I don’t think Ken Livingstone is the sort of gentleman I would like to stroll round a porcelain shop with; he has a tendency to strike out in unpredictable directions. Or, rather, he is currently portrayed as being fixated with Nazi Germany, a direction bound to cause collisions (see for example the commentary from the New Statesman, which I would expect to be more sympathetic). I heard a report about his recent appearance before a Home Affairs Select Committee meeting on the radio this morning though and felt that, while faced with plenty of accusations, he didn’t seem to be given a fair hearing.
This evening I sought out the transcript of the session (Oral evidence: The Rise of Antisemitism, HC 136, 14 June 2016). Hurrah for a democratic system which can publish such evidence in the public domain without delay! Livingstone regretted that he raised the matter of Hitler and Zionism earlier this year but was adamant that he was offering historical fact. What is more, he did seem to back that up in a well-founded manner. He claimed that he didn’t suggest Hitler was a Zionist but that, during the early period of his political ascendancy, Hitler did negotiate with and support Zionists as a way of getting Jews out of Germany. Nobody managed to demonstrate that he was wrong. Livingstone could certainly appear more penitent but his accusers should either find some creditable historians to demonstrate why what he says is factually wrong or be prepared to meet him partway.
Meanwhile, if I was Jeremy Corbyn, I think I’d want to find a wise and friendly rabbi who’d be willing to sit down for a cup of tea with Ken, listen to him and also help him understand that, while there are times to press hot buttons, an interview with Vanessa Feltz is probably rarely one of them. Actually, I can think of one rabbi who would be ideal, although bread and wine are more his thing than tea and I’m not sure he would be top of the advice giving list for Jeremy, Ken or many of the people who are feeling hurt by some careless words and inflamed by the way the matter has been pursued.