Former London mayor Ken Livingstone.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London who was suspended from the Labor Party on Thursday for claiming that Nazi ruler Adolf Hitler was a Zionist, refused to back down “for telling the truth.”
The former MP on Friday called on his party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to reverse course and reinstate him despite the firestorm of controversy ignited by his remarks.
Livingstone said that his suspension was the result of a “well-orchestrated campaign” cooked up by the “Israel lobby.”
His remarks were reported by the British newspaper Telegraph
"How can the truth be an offense?" Livingstone said. "If I had lied, that would be offensive."
“Everything I said yesterday was true and I will be presenting the academic book about that to the Labor Party inquiry,” he said.
The former London mayor said he gleaned information that served as the basis of his claims from a book written by Lenni Brenner, an American historian and Marxist who claimed that there was collusion between the Zionist movement and the Nazi authorities.
Livingstone said that the entire story was unfamiliar to members of parliament because "they don't teach it in Israeli schools."
A Labor spokesperson told The Guardian
that the action was “for bringing the party into disrepute.” British anti-racism activists and Labor Party politicians are demanding Livingstone’s expulsion.
In a radio interview with the BBC on Thursday, Livingstone said, “Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism.”
He made the remarks in defense of Labor lawmaker Naz Shah, who was suspended a day earlier over a Facebook post in 2014 suggesting Israelis should be moved en masse to the United States. She apologized on Tuesday, a day after the remarks came to light.
Asked during the interview whether he regarded her statement as anti-Semitic, Livingstone said: “No, it’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-Semitic.” The ex-mayor also said there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticized Israeli policy as anti-Semitic.”
Livingstone’s remarks come at a sensitive time for Labor, which in recent months has seen the suspension of several members, including at the senior level, for anti-Semitic hate speech that critics say party leader Jeremy Corbyn is not doing enough to curb.
Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who in 2009 called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends” after inviting representatives from both terrorist groups to visit the British Parliament as his guests, is also accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.
“No one can call themselves progressive if they regurgitate the worst ideas of the Nazis and other classic anti-Semites throughout history as many people associated with the Labor party have done recently,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement about Livingstone. He spoke of “a pattern emerging of a party which tolerates at best, and ignores at worst, a groundswell of Jew-hatred.”
John Mann, a Labor lawmaker and central figure in the fight against anti-Semitism in Britain, confronted Livingstone on Thursday morning and shouted at him, calling him a “disgrace” and a “Nazi apologist.” He has called for him to be expelled from the party.
Mann told Sky News that Livingstone’s comments were “insane,” branded him an “anti-Semite,” and said the Labor veteran had “gone totally mad.”
Sadiq Khan, Labor’s contender in the London mayoral elections, joined a growing chorus of Labor politicians calling for Livingstone’s expulsion.
Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism watchdog, said in a statement: “The Labor Party must expel Ken Livingstone. Today he has claimed that Hitler was a Zionist and that anti-Semitism is not racism. Enough is enough. He should not be suspended, he should be expelled today.”
Livingstone served as mayor twice, from 1981 to 1986 and from 2000 to 2008.