Labour stalwart Ken Livingstone has refused to say sorry for saying Adolf Hitler supported Zionism. In an interview with London-based radio station LBC, Livingstone repeatedly refused to apologise, but did say he regretted making the comments which led to his suspension from Labour Party.
In his first interview since making the comments Livingstone was grilled by former Conservative Cabinet minister David Mellor and Channel 4 journalist Michael Crick. He did apologise if his comments had caused "any offence" but said that the furore over the his assertion that in 1932 Hitler had planned to send Jews to Israel was not "about anti-Semitism" but "embittered Blairites" in his party.
"If you look at what this is all about, it's not about anti-Semitism in the Labour party," he told LBC. "What this is all about is the struggle of the emitted old Blairite MPs to try and get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. They've whipped this issue up."
On Thursday, the left-wing MP attempted to defend Naz Shah, the Bradford West MP who was suspended by Labour the previous day after it emerged that, before she entered Westminster, she had shared a Facebook post that suggested Israel should be relocated to the US.
Instead, Livingston shone the spotlight firmly on himself, with some members of his own party calling him a "Nazi apologist" and demanding his resignation. Livingstone's comments are now forcing Jeremy Corbyn to attempt to appease two sides of his own party.
"If anyone happens to be upset about what I said then of course I'm really sorry for that, but it happens to be a statement of fact," Livingstone said during his interview. "I really regret saying it because it has caused all this disruption – but I never regret saying something that is true."
The veteran politician then cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who whilst addressing the world Zionist congress, said that Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews – only expel them from Europe. When asked by Crick to apologise, Livingstone said that he would not, saying "I can't bring myself to deny the truth."
Crick then told him: "You have embarrassed Jeremy Corbyn, you have embarrassed the left and you have embarrassed your party," to which Livingstone replied: "No".
When asked if he liked the limelight, the former London Mayor said, "No, I hate it – I wanted a quiet week moving the newts from the old pond to the new one. It was my wife's 50th birthday. It was a huge disruption."
Citing divisions in the party Crick asked if it was simpler "for you just to walk away", Livingstone said: "I would take a bullet from Jeremy, if that is what's necessary."
Nazi apologist accusation
Following Livingstone's remarks, Labour MP John Mann confronted him on camera and accused him of being a "Nazi apologist". Mann was then summoned by Labour to discuss his conduct.
On Friday, 29 April, Corbyn announced that an independent inquiry will take place into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism within the Labour party. The inquiry, led by the former head of campaign group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, will consult with the British Jewish community and other minority groups.
Corbyn has also announced a new code of conduct, which would include prohibitiing racism, would be brought before the party's national executive committee when in meets next month, in May. The code of conduct is set to include guidance on "acceptable behaviour and use of language".
Corbyn told the Guardian: "Labour is an anti-racist party to its core and has a long and proud history of standing against racism, including anti-Semitism. 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."
Livingstone should have just said 'sorry'
Social historian David Rosenberg is a Labour Party member and Jewish Socialists' Group member who leads historical tours of London www.eastendwalks.com. He told IBTimes UK that Ken Livingstone should have had some grace and just said sorry.
"I have a huge admiration for Ken – who had worked hard for equality for his whole political as far back as his work with the GLC (Greater London Council) in the 1980's. This detracts from his record and has damaged the party ahead of crucial elections coming up – Ken should have welcomed Naz Shah's apology and concentrated on working to get Labour politicians elected in the upcoming elections.
"Putting those terms. Hitler, Zionism, anti-Semitism together in a such crude, un-nuanced language was dangerous, inaccurate, unhelpful and it distorts the history. I do not believe that Ken is an anti-Semite and extreme disciplinary actions , such as expelling him from the party, may not be needed, though he needs educating and persuading on these issues.
"But we need to look at the bigger picture here. of course there are real examples of anti-Semitism and racism that need addressing, but– the "problem with anti-Semitism" that the Left, and the Labour Party in particular, is charged with, is mostly being cynically stirred up by people with nefarious agendas.
"This is in a political landscape where terms such as "a bunch of migrants" - said on Holocaust Memorial Day - have been used by the Conservatives, and a bill which would have rehomed 3,000 migrant children abroad, proposed by a Jewish refugee form Nazism – Lord Dubs was voted down by almost the whole of the Tory Party in parliament.
"Charges of anti-Semitism are being used in an attempt to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership."