Ken Livingstone is suspended from the Labour party
Ken Livingstone will face a new investigation into his recent comments that Hitler supported Zionism, as Jeremy Corbyn criticised his old ally for refusing to apologise for causing deep offence to the Jewish community.
Labour’s ruling body will now launch a fresh disciplinary process against Livingstone, who was suspended from the party for a further year but not expelled over his original comments made in April 2016.
The decision not to expel Livingstone has caused an outcry among senior Labour politicians such as Tom Watson, the deputy leader, who said the party had failed the Jewish community and brought “shame on us all”.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, said it was “deeply disappointing” that the suspension did not reflect the severity of the verdict, while Keir Starmer was one of several shadow cabinet ministers who said the sanction should have been expulsion.
Labour’s national executive committee is facing calls from MPs to force the disciplinary body to reconsider Livingstone’s punishment, but Corbyn said he respected the independence of the process.
“Ken Livingstone’s comments have been grossly insensitive, and he has caused deep offence and hurt to the Jewish community,” he said.
“It is deeply disappointing that, despite his long record of standing up to racism, Ken has failed to acknowledge or apologise for the hurt he has caused. Many people are understandably upset that he has continued to make offensive remarks which could open him to further disciplinary action.
“Since initiating the disciplinary process, I have not interfered with it and respect the independence of the party’s disciplinary bodies. But Ken’s subsequent comments and actions will now be considered by the national executive committee after representations from party members.”
What Ken Livingstone has said about Hitler and Zionism
Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general who oversaw Labour’s review of antisemitism, also backtracked on her position on Wednesday night, in which she said the party had demonstrated an ability to hold a mirror up to itself.
“Ken Livingstone was fairly and rightly found guilty of bringing the Labour party into disrepute,” she said. “The punishment of suspension was thought inadequate by some members of both the Labour party and the Jewish community that Livingstone has so offended.
“However, his remarks since yesterday’s decision have overtaken those arguments. I am horrified by Ken Livingstone’s lack of contrition and repeated offence which could be potential grounds for further investigation by the party. In the meantime I can only implore Livingstone to maintain a silence and to please stop further damaging community relations, the party to which he has given so much of his life and himself.”
The fresh investigation into Livingstone may not satisfy many in the party, given the first disciplinary inquiry about his comments has taken a year.
Tulip Siddiq, a Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, who has many Jewish constituents, warned that members were contacting her in despair and terminating their membership.
“I am writing to you personally, because I do not believe you wish to lead a party where manipulations of the Holocaust are allowed to stand,” she wrote in a letter to Corbyn. “I believe the insufficiency of the punishment means that the party must explore all options available to it. This includes asking the NEC to convene an emergency session to review the decision.”
Livingstone, a former mayor of London who has been a Labour member for almost 50 years, was censured by the party for suggesting that Hitler at one point supported Zionism, and for defending the Labour MP Naz Shah over an antisemitic Facebook post for which she has apologised.
Afterwards, he refused to apologise and said the panel decided not to expel him because of his long history of contributions to the party.
It is understood new complaints about Livingstone’s conduct relate to his comments last week when he suggested there was “real collaboration” between the Nazis and some German Jews at one point in the 1930s.
Referring to Hitler, Livingstone said: “He didn’t just sign the deal. The SS set up training camps so that German Jews who were going to go there could be trained to cope with a very different sort of country when they got there. When the Zionist movement asked, would the Nazi government stop a Jewish rabbi doing their sermons in Yiddish and make them do it in Hebrew, he agreed to that.
“He passed a law saying the Zionist flag and the swastika were the only flags that could be flown in Germany. An awful lot. Of course, they started selling Mauser pistols to the underground Jewish army. So you had right up until the start of the second world war real collaboration.”
His comments refer to the Haavara agreement signed by the Nazi government, which facilitated the relocation of some Jews to Palestine in 1933, before the Third Reich began its mass extermination.
However, Livingstone’s claim that the agreement had meant Hitler was supportive of a Jewish homeland has been widely disputed by historians including Prof Richard Evans, the expert witness for the defence in the high-profile libel case brought by the Holocaust denier David Irving.
The decision not to expel Livingstone permanently was met with widespread dismay in the Jewish community. Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said relations between the Labour party and the Jewish community had reached an all-time low.
Britain’s chief rabbi accused Labour of failing the Jewish community by not expelling Livingstone. “This was a chance for the Labour party to show that it would not tolerate wilful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community by shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offence,” said Ephraim Mirvis.
“Worryingly, the party has yet again failed to show that it is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of antisemitism. The Labour party has failed the Jewish community, it has failed its members and it has failed all those who believe in zero tolerance of antisemitism.”