Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Tuesday robustly defended his claim that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism, saying he had been deliberately misrepresented by people who wanted to discredit Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“If I had said Hitler was a Zionist, I would apologize for that because it’s rubbish,” he said during a hearing on anti-Semitism, according to The Guardian.
“If I’d said it, I would agree it was abhorrent. But I didn’t say it. I was stating a simple historical fact,” he added.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, however, said Livingstone’s comments had made him a “shame and embarrassment” to the party.
Livingstone has already been suspended from the Labour Party, where he was until recently a senior policymaker, after claiming in an interview that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist, and appearing to back some of the Nazi dictator's earlier policies before he "went mad."
"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 before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews," Livingstone said in an interview, while defending a Labour MP suspended for calling for the mass expulsion of Jews from Israel.
Livingtone has repeatedly refused to apologize for the comments, even after being harangued as a "racist, Hitler-apologist" by an MP from his own party.
Late last month he was fired from his radio show on LBC Radio, London's most popular talk radio station, over the anti-Semitic comments.
In his comments on Tuesday to the home affairs select committee, Livingstone claimed that in the radio interview with Vanessa Feltz he had said that Hitler had supported Zionism in the early 1930s as a way of ridding Germany of thousands of Jews. That was not the same as saying Hitler was a Zionist, he claimed.
“If I could go back in time and avoid referring to Hitler and Zionism in Vanessa Feltz’s interview, I would. I would go back and remove it because it allowed all the anti-Jeremy people in the Labour party to start whipping this up as an even bigger issue,” said Livingstone.
“I regret using it because it became this hysterical issue in the midst of our campaign to do well in the local elections and the next day virtually every front page was about me and anti-Semitism,” he added, according to The Guardian.
Livingstone’s comments about Hitler and Zionism came amid a spate of suspensions of Labour party officials and activists for making anti-Semitic comments on social media.
Since being suspended from the party, Livingstone told MPs, that “I can’t get down the street without people stopping me and saying we know what you said is true, don’t give in”. Those supporting him were “disproportionately” Jewish, he added.
He conceded that Jewish people had been offended by his remarks “because they have been told a lie”.
“A handful of Labour MPs used this issue, deliberately lied about what I said, and smeared me because they wished to undermine the leader of the Labour party. It’s that simple. And they should be the ones who are suspended,” claimed Livingstone.
Earlier on Tuesday, Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the same hearing that he had heard Livingstone’s comments about Hitler and Zionism with “complete disbelief” and regarded them as “hateful”.
Accusing Livingstone of bigotry and of being “plainly anti-Semitic”, he said: “His views are utterly repellant to our community. If Livingstone had made his remarks about any other group, he would be labelled as a political pariah, and that’s what I think he is.”
Arkus said that Corbyn’s “very, very hostile position on Israel”, his associations with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Stop the War Campaign, and meetings with Hamas and Hezbollah had “clearly sent the wrong message to some people”.
Every step taken by Corbyn to tackle anti-Semitism “has had to be wrung out of him by public pressure,” he added.