Monday, May 02, 2016

Lamentable history

There isn't much more to say about Ken Livingstone's crass attempts at guilt by association through linking Zionism with Hitler. Roger Moorhouse's judgement that Livingstone was being "historically illiterate" will suffice. The implicit anti-Semitic import of his comments should be clear to anyone other than his squirming apologists.

All the focus has been on what Livingstone said about Hitler, yet he also added an equally revealing, and historically dodgy, comment towards the end of his interview that hasn't been talked about. I have taken the transcript from here.
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.
It's all here; the guilt by association, the dragging in of a token Jew as an alibi, and the self-pity. Dismal stuff. And it's another distortion.

It refers to a letter to the New York times signed by a number of prominent intellectuals, including Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and Sidney Hook. It warns about a visit by Menachim Begin to promote his new party, the Freedom Party, more commonly known as Herut. The full text is here. The letter says that Herut was a
... political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.
And that
The public avowals of Begin's party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.
The letter is representative of the political divide between the mainstream left and the revisionist right in Israel and is based on the authors' disgust over the massacre at Deir Yassin. They were Labour supporting Zionists anxious about the future of Israel, which they ardently supported. Einstein was even offered the opportunity to be Israel's president in 1952, an offer he regretfully declined.

So what did Livingstone get wrong? Well, Begin was indeed the first leader of Likud, but it was founded in 1973, twenty-five years after the letter was written and eighteen years after Einstein's death. It's not the same party today as the one Begin started sixty-eight years ago, and might have moved on a bit since then. The tricky wording is to co-opt Einstein as an ally against current day Israel. And there is no similarity between what Naz Shah posted and the letter - at all! The letter is highly specific in its time and subject, but Livingstone treats it as general, using it as a justification for associating Zionism with Nazism at all times and in whichever TV studio he is appearing in.

It's a remarkable statement that can turn Hitler into a Zionist and Einstein into an anti-Zionist in a few sentences. Of course, both assertions are fabrications based on misrepresented evidence, circulated amongst an unquestioning band of supporters. The whole farrago is the very opposite of the historical facts that Livingstone keeps going on about. In fact, both represent classic failures of historical methods that would shame an undergraduate. He made two basic errors.

The first is to rely on a single, and bloody awful, secondary source. It seems that Livingstone is going to defend the truth of his assertions by reference to a book by Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators. I read one of Brenner's books once. It was bollocks. The most horrifying bit was that I bought the bloody thing. Anyway, don't take my word for it. From this report:
Thomas Weber, a professor of history and international affairs and an expert on the Hitler era, Jewish relations and German history, said he was not immediately familiar with Brenner’s book.
However, he added: “Brenner’s book lies well outside academic mainstream. It is mostly celebrated either by the extreme left and by the neo-Nazi right.”
Almost the first thing you would teach a history student is to use multiple, credible sources and cross reference between them. You do not use internet memes and dubious texts pulled from an echo chamber.

The second mistake is to cherry-pick a single source and then strip it from its context. Once you remove something from it's specific meaning, you can twist it to fit a predetermined narrative. This is really bad history.

Livingstone's defenders are now piling in in exactly the same way, endlessly circulating details of the Ha'avara Agreement, saying that it proves Livingstone right. It's as if the payment of a ransom to release a kidnapped child proved that the kidnappers and the family shared a common aim in returning the child. It's a contemptible argument.

I have no idea why Livingstone decided to completely undermine Naz Shah's statement of contrition and determination to face up to the offence she caused. She is the one coming out of this with some credit, especially if she follows up her promise to move outside her milieu and to learn more. Instead, Livingstone is firmly embedded within his unshakable world view, one shared by the current leadership. It combines an obsessive hatred of Israel with remarkable double standards. Point out the far right views of someone Livingstone has praised, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and you will be met by accusations of Islamophobia. It's the same tactic, diverting attention away from a particular charge by moving from the specific to the general and thereby question the motives of the accuser. It isn't convincing and, let's face it, anyone who has to drag out Diane Abbott to defend you is struggling.

I would have suspended Livingstone for crimes against history, but the offence is much more important. Gaby Hinsliff explains why action had to be taken:
The ferocity of the backlash against Livingstone from left to right of the party is a measure of MPs’ deep frustration and shame that a party that prides itself on fighting discrimination should have come to this. It’s not about factional infighting any more, rightwingers finding excuses to snipe at Jeremy Corbyn and his Stop the War mates. This is about a party trying desperately to stop itself being dragged into the gutter, and to assert values it once thought people took as read.
None of this is new. Anti-Semitism, whether hiding under one of many alibis or not, has been a constant on the left. In my book, I wrote the following about anti-Semitism and conspiracy theory:
[They are] not merely quaint nineteenth century beliefs; they are persistent flaws. ... These ideas may not be central, but they are a distasteful and dangerous intellectual baggage that needs jettisoning. Open discussion and historical exploration is a necessity if ever we are to banish this poisonous legacy from radical thought.
The only possible benefit to come from this episode is that this ignorance, stupidity and prejudice is in the open and being dealt with - at last.


If you want a prime example of checking your sources, this is an edited, replacement post for one I took down as I charged in and wrote about the wrong Einstein letter. A lesson in always doing your research properly!


Anonymous said...

A great post as always! Greetings from New Zealand.

The Plump said...

Hello New Zealand! And thanks.

Bitethehand said...

Anne Tanner, a former teacher who posts as AT42 on the Guardian's Comment is Free and writes above the line under her own name states on 30 May 2016:

"Livingston (sic) was right!"

And by way of proof that "Livingston was right" she linked to an article by the North Shore Numismatic Society of Vancouver about a medal commissioned by Goebbels, following a visit to Palestine (not Israel as Livingstone stated, which did not exist until 1948) by SS officer Leopold von Mildenstein and Zionist Federation official Kurt Tuchler.

From the article by the North Shore Numismatic Society of Vancouver is the following:

"Hitler had just become Chancellor, and begun his anti-Jewish policies. Nazis wanted to drive the Jews out of Germany. But the Nazis were not clear about how they intended to set about this without disrupting the already Depression-beset German economy, and nor did they know what the effects might be on Germany’s relations with the rest of the world."

So Anne Tanner is confounded by her own “proof” as even the North Shore Numismatic Society recognises that whatever the Zionist Federation thought it was getting from the deal, von Mildenstein and Goebbels saw it as part of Hitler’s plan to rid Germany and later the rest of the world, of its Jews.

This is Jew baiting of the worst kind and at least one Jew who over a number of months confronted the antisemitism on the Untrusted site was hounded and bullied and finally banned.

Ann Tanner was responding to BeautifullyBurnout, an assistant coordinator of her local Labour Party, (probably Crawley). She has also been regular contributors to The Guardian both as a writer and commenter, and the leftish / populist blog called The Untrusted.

BeautifullyBurntout had posted:

"Now, can someone please tell me why Ken Livingstone saying that Hitler supported Zionism is anti-semitic? It’s true. He did. For his own evil nefarious ends, admittedly, but he supported the Zionists’ desire to create an Israeli state.

Unless, of course, telling truths that are uncomfortable for Zionists makes you a Jew-hater…."

As Ken Livingstone has been suspended from membership. the same should happen to those who in public have said he is right and provided him with support.

Bitethehand -

Bitethehand said...

I omitted to mention that Ann Tanner is a long term member of the Labour Party.