Where to begin with a man like Ken Livingstone? Yet again, in trying to help out his fellow Labour party member Naz Shah, Ken has conspired to put his foot in his mouth - and then proceeded to violently shove it as far down his throat as possible, like a vain attempt at a tactical vomit on an ill-advised night out. After a few decades in politics, one would think that Ken would have learned that a real-life equivalent of Godwin’s law does exist, especially when talking about the state of Israel.
After all, the statement “Hitler was a Zionist” is a spurious claim even if you are stretching the definition of Zionism and misrepresenting Nazi aims. If you are to examine Ken’s claims, you could argue that up until 1937, SS documents show us that Zionist training programmes were encouraged, stating that ‘the activities of the Zionist-oriented Jewish youth organisations, which carry out the retraining of Jews as farmers and craftsmen before their emigration to Palestine, are compatible with the policies of the National Socialist Leadership.’ Furthermore, in the early 30’s the leader of the Jewish National Fund’s Palestine Bureau met with Nazi Hans Gunther, where it was agreed that ‘the Jews were a racially distinct people who did not belong in Europe’.
Moreover, the Nazi’s certainly had formulated several plans to relocate the Jewish population in annexed areas (after confiscating their homes and possessions, of course) including what is now Israel. In 1933, Nazi Germany and the Zionist German Jews signed an agreement - known as the Haavara Agreement - that was designed to help to facilitate the movement of German Jews to modern-day Israel. Of course, many Jewish people were against this at the time (as the agreement depended on the Jewish population giving up their possessions) so it was hardly a ringing endorsement of self-determination for the Jewish population by the Nazi party. However, like many similar agreements in this vein, it came to nothing as the two parties had incredibly different reasons for their aim.
It is one of the reasons that the term “Final Solution” was used to describe the Holocaust, as the Germans had tried (albeit not very hard) to send their Jewish population to other countries as refugees (as discussed at the Evian conference) and even to Madagascar. Industrialised mass-murder on the scale that the Nazi party committed during their time in power was incredibly expensive, after all. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Europe and America at the time, then more refugees may have been taken (of course, this does not absolve the Nazis of any guilt, but is an interesting historical “what-if”). This stream of anti-Semitism was best evidenced (outside of Nazi Germany) by Jewish conspiracy theories that were plenty abound at the time, spread even by the venerated Winston Churchill, who wrote: “This movement among the Jews is not new… this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing.” (of course, as most historically-minded people who aren’t blinkered by a misplaced sense of patriotism will tell you, Churchill was an incompetent racist, but was lucky enough to be up against another, more incompetent, bigger racist in Adolf Hitler).
Sadly for Ken, wanting to relocate the Jewish population of your country for negative reasons is not Zionism, even if the end-goal is similar - it is like drawing an equivalence between S&M and GBH. The saddest thing is - as with almost every silly Livingstone rant - he did make a couple of salient points in amidst all of the word-vomit. In defending Shah, he made the point that her (also incredibly ill-advised and wrong) social media posts were made during a particularly testy time in the Israel/Palestine conflict, and people tend to overreact and say - or do - things in anger that they don’t really mean. He also pointed out that around 60/70 Palestinians die per Jewish Israeli in the conflict (which may or may not be true, but there is no doubt that Palestinians bear the weight of the war), which is a shocking statistic to consider.
Ken, however, didn’t frame these points in a thoughtful manner, or give them any context. He also did not mention that Hamas have also constantly fanned the flames of conflict with inflammatory actions and language, nor mention that the Jewish community was left with deep-rooted psychological trauma by the Holocaust, which although not excusing the behaviour of Israel in certain situations, does certainly give a context as to why so many will defend the state of Israel so vehemently. It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the state of Israel, but it certainly is to equate Zionism with Nazism. He also sought to pig-headedly stand by these comments, despite (justified) uproar. Ken does seem to be part of a (quite small, but vocal) group within the modern Left who often forget that they need to be sensitive with the language that they use when discussing Judaism and Israel, as they would with any other minority or oppressed people.
And therein lies the problem with Ken Livingston. He has an excellent political record in some aspects and was a competent administrator - a rare talent in modern politics. Sadly, these positives will now forever be overshadowed by his constant outbursts. No one will remember that he brought the Olympics to London, or the (much appreciated) congestion charge, or even that the bikes-for-hire were his idea. They will remember that he said some stupid and offensive things, and that he didn’t have the ability to understand why people were so outraged - and that is not the legacy anyone would want to leave.