elderly chairman of the meeting were hospitalised and Brenner was bruised on the arm when a small groups started throwing punches.
The attackers’ escaped and the registration number of their car was noted by John Fraser, the local MP. It quoted Brenner as saying: “When the cops arrived I heard one say: ‘We’ve got to take this seriously. There’s an MP involved.’”
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