Free speech and historical accuracy in the Livingstone affair | Letters

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Ken Livingstone, suspended from Labour for claiming that Hitler supported Zionism. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

Whatever motivated Ken Livingstone to play the Hitler card in a bizarre, unprompted and unwanted attempt to defend Naz Shah, justifications on the basis of alleged historical accuracy (Letters, 6 April) miss the point that the context and purpose of such remarks need to be taken into account.

It is difficult to see them as anything other than another way of saying that Zionism equals Nazism, an equation that is not only offensive to many Jews and others who resolutely oppose Israel’s policies, but also undermines the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people. It would have been difficult for members of Labour’s national constitutional committee to have reached any conclusion other than that the party had been brought into disrepute, though the sanction has proved controversial.

In this respect, the party might usefully learn from the practices of bodies dealing with professional standards. In the case of doctors, for example, a tribunal will consider a series of factors including remorse, insight and risk of repetition in deciding between suspension and erasure from the medical register. It is also axiomatic that the reputation of the profession as a whole is more important than the interests of any individual doctor.

Given the pressing need for a credible Labour party to challenge Tory hegemony, it would be a sub-Shakespearian but necessary outcome of continued due process if Livingstone, who has indeed “done the state some service”, proves through persistent lack of insight to have effectively written his own political obituary.
Dr Anthony Isaacs
London

• It is not as a Jewish Labour party member but as a historian that I am offended by Ken Livingstone’s views on Hitler and Zionism. Livingstone has a feeble grasp of this history and his repeated claims to be merely speaking the historical truth compound his original error.

To claim that Hitler “was supporting Zionism” travesties the fact that Zionists aspired to create a Jewish state in Palestine, while Hitler was committed only to achieving the wholesale removal of Jews from Germany. Some German Zionists were prepared to negotiate with the Nazis in pursuit of their objective, but Hitler’s own interest in Palestine was purely opportunistic.

Nazi thinking was based on the premise that a resettled German-Jewish population in Palestine would remain under the firm rule of the colonial power, Britain. In this vision, German Jews in Palestine, far from achieving the statehood to which Zionists aspired, would live in a kind of controlled reservation policed by the British.

To the extent that a Jewish state nevertheless seemed likely to emerge in time and threaten to provide a new basis for the global “Jewish conspiracy”, Hitler’s interest in a “Palestinian solution” cooled. Why these simple facts escape Livingstone and his defenders is beyond me.
Jane Caplan
Professor emeritus of modern European history, University of Oxford

• The Guardian accuses Labour of having forgotten a fundamental principle in not expelling Ken Livingstone (Editorial, 6 April). I suggest that it is the Guardian that has forgotten an even more fundamental principle: free speech.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, the paper waxed lyrical about free speech, quoting the maxim “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” (8 January 2015).

Yet with Livingstone it joins in the witch-hunt. Your editorial invents the principle that the motives of those claiming to be victims of racism can never be queried. So when Ulster loyalists, Afrikaners or Israelis claim that they are victims of racism, we must nod our heads accordingly? The British empire repeatedly claimed the mantle of the oppressed. The Zionist movement has repeatedly used the false allegation of antisemitism to defame its opponents, including Jewish anti-Zionists.

British Jews do not speak with one voice. The suggestion that it is only a matter of “decorum” that people distinguish between Jews and Zionism is outrageous. The only people who use the two terms interchangeably are Zionists and antisemites. Livingstone is accused of a “grotesque misreading of history” because he asserted that Hitler supported Zionism. This is a historical fact attested to by historians such as Lucy Dawidowicz, Francis Nicosia and David Cesarani. It has nothing to do with antisemitism.
Tony Greenstein
Brighton

• I have struggled to understand the fury and vituperation heaped on Ken Livingstone. Two facts are clear: Livingstone is not a Holocaust denier; and he nowhere alleges that Zionists were complicit in the plans to exterminate the Jews.

It is hardly surprising that Zionists had contact with the Hitler regime. They had extensive contacts with many European governments and groups during the interwar years to promote support for a Jewish state in Palestine. Members of the British royal family and the aristocracy admired Hitler and the Nazi regime but we do not accuse them of complicity in the Holocaust.

So what is Livingstone’s crime? Is it that he is a long-term supporter of Palestinian rights? Is it that he dared to voice criticism of Zionism? There is no doubt that branches of the Zionist movement were quite ruthless in their violent struggle, razing and displacing Arab villages, murdering Arab and British citizens through terrorist outrages. After the end of the first world war a detailed Zionist plan for the establishment of a Jewish state explicitly committed to respecting the rights and property of all citizens, whether Jewish, Arab or Christian. How does this square with an Israeli state that flouts international law and creates and extends illegal settlements?

The conclusion that I deduce from your editorial and Suzanne Moore’s piece (Labour is weak and immoral, 6 April) is that you will not defend free speech and that any support for Palestinian human rights or criticism of Zionism will be judged to be antisemitic.
Ron Walton
Penarth, South Glamorgan

• Thanks to David Baddiel for clarifying the problem at the heart of the current Livingstone antisemitism controversy (No sympathy, no compassion, 7 April). Baddiel says that the statement “Hitler supported Zionism” is not a fact, but an interpretation. I would go further, and say that it can be both of these things simultaneously, depending on the perspectives of those making the claim or assertion. It’s exactly the same with every theological argument, in my experience. Consider the phrase: “Christ is risen”!
Father Alec Mitchell
Manchester

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