There are people on the left who think nobody on the left can be racist. It is a silly dogma; inconsistency comes easily to human beings, so what divine force could ensure that everybody who has the ‘correct’ opinion about economic growth or nuclear disarmament must also have the ‘correct’ opinions about race? Of course there will have been some passionate European Marxists who had an irrational dislike for people of Asian extraction, and some fervent idealistic Trots who maintained an inexplicable fear of anyone with African ancestry. So we should not be surprised that even if a politician is not racist themselves, they may pander to racists in order to bolster their popularity. Politicians are in the business of winning votes, after all. That is how we should understand Ken Livingstone, who recently said the following:
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 – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.
It is impossible to ‘remember’ these things, because they are not true. Livingstone is not remembering anything at all – he is intentionally sending a signal to potential supporters. The signal is crude: if you do not like Jews, Ken Livingstone sympathizes with you. Otherwise, how do we explain how Livingstone managed to ‘remember’ things which are so obviously false?
Let us break down what Livingstone says he remembers.
“…when Hitler won his election in 1932…”
Hitler did not win an election in 1932. He never won any election. Hitler gained power in Germany in 1933 through a back-room deal with coalition partners. His coalition partners thought they were more powerful than Hitler and believed they could control him. Sadly, they were wrong.
“…his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism…”
Throughout his life Hitler wrote and said all sorts of ridiculous things, many of them contradictory. Hitler espoused rabid anti-semitic views long before 1932. It is absurd to pretend Hitler shared the goals of the Zionists.
The Zionists adopted a Jewish nationalist program motivated by the understandable desire for Jews to escape anti-semitism in Europe. In contrast, Hitler argued that Germans were oppressed by Jews. Hitler’s position was not one of supporting the intelligible goals of some Jews but of putting forward many idiotic and ultimately evil proposals that would supposedly free Germany from Jews. As early as 1919 Hitler stated the “ultimate goal must definitely be the removal of the Jews altogether.”
Wanting to create a Jewish homeland is not logically or ethically the same as wanting to expel Jews from your own nation. The creation of the state of Israel would not imply that no Jew may live in Germany. The state of Israel exists today, but Jews live in many nations. Creating a Jewish homeland was not one of Hitler’s goals, but one of the many excuses and rationalizations he proffered whilst pursing his actual anti-semitic goals.
Equating Hitler’s position with support for Zionism is like arguing Mohammed Ali supported the Ku Klux Klan’s policy on racial segregation because Ali once foolishly stated:
No intelligent white person watching this show, no intelligent white person in his or her right mind want black boys and black girls marrying their white sons and daughters and in return introducing their grandchildren as half-brown kinky-haired black people.
…this before he went mad…
There is ample evidence that Hitler was ‘mad’ before 1932. Livingstone is concocting a fictional timeline if he is trying to pretend that Hitler was a reasonable person with a coherent worldview until 1932, and that he only succumbed to despicable nihilistic racist hatred afterwards.
…and ended up killing six million Jews.
Hitler did not kill six million Jews, at least not in the sense of murdering them with his own hands. The holocaust was only possible because many other people – some German, some of other nationalities – supported, assisted, abetted or willfully ignored the crime that Hitler ordered.
It would be convenient to pin this crime on just one person, because then we could rationalize how the crime only occurred because one person ‘went mad’ and changed his policy on the so-called ‘Jewish Question’. In reality Hitler was a despicable politician who said lots of different things in order to boost his popular appeal. That does not mean he really believed what he said. He said things to please lefties. He said things to please racists. Sometimes he even said things to please foreigners and moderates. Lefties normally appreciate the unreliability of a person’s words. Hitler was a self-described ‘socialist’, but progressives rarely take that claim seriously, so why would they take his other pronouncements at face value? Hitler twisted and manipulated public opinion in order to achieve his goals. In this respect, Hitler was no different to many other politicians, like Ken Livingstone. Clever words can be used to persuade otherwise good people to rationalize repugnant behaviour.
Arguing that Hitler was a Zionist is a politician’s trick, code for justifying anti-semitic feeling by siding with the persecuted. But Ken Livingstone is not a Palestinian and he receives no votes from Palestinians. Livingstone sides with the ordinary persecuted Palestinian in a similar fashion to the way Hitler sided with the ordinary persecuted German. He does it to gain support from a certain subset of the population who are happy to adopt his rationalizations. If some of the ‘persecuted’ innocents also happen to be racists, that was no concern to either of them. Livingstone is courting racists, as did Hitler. The only difference is that Hitler was himself a racist, whilst Livingstone is unforgivably cynical.
All Lives Matter
This was not said by Ken Livingstone. It will probably never be said by him. We know why. To use the phrase ‘all lives matter’ is treated as signalling sympathy for the opponents of Black Lives Matter, a group of American political activists who believe that American blacks are put at risk because of discriminatory policing policies amongst other things. However, the words ‘all lives matter’ are not objectionable in themselves. All lives do matter. A left-leaning politician can usually be relied upon to understand context well enough not to send out signals that upset their supporters, or which needlessly court controversy. They know when somebody else plays the race card, so they must also know when they play it themselves.
If the left are normally sensitive to context, why does Livingstone seek attention in the way that he does? Zionism was born as a political response to anti-semitism. It is hence inflammatory to insist that anti-Zionism must be distinguished from anti-semitism, as if the two can be neatly separated. It is even more insulting to associate Zionism with Nazi policies. Livingstone does these things because it will win him support from some rather despicable and self-righteous individuals. Much of that support must be coming from genuine anti-semites. Other support is coming from people for whom anti-semitism has become normalized, so they are not even conscious of their prejudice against Jewish people.
Why should anyone refer to Zionism, or describe themselves as ‘anti-Zionist’? No intelligent person thinks the state of Israel is going to come to an end. No intelligent person has any humane or workable proposal that could lead to the termination of the state of Israel. Zionism is not whatever happens to be the policy of the current Israeli government; it is possible to criticize those policies without bringing up the topic of Zionism. The word Zionism is no longer useful, because the defining policy of Zionism is now a matter of inescapable fact. The Jewish nation exists. It is now so embedded in reality that we might as well talk about political opposition to the reunification of East and West Germany, or political opposition to the fall of the Soviet Union. People can be nostalgic and they may harbour resentment at changes they have experienced, but they cannot simply turn back time. Israel is here to stay.
The only reason to talk about Zionism, and opposition to Zionism, is to send a signal. That signal is intentionally misleading. The only reason to keep debating Zionism, 68 years after the founding of the state of Israel, is to signal antipathy towards real living people, not towards a policy that cannot be sensibly reversed. Progressives should know better. They identify ‘dog whistles’ and ‘coded language’ all over the place, so why are they deaf when anti-Zionism is used as a proxy for anti-semitism?
There can only be one reason for progressives to ignore the sympathetic nods towards anti-semites: they want the votes and support of people who feel an irrational prejudice against Jews. Even worse, these progressives must be consciously seeking the support of racists, or else must be so stupid and lacking in self-awareness that they are hopelessly unfit to govern. The finally-tuned linguistic sensitivities of an educated lefty allows them to split linguistic atoms when most people would struggle to split hairs. Some of them treat anti-semitism as if it has been defined using a carefully marked boundary, so they walk right up to it, shout their insults but excuse themselves by insisting they never crossed into racist territory. But their intention is clear. They are speaking to people who are happy to wander over that boundary, and to the people who permanently live on the other side. They are courting anti-semites, pandering to them, and inventing linguistic games designed to disguise anti-semitism.
Livingstone is at fault, and is despicable. There should be no equivocation, though I expect there will be plenty, especially now that the grossly overhyped lawyer Shami Chakrabarti has been appointed to lead an enquiry into Labour’s antisemitism. Who needs an enquiry when we can hear the things that Ken Livingstone keeps saying, read the tweets of Labour MPs and councillors, and see the support they all receive as a result? There is no need for an enquiry because there is no good reason for a British politician to repeatedly talk about Zionism except to signal their sympathy for anti-semites. A man who courts anti-semites deserves to be tarred with the same brush as all other racists. Livingstone’s politics should be flatly rejected, and the man should be shunned.