Ken Livingstone: Hitler, Zionism, and the misuse of history

Ken Livingstone’s recent claims of “real collaboration” between the Nazis and Zionists echo Lenni Brenner’s discredited Zionism in the Age of Dictators.

The book, first published in 1983, has long sat outside mainstream academia. Its notoriety is perhaps best understood in its appeal to political extremes – notably among neo-Nazis. How political extremes find agreement on Holocaust denial and revisionism is a well-documented phenomenon.

Mr Livingstone’s most recent inflammatory remarks came before an internal party tribunal into his suspension from the Labour Party in 2016. The two-day misconduct panel will deliver its conclusions on Tuesday.

On June 14, 2016, Mr Livingstone gave oral evidence before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and its inquiry into anti-Semitism. His citation of Mr Brenner’s book was dismissed as lacking any suitable authority. Days later, he submitted into written evidence more ‘authoritative’ sources on the Haavara Agreement – a controversial transfer agreement that allowed some Jews to flee Nazi terror and relocate to Palestine in the 1930s.

Prominent Holocaust scholars have dismissed Mr Livingstone’s ‘partial truths,’ arguing that such partial truths ‘do more harm’ than outright lies.

The Haavara Agreement and the anti-Nazi boycott were desperate responses to the overwhelming terror of the Nazi state. As Louis Harap noted, the sheer act of Jewish survival became its own form of resistance.

Soon after seizing power, the SA militia attacked Jewish businesses. The Enabling Act passed on March 24, 1933, consolidated the totalitarian Nazi state and emboldened pre-existing anti-Semitic attitudes. In a few short weeks, the Nazi state had purged Jews from teaching, the civil service, dentistry, and disbarred Jewish solicitors. Other discriminatory policies soon followed.

From the outset, Zionists and others made their criticism of the transfer agreement known. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise requested empathy for the German Jews who felt compelled to do whatever necessary to escape Nazi Germany and save their possessions. He would later defend the agreement following criticism from Joseph Kraemer, who, as head of the Order Sons of Zion, argued that it violated the anti-Nazi boycott.

Haavara Ltd., the trustee office responsible for the transfer agreement, faced intense scrutiny and criticism from many Jewish voices. A section of the British Board of Jewish Deputies had requested its abolition. Some speculated that the owners of Haavara were profiting from transfer deal. Others accused them of being an agent of the Nazi state.

Only a Jewish National Council vote in December 1935 prevented a split in the support for Haavara. The key argument in its favour was that the Nazi state did not profit from the agreement, as it guaranteed the maximum transfer of Jewish capital to Palestine. But its unpopularity showed. Between February 1935 and 1936, the agreement had failed to transfer any Jewish capital and had assisted 1,300 Jewish families.

Nor did Nazi state oppression ease. In 1935, the Nazis accelerated the forced sale of Jewish businesses to ‘Aryan’ hands. Within three years, just 20 to 25 per cent of Jewish businesses remained.

In that same year, the Nazis were losing interest in the Haavara agreement, as the yearly contract was only renewed for three months. The Nazi interest in this agreement was only ever self-serving. It helped Jews leave Germany at no currency loss. It kept the factories busy in times of unemployment. There was no sincere collaboration, despite what Mr Brenner argues in Zionism in the Age of Dictators. In one example, Mr Brenner takes the words of Rabbi Joachim Printz out of context, ending with his quote about the Nazis ‘asking’ for ‘more Zionist behaviour’. But this was not his overarching argument. Rather, he added that the pro-Zionist overtures of the Nazi state were a ‘façade,’ warning that ‘it should not be confused with, cooperation on the part of one side or the other’. Brenner would expose his own dishonesty in a later book.

A second example of “real collaboration” given by Mr Livingstone concerns the legality of the Zionist flag. In two statements, one given to the Guardian last year, and repeated in March 2017, he asserts that the Zionist flag was the only other flag allowed to fly in Nazi Germany. This claim appears in Zionism in the Age of Dictators, selective quoting aside, it was, in reality, a critique of Georg Kareski.

The Nuremberg law cited by Mr Livingstone did not reference Zionist flags. Article 4 prohibited Jews from flying the Reich flag or national colours or display Reich colours. It would prove too risky for Jews to display religious colours. Any promise to protect such rights was mere lip service. Such racial laws had already stripped Jews of Reich citizenship.

Article 4 of the Nuremberg Laws helped single out Jewish households. On October 3, 1935, Jews could not legally put out German flags on Hindenburg Day, unlike other German households. The headquarters of the Zionist Organisation did not dare display the blue-white colours. That risk of renewed anti-Semitic violence remained ever present. The economic disenfranchisement of German Jews continued with the denial of bank credit.

German newspapers even advised Jews against displaying the blue-white Zionist flag as it may ‘lead’ to disturbances. Only a year after passing the Nuremberg Laws, the Nazi state banned Jews from flying their colours on German national holidays. They were, of course, free to fly the colours on Jewish holidays, but that would only increase the real risk of anti-Semitic violence. While it remains true that certain ships departing Germany to Palestine did display the swastika flag (or both), but that was more of a legal requirement.

Nor did Hitler supposed ‘madness’ trigger genocidal policies. It was always part of calculating plot that was exposed by the Munich Post in 1931. All the purges and racial laws were the stepping stones towards genocide. The Nazis threatened to exterminate German Jews with ‘fire and sword’ in 1938. Das Schwarze Korps printed that all Jews would descend into criminality, and the state would have to exterminate its “Jewish underworld” just as “it eliminates all criminals.”

Nor did Hitler’s anti-Semitic ideology allow him to view a Jewish state as anything more than a smokescreen for their real plot – global conquest. A telegram from Heinrich Himmler to Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1943 confirms their offer of support against ‘Jewish invaders’ in Palestine. This was part of their stand against ‘world Jewry’.

A historical view that attempts to paint Zionists as complicit allies with Nazis also demeans the efforts of those who attempted to save their co-religionists, most of which would not have succeeded without the support of non-Jews.

About the Author
Steve Rose edits and produces written content across all three Faith Matters platforms – Faith Matters, Tell MAMA UK and Religious Reader. His interests lie in hate crime work, investigating far-right and extremist groups and faith communities.
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