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Labour antisemitism row: Read the Ken Livingstone interview transcipts in full

Published 29/04/2016

Ken Livingstone is besieged by reporters in London yesterday after he was suspended from the Labour party
Ken Livingstone is besieged by reporters in London yesterday after he was suspended from the Labour party
Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the Labour party after he waded into a row about antisemitism in a series of media interviews.

Initially defending Naz Shah, who was suspended for alleged antsemitic comments, Mr Livingstone was ultimately accused of antisemitism himself.

Here are full transcripts of what Mr Livingstone said in the interviews he gave on Thusday.

BBC London, Vanessa Feltz Show

The interview that sparked the controversy

Asked whether Naz Shah was antisemitic:

“She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over-the-top but she’s not antisemitic. 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 the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic.

“It’s completely over the top but it’s not antisemitism. 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.

On Israel and Palestine:

“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’s 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.

On Antisemitism in the Labour Party:

“As I’ve said, I’ve never heard anybody say anything antisemitism-Semitic, but there’s 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.

“Let’s look at someone who’s Jewish who actually said something very similar to what Naz has just said. Albert Einstein, when the first leader of Likud, the governing party now in Israel, came to America, he warned American politicians: don’t talk to this man because he’s too similar to the fascists we fought in the Second World War. Now, if Naz or myself said that today we would be denounced as antisemitic, but that was Albert Einstein.

“After Jeremy became leader I was having a chat with Michael and he said he was very worried because one of his friends who was Jewish had come to him and said ‘the election of Jeremy Corbyn is exactly the same as the first step to the rise of Adolf Hitler to power’.

“Frankly, there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as antisemitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians.”

Daily Politics, BBC Two

A response to critics aired at 12.10

On antisemitism in the Labour party.

“Literally I’ve been a member for 47 years I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Israel. If I was to criticise the South African government as riddled with corruption you wouldn’t say I was racist – you’d say I was being critical of that government.

“I think blurring these two things undermines the importance of antisemitism because a real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbours in Golders Green or Stoke Newington, it’s a physical loathing.

On Naz Shah:

“It’s completely over-the-top and rude, but who am I to denounce anyone with all of that. It was wrong. I don’t think she is antisemitic, it was incredibly rude but I don’t believe she is an antisemite. When the NEC investigation is finished they'll say it was rude and over the top but they won’t find any evidence that she actually hates Jews.

“We’ve got to investigate all these charges and the context in which they are made. If she is antisemitic like the other three or four members we’ve found who are antisemitic, she’ll be expelled.”

On other alleged antisemites in Labour.

“That is part of the classic antisemitic thing about an ‘international Jewish conspiracy’ – that is the reason we need to have an investigation. I’ve got an open mind. I’ve seen nothing to suggest to me that she is antisemitic. I wouldn’t have supported her if I [thought] she was antisemitic.

On whether what Hitler did was legal, as stated by Naz Shah:

“That’s a statement of fact – Hitler, I’m sure, passed all those laws that allowed him to do that … it’s history … literally, Hitler was completely mad, he killed six million Jews.

“She’s not saying it’s legal to kill six million Jews: what they were doing in that country allowed them not just to kill six million Jews, kill all the communists, kill all the leftists like me, my father almost died when a Nazi sub sank his boat. I have no sympathy with Hitler.

On another alleged antisemite in Labour.

“No, that is, and that’s why she’s been suspended or expelled. What I’ve said is that in 47 years of the party in all the meetings I’ve been in I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic. There are bound to be in a party of half a million people you’ll have a handful of antisemites, you’ll have a handful of racists.

“You’ve managed to dig out virtually every antisemitic comment that Labour members have made out of half a million people. I’ve never met any of these people. There’s not a problem. You’re talking about a handful of people in a party of half a million people. Jeremy Corbyn has moved rapidly to deal with them. “

On Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the allegations:

“He met with Naz and she agreed she would stand down while the investigation is going on. He called her in to see her.

“There’s been a huge investigation of virtually everything that anybody put on the internet … many of these people are quite new and recent members of the party that joined in the big influx. 300,000 new people came in.”

On his meeting a man accused of antisemitism in London:

“This is the man who called for Muslims around the world to donate blood after the attacks of 9/11 when he came to London I went with him to the Regent’s Park mosque where he said no man should hit a woman and you should not discriminate against homosexuals. So I can’t equate what I heard him say… he made no antisemitic statement while he was here in London. I don’t investigate people.

“I’ve simply said what I believe to be true which is that Naz was not antisemitic. She was completely over the top, very rude, but that does not make her an antisemite. “

On John Mann’s comments:

“He went completely over the top. I was actually doing a radio interview at the time that he was bellowing that I’m a racist antisemite in my ear. I’ve had that with John Mann before a few weeks ago screaming that I was a bigot down the phone.

“I’m not an apologist for anyone who makes antisemitic statements. What I’m saying is don’t confuse antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli government policy.

“These things erupt, they dominate the news for 24, 48 hours, people calm down again when you go back and check what was really said. I’m sure people have had calls from the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph saying ‘he’s said this, that and the other’ – they’ll find out that’s not what I’ve said. We’ll leave Naz to be investigated, I believe she’ll be cleared of antisemitism, if she isn’t she’ll be expelled from the party.”

On calling a Jewish journalist a “concentration camp guard” whilst Mayor of London:

“I can’t tell if a journalist is Jewish or Catholic or anything. If a journalist is chasing you down the street at nine of clock at night you might be rude to them. Some people might have hit him! He said he was just doing his job. We went all the way to the High Court and the judge opened his judgement by saying ‘I hope no one here is going to suggest that Mr Livingstone is antisemitic’. We won the case.”

On claims about Hitler and Zionism:

“He didn’t win the election, he became the largest party in 1932, his policy here wasn’t to kill the Jews it was to deport them all to Israel. The simple truth, if you go back and check, that was Hitler’s policy when he first came to power – to move Germany’s Jews to Israel. I denounce that.

“I’m being questioned in an interview I answer the question. You’ve never known me not answer a question you’ve put to me. I’m asked a question, I answer it … the simple truth is that was Hitler’s policy in 1932 when he came to power.

“Things are either historically true or they’re not – that’s one of the reasons I pursue the policies I do because I study history. If you study history you can avoid making the same mistakes again.

“My objection to the Israeli government is that for nearly 70 years the Palestinians have been kept in appalling conditions. I’m not making any link between the current Israeli policy and Hitler. I was asked the question in the interview and it just so happens to be a historical fact. If you say to me 'is it true that we were invaded by the Normans in 1066' I’m going to say yes, because it’s true, and I’m not going to avoid the truth.”

On John Mann:

“I’d simply say to John Mann go back and check. Is what I say true, or is it not? The BBC, you’ve got a huge team of researchers, it will take just an hour or two to go back and confirm. I was asked a question, I answered it. I have never in 45 years since I won my first election, I have never lied. I have always answered the question.

“He was a monster from start to finish but it’s simply the historical fact. His policy was originally to send all of Germany’s Jews to Israel and there were private meetings between the Zionist movement and Hitler’s government which were kept confidential, they only became apparent after the war, when they were having a dialogue to do this.

“What John Mann just said isn’t true – I’ve not said that Hitler was a Zionist, what I said was his policy in ‘32 was to deport Germany’s Jews to Israel. I condemn that. I never said it, what I said was that was his policy.

“I’m not raising these points. I was planning to have a nice quiet morning in the garden until suddenly I’m descended on by all these journalists saying ‘is this true, is that true’. I’m be much happier just to do the gardening, it’s such a nice day out there.”

The World at One, BBC Radio 4

A response aired at 1pm

On John Mann:

“I’ve had the same problems with John Mann before, he was accusing me of being a racist. He does go over the top. You try and have a conversation with him and he just keeps talking over you – there’s not much you can do about it, really. That’s just John Mann’ style.

“Back in 1932 when Hitler won the election that brought him to power his policy then was to deport all Germany’s Jews to Israel. That’s not because he was a Zionist, it is because he hated Jews. He then had a dialogue with the leaders of the Zionist movement, private, not him personally but his officials, privately discussing whether or not to proceed with that policy. In the end he didn’t – he chose to kill six million Jews.

“It’s a statement of historical fact: he was, well not him personally, but senior officials were in a secret dialogue with the Zionist movement about whether to proceed with this policy.

“It’s not inflammatory to tell the truth and one of the reasons we make so many mistakes in politics is that so few politicians study history. We keep making the same mistakes.

“All the times I’ve been interviewed I’ve never refused to answer a question. If someone puts a question to me, I’ll answer it. The simply reality is that I answered that question.

“It shouldn’t take, given the scale of the BBC’s research department, for someone to go back and check. It will confirm that what I’ve said is true: that’s the historical truth. I’m not going to deny that the Normans invaded Britain in 1066, we have to live with history.

On raising the Hitler issue:

“It lays you open to people smearing and lying about you. I’ve always answered the questions put to me and that simple fact is we’ve had a handful of people saying antisemitic things in the Labour Party, they’ve been suspended, some of them are on their way to being expelled, some of them have been expelled already.

“I have to say I supported Naz in her campaign, I wouldn’t have done that if I thought she was antisemitic … she was completely over the top and rude and she apologised. I’ve been a Labour party member for 47 years and I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemiti. If you’re a bigot you’re not going to join the Labour party.

“She’s been suspended, there’ll be an investigation. We’ll see what the whole quote is, not just a bit of it. If it turns out she’s antisemitic she’ll be expelled from the Labour party, but if it turns out she isn’t I’ll accept that.

“Let’s see what the investigation comes up with because I wanted to see the whole context of that. What worries me is this blurring of antisemitism with criticism of Israel undermines the importance of tackling antisemitism. Someone who is antisemitic isn’t just hostile to the Jews living in Israel, they’re hostile to their neighbour in Golders Green, or the neighbour in Stoke Newington. It’s a personal loathing just like people who hate black people.

On people calling for him to be suspended:

“All my usual critics – but the simple fact is I agree with them; there is no place for antisemitism in the Labour party. For them to suggest I am antisemitic is a bit bizarre considering we worked with Jewish groups and put on exhibitions about the scale of the holocaust, we worked with Jewish groups to tackling the scale of antisemitism back in the 1970s. I’ve always opposed every form of racism whether it’s against black people or Jews.

“I’m going to stay in the Labour party and continue to fight against all forms of racism and discrimination as I have my entire life.”

BBC Newsnight

Afternoon reaction after his suspension released before programme

“If you don’t want me to answer questions journalists shouldn’t ask them. All I wanted to do today was to go out and do some gardening and then some journalists asked me a question, I answer it too. I would have loved it, it’s a nice day.

“One of the problems that we’ve had ever since Jeremy Corbyn got elected is that the media whip up all these issues which are side-issues, not the ones that really … will he wear a white poppy, was he going to bow to the Queen?

"What we want to talk about is Labuor’s economic strategy about massive increases in investment, cracking down on tax avoidance.”

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