Sometimes you really have to hit rock bottom before a recovery can begin. So it may prove with the Labour party and the calamitous leadership of the inept Jeremy Corbyn and his hard left pals. Accidentally, Livingstone took the party to its lowest point, with weird comments about Hitler and anti-Semitism.
The outcome of the resulting row has been positive in two respects. At last the former Mayor of London has been undone thanks to his addiction to the limelight and penchant for giving rambling media interviews. And much more importantly for those who think that Britain can ill afford a joke opposition, Labour MPs who have seemed resigned to their humiliation at the hands of the Corbyn mob found the spirit to fight back properly. Within minutes some of the party’s rising stars were demanding Livingstone be suspended from Labour. Eventually, Corbyn had to give in.
The row began when Livingstone went on BBC Radio London on Thursday morning to defend a suspended Labour MP and 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 – this is before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
As historian Andrew Roberts pointed out for CapX, Livingstone’s history is simply wrong. Hitler didn’t “win” election in 1932. He was foolishly handed power in 1933 by an Establishment that thought it could control a gangster and discovered too late it could not. He immediately set about terrorising and discriminating against Jews. And that analysis of Hitler and Zionism by Livingstone is a grossly simplistic distortion of what happened too.
There was a pact – the Haavara Agreement of August 1933 – that allowed some Jews to leave Germany for Palestine, although it came at a price. They had to leave their assets in Germany in return for trading some of it out in German exports.
Hitler had made his views on the Jews perfectly clear in the bonkers Mein Kampf, first published in 1925. It’s all there in its full horror in Chapter 11, on race. He was not a Zionist, for goodness sake. He regarded Judaism as a plague that he would do anything to eliminate.
In that context, Haavara was obviously no act of good will; he wasn’t an enthusiast for a Jewish state who got a little out of hand or, in Livingstone’s phrase, “went mad” after 1932. The implication there is that the evil man who wrote Mein Kampf was not mad or evil when he wrote it. Here it is worth pausing to reflect, again, that Livingstone is a former Labour MP and Mayor of London.
The Haavara Agreement of 1933 that Livingstone supporters (yes, really, they’re out there, on Twitter) point to was an entirely cynical, exploitative wheeze undertaken while Hitler and his gang of criminals worked out what to do to the Jewish people of Germany and Europe. The Gestapo assisted, and to put the eventual outcome in context the initiative enabled or helped perhaps 50,000-60,000 Jews get to Palestine, against which six million died in extermination camps or in other acts of mass murder.
The hardline Zionists who dealt with Hitler’s ministers had an interesting rationalisation for their involvement in the scheme. It was rooted in opposition to integration and support for international Zionist efforts to create a separate state in Palestine. Although lives were saved, their actions remain highly controversial and some hardliners later established the Lehi partisan group to fight the British in the Second World War in Palestine. Today they are recognised in Israel as freedom fighters, but their conviction that the Brits were a greater enemies of a potential Jewish state than Nazi Germany turned out to be a deeply flawed analysis when the concentration and extermination camps were liberated towards the end of the War.
It is incredible that any of this should have to be discussed in relation to the UK’s main opposition party in 2016. But in that respect Livingstone has unintentionally done his colleagues an enormous favour. Sensible Labour people fought back this week, and won.