(JTA) — Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone told a Parliament committee hearing that he regretted saying Adolf Hitler supported Zionism because of the furor it sparked but did not back down from the claim.
Livingstone testified Tuesday before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on anti-Semitism. He ignored repeated offers from committee members to retract the claim he made in an April radio interview, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
In a radio interview with the BBC, Livingstone had said, “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 made the remarks in defense of Labour Party lawmaker Naz Shah, who was suspended a day earlier over a Facebook post in 2014 suggesting that Israelis should be moved en masse to the United States. Days later, Livingstone was suspended from the party for the remark
Livingstone served as mayor twice, from 1981 to 1986 and from 2000 to 2008.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Livingstone defended his remarks.
“What I said was … that when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy was that the Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism. He wanted all the half-million German Jews out. At that stage, his view was to move them out by the autumn of 1933. He negotiated a deal with a German Zionist organization that did lead to 66,000 German Jews being moved to what is now Israel,” he told the committee.
Livingstone said he regretted what he said in the interview “because it allowed all the anti-Jeremy [Corbyn] people in the party to whip it up into a bigger issue. I regret using it because it became this hysterical issue.”
He added that opponents “smeared me to undermine the leader of the Labour Party. They should be suspended.”
Livingstone’s remarks came at a sensitive time for Labour, which in recent months has seen the suspension of at least 20 members, including at the senior level, for anti-Semitic hate speech that critics say party leader Jeremy Corbyn is not doing enough to curb.
Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who in 2009 called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends” after inviting representatives from both terrorist groups to visit the British Parliament as his guests, is also accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.