Vanessa Feltz: Do you still maintain that they [Shah’s remarks] were not [antisemitic]?
Ken Livingstone: No. She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over the top. But she’s not antisemitic. And I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years. I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Israel and its abuse of the Palestinians, but I’ve never heard someone be antisemitic.
Feltz: She [Shah] talked about relocating Israel to America. She talked about what Hitler did being legal. And she talked about the Jews rallying. And she used the words Jews, not Israelis or Israel. You didn’t find that to be antisemitic?
Livingstone: No. It’s completely over the top [but] it’s not antisemitic. 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. [He then] went mad and ending up killing 6 million Jews. But the simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians. And there is one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports: in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes, but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.
Feltz: You see some people will say there is a double standard operating in the Labour party. That’s that, really, a flagrant antisemitism, a deeply embedded systemic antisemitism, is hidden behind a mask of anti-Zionism or criticism of Israeli foreign policy. But that’s not what it really is. It is really, as John Rentoul, the political commentator said ... ‘These are long-term Jew haters, and they can use criticism of Israel as a cloak behind which to mask that sentiment?’
Livingstone: He’s lying. As I’ve said I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic. But there has been a very well orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israeli policy as antisemitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this, and then being denounced because back in 1981 we were campaigning to say the Labour party should recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation. We were accused of antisemitism but then 12 years later the leader of the PLO is on the White House lawn, shaking hands with the prime minister of Israel.
Feltz: How could it be then that you would think that it is alright for Naz Shah to mention Hitler at all? If her comments were anti-Zionist, or anti-Israeli foreign policy, why would that be part of the argument? Why would Hitler’s name even come into it.
Livingstone: I don’t think she should have done that. As I said, she was over the top. But we need to step back and look at the anger there is at the sort of double standards. We have just had a decade of painful standards against Iran. We invaded Iraq because we thought they were going to get nuclear weapons, but Israel has had nuclear weapons for 40 years at least and there’s never any sanctions, never any complaint from anyone in the west. And it is these double standards that make people angry.
Feltz: What do you think over the top means? Over the top of what?
Livingstone: Basically to think of antisemitism and racism as exactly the same thing. And criticising the government of South Africa, which is pretty unpleasant and corrupt, doesn’t make me a racist, and it doesn’t make me antisemitic when I criticise the brutal mistreatment by the Israeli government. And let’s look at what someone who is Jewish actually said, something almost very similar to something Naz has just said: Albert Einstein. When the first leader of Likud, the governing party now in Israel, came to America he [Einstein] warned American politicians: “Don’t talk to this man, because he’s too similar to the fascists who fought in the second world war”. Now if Naz or myself had said that today we would be denounced as antisemitic, but that was Albert Einstein.
Feltz: Lord Levy says that Ken Livingstone, in saying that those things are not antisemitic, and I quote “must be living on another planet. Vanessa, will you ask him is he living on another planet and which one is it?”
Livingstone: After Jeremy [Corbyn] became leader I was having a chat with Michael [Lord Levy] and he said he’s very worried because one of his friends, who is Jewish, had come to him and said the election of Jeremy Corbyn is exactly the same to the rise in power of Adolf Hitler. So, frankly, there has been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn, and his associates, as antisemitic from the moment he became leader. But the simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes that’s going in the way it treats its Palestinians.
*It's NEVER a good idea to invoke Godwin's Law HOWEVER