The UK's Labour Party has suspended former London mayor Ken Livingstone for his comments suggesting Hitler supported Zionism. A week before a key local election in London, his words have split the party.
During an interview with the BBC in London Thursday morning, Livingstone said Hitler had supported Zionism.
"Let's remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel," Livingstone said. "This was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."
The row over anti-Semitism within the Labour Party comes amid discussions about how the party should approach a resolution on Israel-Palestine relations. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has campaigned on the subject for many decades.
Livingstone is standing again for Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) - the party's governing body - and is unlikely to be able to run if he is not reinstated before nominations for the election close next month. This would deprive Corbyn of a key ally in the party.
A nasty election
It also comes a week before the London mayoral election next week. The main contenders are Labour Party candidate Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, running for the Conservative Party.
Goldsmith has been accused of running a racially and religiously divisive campaign, for example describing his Muslim rival as "radical." He also defended comments by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon who claimed Khan was a "Labour lackey who speaks alongside extremists."
Not me guv
Livingstone claimed there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israel policy as anti-Semitic.”
"I have been in the Labour Party for 40 years and I have never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic. I have heard a lot of criticism for the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians, but I have never heard someone be anti-Semitic," he added.
The row also takes place amid wider claims that the party has failed to get a grip on anti-Semitism among some of its members. Corbyn said there had been "a few cases" and that any new ones would be "dealt with immediately."
Mr Livingstone I presume
Livingstone's remarks were made while defending the suspended Bradford MP Naz Shah for promoting a Facebook post in 2014.
In 2014, nine months before her election to parliament, Shah shared a graphic with a map of Israel superimposed on a US map, bearing the caption "Solution for Israeli-Palestine conflict: Relocate Israel into [sic] United States." She added the comment "Problem solved."
Shah apologized on Wednesday for her remarks in parliament and to the Jewish community in a letter published by Jewish News Online.
The immediate aftermath
Livingstone was reportedly suspended on Thursday afternoon because the remarks were considered highly inflammatory rather than necessarily anti-Semitic.
“We are not tolerating anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever in our party,” Corbyn said.
Over 20 MPs - including Khan - called for Livingstone to be expelled from the party. Khan said on Twitter that the comments were “appalling and inexcusable.”
A double embarrassment
Livingstone was confronted at the BBC studios after the interview by John Mann, a Labour MP, who called him a “disgusting Nazi apologist” and then repeated his accusations live on the BBC's Daily Politics.
Deputy Labour leader, Tom Watson, later reportedly made clear he was angry by the comments and concerned about their potentially damaging effects.
“Frankly, there's been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as anti-Semitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians,” Livingstone said.
It is not the first time he has been in hot water over accusations of anti-Semitism, having been investigated for likening a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard in 2005.
It is also the second time Livingstone has been suspended from Labour; the first being when he put himself forward as an independent candidate to be London mayor in 2000.
jbh/jm (dpa, AFP)