I like to keep up with the news. I’m careful to look at other sources too, but one of the sites I use most is the good old BBC. Last night, it ran the story:
Ken Livingstone to quit Labour amid anti-Semitism row
There’s been a lot about this one recently, not least because of his subsequent suspension from the Labour Party, and the whole row involving Labour and semitism. I suspect Livingstone has done them a favour by jumping before he was pushed. Having been an MP, and of course, the mayor, it was difficult to imagine him holding further public office anyway.
But in the mass media, this whole story has always been reported with a degree of furore which (I thought) obscured the basic source for contention, so I looked back at the detail on the web. In an interview (i.e. publicly), Livingstone stated that Hitler was a Zionist at one point. Whilst in later years Hitler obviously decided that his best answer to his “Jewish problem” was his Final Solution, he did, in 1933, adopt a policy of repatriation of Jews to Palestine. This is known in histoory as the Haavara Agreement.
There were strings attached to this policy, for example that people would be allowed to take a portion of their assets with them, and to take supplies bought from German vendors – Hitler obviously had one eye on his economy here – and there are further details in the Wikipedia article. Plus, of course, you can decide for yourself if allowing Jewish people to leave your state constitutes Zionism, as Livingstone claimed. Even taking into account the intimidatory atmosphere of Germany at that time, my own opinion is that Hitler’s manoeuvrings fell some way short of Zionism. I think his interests began and ended with getting the Jews out of Germany, whereas I think Zionism includes at east a degree of positivity about having a Jewish state. Actually, I think the ideal situation is to have a state which tolerates all religions, but that was clearly not the case in the 1930s/1940s.
Whatever your view on the actual history, I think simply trying to summarise this policy into a few words was erroneous. Brevity is good, but not at the cost of clarity. To claim that “Hitler was a Zionist” makes us judge for ourselves, “well, what exactly is a Zionist? Did Hitler fulfil those criteria?” So, whatever your answer to these questions, there is a need for the reader to apply some processing, so Livingstone was hardly unambiguous in his comment. Even if he meant it with the most decent of intentions, he relied heavily on his own interpretation.
It never fails to amaze me how senior politicians – not just this guy – trip themselves up with the words they use. I mean, even for me, writing a blog, it’s like walking a tightrope, but at least here I’m not looking for a soundbite and can (hopefully) talk about things fully.
Even now, it remains unclear exactly what Livingstone’s views are, as there have been a couple of other instances where he has allegedly been….less than generous, shall we say…..toward Jewish people. I’m not even sure if the Labour Party was intending analysing these or not.