Tom Greenstein on his defence of Ken Livingstone

In  April 2017, University of Edinburgh student Tom Greenstein, one of ten candidates running to be elected as Edinburgh University Students’ Association President, signed a letter rejecting calls for Ken Livingstone to be expelled from the Labour party, and defending the comments Livingstone made about Hitler and Israel in an interview on BBC Radio London in 2016.

Livingstone served as the Mayor of London between 2000 and 2008, after which time he was succeeded by Boris Johnson.

Following a recent decision by the Labour party, the former mayor is now serving an indefinite suspension while a further investigation over antisemitism is run against him.

In the interview, Livingstone specifically stated that “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

In 2006,  Ken Livingstone was suspended from office for four weeks for allegedly likening a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard. A transcript of the exchange was published, in which Livingstone apparently states: “Arr right, well you might be [Jewish], but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?”

The Student contacted Tom Greenstein to ask whether he stands by his decision to defend Livingstone, and to clarify the implications of this. The questions sent and answers received are published in full below.

Do you stand by signing the letter defending Livingstone’s comments about Hitler and Zionism and rejecting calls for Livingstone to be expelled from the Labour party?

Yes absolutely. Even the Labour Party’s kangaroo court, the NCC, which has overseen the expulsion of many left-wing members, didn’t expel Ken Livingstone and still hasn’t now. So opposing his expulsion isn’t a controversial view. Regarding Livingstone’s comments to Vanessa Feltz which were widely misreported, he said was that there was Zionist / Nazi collaboration in 1932 (he got the date wrong). But the rest is fact – the Haavara agreement took place in 1933 between the Zionist Federation of Germany, Jewish Agency for Palestine and Nazi leaders whereby a small percentage of Germany’s Jews were allowed to emigrate to Palestine, transfer money and import German goods. This broke the Jewish anti-Nazi economic boycott which had been successful at the time, causing a lot of anger in the Jewish community, even in Zionist circles.

How do you respond to the fact that Livingstone’s comments have been condemned by the likes of Corbyn and Momentum?

I am a socialist and supporter of Corbyn’s leadership having voted for him in both leadership elections. I believe though Corbyn’s position during the anti-Semitism row which erupted within Labour (and started as soon as his name was on the ballot) was the wrong one. He rightly condemned anti-Semitism but should have also condemned false accusations of anti-Semitism, the likes of which can be incredibly damaging and actually perpetuate cases of real anti-Semitism by muddying the water. Corbyn’s condemning of Livingstone’s comments was wrong; I suspect he was just trying to wash his hands of him and change the media narrative. After all, very soon after the suspension hearing, Theresa May launched plans for a general election. Regarding Momentum, some in Momentum condemned Livingstone but the vast majority of members were actually very supportive of him so that is factually inaccurate. The Momentum leadership (i.e. Jon Lansman), which lacks any democracy, I am sure does take that view though.

Ken Livingstone was today suspended from office for two years in response to comments made in 2016 in which he claimed Hitler was a Zionist. Is this appropriate?

No that is a lie. He never said Hitler was a Zionist, but the mainstream media in the immediate aftermath widely reported him to have done so. What he actually said was that Hitler supported Zionism during a brief period post-1933 and pre WW2. This is of course before the Nazis embarked on mass genocide in the form of the Holocaust – the most disgusting crime of the twentieth century. Another factual error: Ken wasn’t suspended for two years, but indefinitely. I oppose this for reasons already stated.

Given the recent allegations of anti-Semitism within the NUS (members of the executive council mocking Jewish people, Malia Bouattia being involved with an allegedly anti-Semitic play), do you understand why students might have concerns about your support for someone accused of anti-Semitism? What would you say to those students who might have concerns?  

Students shouldn’t be concerned in the slightest. I have opposed racism and bigotry in all its forms my entire life, none more so than anti-Semitism. Being half Jewish, I know more than most what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. But let me be clear – Livingstone’s comments weren’t anti-Semitic. Indeed he wasn’t actually suspended from the Labour Party for anti-Semitism but for “bringing the party into disrepute”. The furore around his comments was created by Zionists, like John Mann, who are uncomfortable with what he was saying and wanted to silence him. Regarding your comments about Bouattia – she was a victim of a vile smear campaign which tried to paint her as an anti-Semite. As is so often the case, supporters of Palestine are smeared as anti-Semites in order to discredit their views (strawman fallacy) because supporters of Israel have no other way to argue. In your mention of an “allegedly anti-Semitic play”, “allegedly” is again the key word. The play, Seven Jewish Children, isn’t anti-Semitic. Even The Guardian, the main instigator in the charges against Livingstone, dismissed this allegation in its review of the play.

Image: Jon Vrushi via Flikr

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