(JTA) – Britain’s Labour Party suspended former London mayor Ken Livingstone on Thursday for saying Adolf Hitler was a Zionist.
A Labour Party spokesperson told The Guardian that the action was “for bringing the party into disrepute.” British anti-racism activists and Labour Party politicians had demanded Livingstone’s expulsion.
In a radio interview with the BBC on Thursday, Livingstone said, “Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism.”
He made the remarks in defence of Labour MP Naz Shah, who was suspended a day earlier over a Facebook post in 2014 suggesting Israelis should be moved en masse to the United States. She apologized on Tuesday, a day after the remarks came to light.
Asked during the interview whether he regarded her statement as anti-Semitic, Livingstone said: “No, it’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-Semitic.” The ex-mayor also said there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticized Israeli policy as anti-Semitic.”
Livingstone’s remarks come at a sensitive time for the Labour Party, which in recent months has seen the suspension of several members, including senior ones, for anti-Semitic hate speech that critics say party leader Jeremy Corbyn is not doing enough to curb.
Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who in 2009 called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends” after inviting representatives from both terrorist groups to visit the British Parliament as his guests, is also accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.
“No one can call themselves progressive if they regurgitate the worst ideas of the Nazis and other classic anti-Semites throughout history as many people associated with the Labour Party have done recently,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement about Livingstone. He spoke of “a pattern emerging of a party which tolerates at best, and ignores at worst, a groundswell of Jew-hatred.”
John Mann, a Labour MP and central figure in the fight against anti-Semitism in Britain, confronted Livingstone on Thursday morning and shouted at him, calling him a “disgrace” and a “Nazi apologist.” He has called for him to be expelled from the party.
Mann told Sky News that Livingstone’s comments were “insane,” branded him an “anti-Semite,” and said the Labour veteran had “gone totally mad.”
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s contender in the London mayoral elections, joined a growing chorus of Labour politicians calling for Livingstone’s expulsion.
Gideon Falter, chair of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism watchdog, said in a statement: “The Labour Party must expel Ken Livingstone. Today he has claimed that Hitler was a Zionist and that anti-Semitism is not racism. Enough is enough. He should not be suspended, he should be expelled today.”
Livingstone served as mayor twice, from 1981 to 1986 and from 2000 to 2008.