“…one of the reasons we make so many mistakes in politics is that so few politicians study history.” Ken Livingstone (Independent, 2016)
The crisis surrounding antisemitism in the Labour Party refuses to die down. Aside from all the other incidents occurring on a regular basis, Ken Livingstone – the former Mayor of London and one of the party’s best-known members – has been the subject of an internal inquiry for bringing the party into disrepute. Even after being found guilty of this charge in April 2017, he has been given the light sentence of suspension – not from membership but only from holding office in the party for another year, prompting calls from over 100 Labour MPs for his expulsion. The British Jewish community, appalled at his continuing statements that Hitler supported Zionism and that there was “real collaboration” between Zionists and the Nazis, has deserted Labour in droves. (By May 2016, after a series of revelations about antisemitism within the party, only 8.5 per cent of the Jewish community planned to vote Labour. The figure had been 22 per cent a year earlier.)
Livingstone has declined to apologize; he links the Jewish national independence movement with the Third Reich at any opportunity. When challenged, he asserts the existence of a malicious campaign by pro-Israel lobbyists and “Blairites” to silence him. The well-established tactic of diverting attention from the issue of antisemitism by accusing Jews and others of trying to suppress “criticism of Israeli policy” is now known as “the Livingstone Formulation.”
The Livingstone scandal began in April 2016. Asked for comment about statements made by his Labour colleague Naz Shah MP – for which she later issued a retraction and fulsome apology – Livingstone exonerated her of bigotry. Then he added, gratuitously: “when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” Later the same day, amid the furor over his comments, Livingstone explained why he should not be considered antisemitic: “a real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbors in Golders Green or Stoke Newington, it’s a physical loathing.” And again: “Someone who is antisemitic isn’t just hostile to the Jews living in Israel, they’re hostile to their neighbor in Golders Green, or the neighbor in Stoke Newington. It’s a personal loathing, just like people who hate black people.” Others did not fail to notice the implication that it was legitimate to hate the six million Jews living in the Jewish state.
Livingstone has a history of insulting Jewish individuals as well as Zionists. In his memoirs, he boasts that Labour Herald, a far-left weekly newspaper which he co-edited, published a cartoon in 1982 showing Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin “in Nazi regalia on a pile of Arab corpses.” Much of Begin’s family had been murdered by the Nazis.
As head of the Greater London Council, Livingstone compared Catholics in Northern Ireland to Holocaust victims. He accused the Board of Deputies of British Jews of organizing “paramilitary groups which resemble fascist organisations” throughout the country. Later, as London Mayor, he issued an invitation to Egyptian extremist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who had incited the mass murder of Israelis. He compared a Jewish journalist (whose offence was working for the Evening Standard) to a concentration camp guard. He told the Reuben brothers (Jewish property developers born in India) to “go back to Iran and try their luck with the Ayatollahs.” And in May 2014, he informed the BBC that the Thatcher government had won votes in Finchley because “the Jewish community got richer.”
Even more sinister than these past attacks is Livingstone’s ongoing campaign to prove the reality of Zionist-Nazi “collaboration.” Here he joins a long antisemitic tradition. The charge that Zionists had been in league with the Nazis was central to Soviet antisemitic propaganda during the Cold War, before being eagerly appropriated by certain Trotskyists in the West.
The “collaboration” myth is promoted by the neo-Nazi right as well as the far left. Prominent U.S. Holocaust denier Mark Weber, for example, alleges “wide-ranging collaboration between Zionism and Hitler’s Third Reich.” Other Nazi apologists use far-left material espousing the “collaboration” myth: Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators – source of many of Ken Livingstone’s “facts” – was pirated by a neo-Nazi publisher. None of this should cause surprise. The fiction of Zionist partnership with the Hitler regime helps neo-Nazis to project Hitler’s guilt onto his victims; it also fits their conspiracy theories about global Jewish power.
LIVINGSTONE’S FALSIFICATIONS OF HISTORY
A review of Livingstone’s recent statements about Zionist-Nazi “collaboration” is damning. His claims are mutilations of the historical record and of the very sources he cites. As previous untruths are exposed, he may decide to peddle new ones; nevertheless, the following should be enough to illustrate his methods and motives.
(i) The Transfer Agreement
Stung by widespread criticism of his original comment about Hitler’s support for Zionism, Livingstone doubled down: “His policy was originally to send all of Germany’s Jews to Israel and there were private meetings between the Zionist movement and Hitler’s government which were kept confidential, they only became apparent after the war, when they were having a dialogue to do this.” Previously, Livingstone had written in his memoirs: “Labour Zionist Chaim Arlosoroff negotiated a pact with the Nazis to set up a trading company, Ha’avara, to sell Nazi goods, thus undermining the boycott organised by trade unionists and communists.”
It is hard to know where to begin when refuting such a tissue of falsehoods. Hitler’s policy was never to send “all” of Germany’s Jews to “Israel” (i.e., Palestine under the British Mandate) but to terrorize them into leaving the Reich, irrespective of the destination. The negotiations between the Labour Zionists and Hitler’s government were not private, but were fiercely debated within the Zionist movement. The purpose of the Ha’avara or Transfer Agreement was not “to sell Nazi goods,” but to rescue German Jews and to preserve a fraction of their property from being stolen by the Nazi regime. The boycott of Germany was not just “organised by trade unionists and communists,” but was championed by Jews in the free world, including many Zionists. And so on.
This is not to defend the Transfer Agreement. It is legitimate to argue that negotiating with the Third Reich was a mistake, and that it would have been better to maintain the boycott. But German Jews snatched from the claws of Nazism could hardly have been expected to agree.
The Zionist movement undoubtedly saved scores of thousands of lives during the years before the Holocaust. According to Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont, “The approximately 80,000 German, Austrian, and Czech Jews who were able to immigrate legally and illegally to Palestine between 1933 and 1941 represent 80,000 potential victims of the Nazi genocide who were saved.” This is a major embarrassment to anti-Zionist ideologues, which is another reason for their aspersions on Zionist motives and their manufactured charges of “collaboration.”
Livingstone himself recently claimed that he had never meant to condemn the Labour Zionists for the arrangement with Germany. “I neither criticised the transfer agreement or [sic] the section of Zionism that participated in the agreement,” he wrote in his submission to the Labour Party inquiry. This would be a strange position to take if he really did see something sinister or “collaborationist” in this Zionist policy.
(ii) Medals bearing “the Swastika and the Poale Zion star”
Livingstone stated: “Of course it was support, in exactly the same way that medals were printed, were made, which had the Swastika on one side and the Poale Zion star on the other, literally there is such a history of collaboration.”
Poale Zion was a movement advocating Zionism and socialism. Livingstone is claiming that Nazi Germany “supported” Jews who were not only Zionists but also socialists.
In 1933, during the first months after Hitler’s takeover, Nazi policy on the “Jewish Question” was in flux. The Zionist Federation of Germany asked Kurt Tuchler to identify moderate Nazi officials and win them over. Tuchler contacted SS official Baron Leopold von Mildenstein and accompanied him to Palestine. Von Mildenstein wrote a 12-part series about the trip for the Goebbels newspaper Der Angriff, which ran the series from September 26 to October 9, 1934.
To commemorate von Mildenstein’s articles, Der Angriff struck a coin-shaped medal with a swastika on one side and a Star of David on the other. The inscription on the medal read: “Ein Nazi fährt nach Palästina und erzählt davon im Angriff” (“A Nazi travels to Palestine and tells about it in Angriff”).
The medal was pure propaganda, created by the Nazis to pretend that they wanted an “honourable” solution to the “Jewish Question” and that Jews were their equal partners in finding such a solution. In citing this medal as proof of “collaboration,” Livingstone is giving credence to a propaganda ruse by Goebbels.
(iii) “The SS set up training camps” for German Jews
Livingstone stated: “the SS set up training camps so that German Jews who were going to go there [i.e.Palestine] could be trained to cope with a very different sort of country when they got there.”
The SS did not set up the training camps for German Jews. Livingstone is referring to the hachschara farms, which Zionists set up even before Hitler’s takeover in order to retrain German Jews for life in Palestine.
A thorough study of the hachschara farms has been made by Francis Nicosia. Nicosia makes it clear that Zionist and non-Zionist Jews alike, realizing the urgency of extricating as many Jews as possible from Nazi Germany, used occupational retraining centers to prepare Jews for a new life abroad. The Zionist centers prepared Jews for Palestine; the non-Zionist centers prepared Jews for other destinations.
Occupational retraining won the support of the SS in the 1930s, but Nicosia records how the centers were strictly monitored and regulated: “Nazi authorities also imposed specific rules that prohibited singing, whistling, smoking, and any undue noise in work areas; mandated absolute cleanliness in washrooms and in toilets; and prohibited unauthorized visits from friends and relatives. The rules required strict work schedules and provided for breaks, vacation times, and the promise of harsh punishment, including expulsion from the program, for breaking the rules.”
When the war began, “the regime used Jewish trainees to help meet its labor shortage by folding the occupational retraining programs and the young Jews engaged in them into its forced labor programs.” Finally, “As emigration faded from Nazi policy and gave way to genocide, untold thousands of Jewish workers, including those from the Zionist Hachschara programs, would become part of Nazi Germany’s wartime ‘labor force’ prior to their mass murder.”
In short, Livingstone’s claim that “the SS set up training camps” for German Jews is a fabrication. It was Jews, not the SS, who founded the vocational retraining centres for those hoping to emigrate. The SS initially approved of the Zionist and non-Zionist centres alike, while imposing the strictest controls on them. During the Second World War, the trainees who had not succeeded in escaping from Germany were first exploited by the Nazis as slave labour and then murdered.
(iv) “Selling Mauser pistols to the underground Jewish army”
Livingstone stated: “And then of course they [i.e., the Nazis] started selling Mauser pistols to the underground Jewish army, so you had right up until the start of the Second World War, real collaboration.”
This, presumably, is based on a couple of sentences in an early paper by Nicosia: “The Eichmann-Polkes talks in Berlin also reveal that the Hagana had received shipments of Mauser pistols from Germany in 1935 and 1936. The exact source of these weapons within Germany is difficult to determine; it is certain, however, that some agency in Germany did provide the Hagana with Mauser pistols, and that the police authorities were aware of it.”
Nicosia cited two sources: a Nazi report on a conversation between Adolf Eichmann and Feivel Polkes in May 1937, and a book by Efraim Dekel.
Polkes was a Haganah member who offered to spy on his fellow Jews for the SS. When his activities came to light, he was dismissed from all positions in the Haganah. In his meetings with the SS, he pandered to their antisemitism, proposing to supply all sorts of intelligence on the imaginary worldwide Jewish conspiracy. His reported statements to the SS are not a credible source for any historical fact.
Dekel was in charge of Shai, the Haganah Information Service. In his book, he writes that the Haganah received Mauser pistols from a fictitious exporter in 1935. The pistols were hidden in barrels of cement. According to Dekel, “the consignment was shipped from Belgium.”
So the allegation that the “underground Jewish army” received Mauser pistols from the Nazis comes from two sources: one a would-be Nazi informer of zero credibility who was trying to impress potential SS paymasters, and another who mentioned that the pistols came from Belgium, without even hinting that the arms were sent by the Nazis. The Haganah had agents all over Europe at the time, and the pistols could have been sent by any number of suppliers. Livingstone’s claim is not based on any serious evidence.
(v) Permission to display the Zionist Flag
Livingstone stated: “They passed a law that said the Zionist flag and the Swastika were the only flags that could be flown in Germany.” Specifics are found in his memoirs, where he alleged: “To encourage Zionists, the Nuremberg laws in 1935 allowed only two flags to be flown in Germany, the Swastika and the blue and white Zionist banner.”
In September 1935, section 4 of the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor provided: “1. Jews are forbidden to hoist the Reich and national flag and to present the colors of the Reich. 2. On the other hand they are permitted to present the Jewish colors. The exercise of this authority is protected by the State.”
“The Jewish colors” were not specified. That the Nazis did not have the official Zionist flag in mind is evident from their reaction when a young German Jew, Martin Friedländer, hung a makeshift blue and white banner out of his window in protest against the law. Der Angriff labelled it “the Jewish national flag,” which was being displayed “for the first time,” adding: “This finally puts an end to the speculation on how the Jewish flag actually looks.”
On December 31, the authorities decreed that until the Jewish community decided what the Jewish colors were, the Zionist flag would suffice, and would be “enjoying State protection.” But the decree was a dead letter; “State protection” was nothing of the kind. The Nazi press openly threatened Jews who dared to display the Zionist flag.
(vi) Stopping sermons in Yiddish
Livingstone stated: “When the Zionist movement asked, would the Nazi Government stop a Jewish rabbi – the rabbis – doing their sermons in Yiddish and make them do it in Hebrew, he [i.e., Hitler] agreed to that.”
A Jewish Telegraphic Agency report filed on December 6, 1936 read in full: “The Gestapo (State secret police) today notified synagogues that sermons in connection with the Jewish festival of Chanukah, beginning Dec. 9, must not be in the German language, as had been the custom of Liberal synagogues.” So the Gestapo banned Chanukah sermons in German, not Yiddish, and the report makes no mention of any Zionist request.
Livingstone’s claim is not based on anything in the two academic papers mentioned in his submission to the Labour Party inquiry. It appears to be drawn from the Trotskyist writer Lenni Brenner, who quoted from a January 1937 report in the left-wing US Zionist magazine Jewish Frontier. The passage quoted by Brenner read: “The attempts to seclude the Jews in the cultural ghetto have reached a new height by the prohibition to rabbis to use the German language in their Chanukah sermons. This is in line with the effort made by the Nazis to force the German Jews to use the Hebrew language as their cultural medium. Thus another “proof” of Nazi-Zionist cooperation is seized on eagerly by the Communist opponents of Zionism.”
Neither Brenner nor Jewish Frontier alleged that the Gestapo ban was imposed at the request of Zionists. Moreover, Brenner was selective in his use of the Jewish Frontier report, for he omitted the very next sentences from his quotation: “A number of leading Zionists including Rabbi Leo Prinz and the philosopher Martin Buber were deprived of their passports by the Gestapo. The number of “captives of Zion” in Germany is thus on the increase. The ransom price is not as yet known.”
In summary, the Gestapo banned German-language Chanukah sermons in December 1936, but Livingstone’s apparent source, Brenner, did not claim that this was done at the request of Zionists. Brenner himself dealt deceitfully with the report he quoted, suppressing information in the same report indicating that the Gestapo was taking action against Zionist leaders at the time.
(vii) The July 1937 Nazi conference
Livingstone stated: “And when, in July 1937, many senior Nazis gathered at their foreign office, saying ‘we should stop sending Jews to Palestine because it could create a Jewish state,’ in the middle of that meeting a directive comes specifically from Hitler saying ‘no, we will continue with this policy.'”
Livingstone is referring to a Nazi ministerial conference held on July 29, 1937. The background was the recent report of the Peel Commission recommending a two-state solution in Palestine. As Nicosia’s paper explains, when the conference was under way, “The representative of the Interior Ministry reported that Hitler, after carefully weighing the various options in emigration policy, had decided that Jewish emigration from Germany was to be promoted by all possible means, and that all destinations, including Palestine were to be utilized to this end.”
So Hitler’s directive called for emigration of German Jews to all destinations, not just to Palestine. Nor did Hitler express any sympathy for the Peel report’s proposal for a Jewish state, as Livingstone implied. Nicosia’s paper made the Nazi position on Zionism at the time perfectly clear. On June 1, 1937, he wrote, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, stressed the Nazi regime’s “opposition to the creation of an independent Jewish state in Palestine. It was asserted that such a state would serve as a political base for international Jewry, much as the Vatican was for Catholicism and Moscow for the Comintern.”
Somehow, Livingstone “overlooked” this passage.
(viii) ‘The Gestapo worked with Israeli agents … to secretly migrate 10,000 German Jews’
Livingstone stated: “After Britain banned Jewish migration to Palestine, the Gestapo worked with Israeli agents in Mossad to secretly migrate 10,000 German Jews to Palestine. I would say, when you add all that together, that is a clear element of support for Zionism, because the Zionists were the one group of Jews that Hitler was prepared to work with.”
Livingstone is referring to illegal immigration to Palestine organised not by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad – the State of Israel, of course, did not yet exist – but by Mossad LeAliyah Bet, a Haganah body operating from 1938. Livingstone’s source, the aforementioned paper by Nicosia, explained: “In the summer of 1939, Mossad agent Pino Ginsburg concluded an agreement with the Gestapo in Berlin to move 10,000 Jews by ship from the ports of Emden and Hamburg to Palestine. The outbreak of war in September forced the cancellation of that scheme.”
So the agreement to send the 10,000 German Jews to Palestine was never carried out. Had it been implemented, however, the plan would have saved 10,000 lives. It is odd to choose such a non-event as an example of ‘collaboration’ with the Nazis against the interests of German Jews.
Livingstone’s claim that “the Zionists were the one group of Jews that Hitler was prepared to work with” is also false. As we have already seen, the Nazis were prepared to exploit different Jewish groups, Zionist and non-Zionist, during the pre-war years in order to achieve Jewish emigration from Germany.
Livingstone’s expression “work with” implies an equal partnership. Nothing could be further from the truth. German Jews during the 1930s lived in fear of the Nazi terror, while Jews outside the Third Reich knew that German Jews were hostages of the Nazi dictatorship and desperate to escape.
Ken Livingstone’s examples of pre-war Nazi-Zionist “collaboration” are either distorted or invented. He has taken fragments from a paper by one historian, Francis Nicosia, and from a propaganda tract by a Trotskyist, Lenni Brenner, and twisted them beyond recognition.
The existence of forced contacts between the Nazis and German Zionists (as well as non-Zionists) during the 1930s is no secret. The aim of the Nazis at the time was to terrorise Jews into leaving Germany after stealing their property. The aim of the Zionist movement was to rescue Jews from Nazi control and, if possible, to preserve a fraction of their assets.
Historians, including those cited by Livingstone, dismiss the “collaboration” charge. In describing the contacts between Nazis and some Jews as “real collaboration,” Livingstone is mutilating facts; he is equating persecutors and rescuers, aggressors and victims, the powerful and the powerless, oppressors and the oppressed. His record betrays an obsession with attacking various Jewish people, and his campaign of falsification will be grist to the mill of the worst antisemites – both on the totalitarian left and on the fascist right.
Paul Bogdanor is an author based in Britain. His interests include political extremism, genocide, the Holocaust, and exposing incidents of extremism and anti-Semitism. Paul has written for several publication outlets, including The Jewish Press, The Algemeiner and Harry’s Place.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Fathom Journal.
[Photo: Antony Robbins/Flickr]