Ken Livingstone has refused to apologise to the Jewish community for insensitive comments linking Zionism to Adolf Hitler, claiming the crisis at the centre of the Labour party was caused by “embittered old Blairite MPs” and is “not about antisemitism”.
The former mayor of London, speaking on LBC, took the opportunity to publicly say sorry to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the party for causing “disruption” but pointedly refused to apologise for his original comments, which he reasserted as “historical facts” on Saturday.
“I’m sorry to Jeremy and the Labour party that I am caught up in this but it wasn’t me that started this problem, this is embittered old Blairites bringing it up,” he said. “I’m sorry if anyone was upset by what I said, I’m sorry for that. But it happens to be a statement of fact.”
Pushed to say whether he regretted bringing the German dictator into the debate, Livingstone said: “I regret mentioning Hitler because it brought up this nonsense.
“I’m sorry that I said that because it’s wasted all this time but I can’t bring myself to deny the truth and I’m not going to do that. I’m sorry it’s caused disruption.”
Earlier in the interview, the former mayor of London appeared to mistakenly cite a statement by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in his defence. “This is what annoys me about the degradation of British journalism, no one does any research,” he said.
“Two days before I did that interview [on Thursday], the prime minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu is addressing the World Zionist Congress, this is the sentence he says: ‘Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews but only to expel them.’ Now, I haven’t seen that in any British paper, I had to get it off the internet.”
In fact, Livingstone appears to be referring to Netanyahu’s address to the WZC in October last year, where the Israeli PM did not refer to Zionists collaborating with Hitler, but instead was talking about a separate historical incident, accusing the second world war Palestinian grand mufti of Jerusalem of having suggested the genocide of the Jews to the Nazi leader in order to stop them coming to Palestine.
Netanyahu said: “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them.’”
He was roundly condemned by the Israeli press, members of his own party and opposition, as well as Palestinians. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was forced to issue a statement clarifying that “responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own”.
Netanyahu later offered a muted clarification of his remarks, which had caused a huge media backlash. “He [Hitler] is responsible for the Final Solution, and he made the decision,” he said after the speech.
Livingstone had been due to host the LBC show on Saturday morning but instead appeared as a guest, after the station decided to remove him as a presenter for the week before the elections because of Ofcom broadcasting rules about political neutrality.
He was suspended from the Labour party on Thursday after claiming Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews”.
He also said “a real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbour in Golders Green or in Stoke Newington. It’s a physical loathing.”
On Friday Livingstone told the Evening Standard that “everything I said yesterday was true”, and said he had evidence to present to the inquiry that Hitler did in fact support Zionism, citing a controversial Marxist historian.
He 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.”
“Labour is an anti-racist party to its core and has a long and proud history of standing against racism, including antisemitism,” Corbyn told the Guardian on Friday. “I have campaigned against racism all my life and the Jewish community has been at the heart of the Labour party and progressive politics in Britain for more than 100 years.”
This week Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, was suspended by Labour over antisemitic Facebook posts from 2014 which suggested Israeli Jews should be transported from the Middle East to the US, and one that urged friends to vote in an online poll about Israel to sway the result, because “the Jews are rallying”.
Shah issued a full apology, both in an op-ed and in a statement in the House of Commons. On Thursday Livingstone took to the airwaves to defend her with his highly criticised link between Hitler and Zionism, and got into a public slanging match with the Labour MP John Mann, who has also been disciplined by the party.
This article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Saturday 30th April 2016 11.36 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010