Why Ken Livingstone is wrong about Hitler and Zionism

Photo credit: Brisbane City Council/Flickr.

Ken Livingstone’s comments on Hitler and Zionism created a justified outrage. His comments divorce the realities of Hitler’s antisemtism and Nazi violence.

Hitler opposed the creation of a Jewish state in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf. Hitler’s antisemitic outlook owes in part to the writings of Henry Ford and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His commitment to the conspiracy of a Jewish plot to rule the world prevented him from entertaining the idea of a single Jewish state. This became a meaningful way for the Nazis to dehumanize Jewish communities.

Hitler obsession with the racist conspiracy of global Jewish influence germinated in Vienna. This grew in the 1920s when party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg introduced him to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Nazi Party had already published copies of the text in 1919. And by 1939, the party had published at least 23 versions of the text.

So Livingstone’s point that Hitler “was supporting Zionism” is wrong. Nor did Israel exist in 1932. The conflation between Zionism, Israel and Hitler only serves to cause deep upset. Livingstone’s comment also divorces the complexities of Jewish thought in this era. Removed from the historical context of growing antisemitic violence and discrimination, he caricatures Zionism. This caricature suggests that it shares similar genocidal and racist proclivities. And it also infers that Jews were complicit in their own destruction. Not only are the statements antisemitic but devoid of empathy.

It’s possible that Livingstone alluded to The Haavara (Ha’avarah) Agreement of 1933. This plan would allow German Jews to emigrate to Palestine and keep some of the value of their property in Germany. Negotiations proved controversial in many Jewish circles. The Nazis saw this as a means to undermine the solidarity of Jewish boycotts of German goods. It had little to do with a desire to resettle German Jews.

Researching this agreement also brings up a number of racist conspiracy theories. It also, rather bizarrely trended on Twitter for a short time yesterday. Proclivities towards this thinking in some confirms Barkun’s theory of ‘stigmatized knowledge‘. In short, stigmatized knowledge presents information that mainstream institutions have not validated.

The agreement did allow some wealthy German Jews to emigrate. But as Y’faat Weiss noted:

The  agreement  did  not  improve  the  living  conditions  of  the  Jews  left  behind,  and  the  number  of  such  Jews  who  actually  emigrated  to  Israel  indirectly  because  of  the  agreement  is  in  doubt. In  view of the peculiar demographic structure of Polish Jewry, such an agreement could not have met the needs of the Jewish rank and file in this country.”

Nor was the agreement signed until August 25, 1933. Hitler’s rise to power made antisemitic violence a state-sanctioned policy. On March 11, 1933, the SA (Sturm Abteilung) militia attacked Jewish-owned shops. Antisemitic violence erupted nationwide. In that same month, the Nazis had erected Dachau concentration camp. Within its first year alone, the Nazis had incarcerated almost five thousand political enemies.

Nor was Hitler a benign force in this period. He signed the order to murder Fritz Gerlich, editor of the anti-Nazi newspaper, Der Gerade Weg, in Dachau in 1934.

The Enabling Act allowed Hitler to rule by decree. He then called for national boycott of Jewish businesses. When not met with SA violence, Jewish shop owners found their shop windows painted with the Star of David and other slogans.

On April 7, 1933, the Nazis purged German Jews from the civil service. Jewish doctors and dentists could no longer work in public health schemes. Teachers were fired. Lawyers could no longer work for the state. A few weeks later and the Nazis had banned kosher traditions.

The Nazis introduced quota systems to limit education for Jewish children in state schools.

In May of 1933, the Nazis held a series of public book burnings. This included texts written by Jewish authors and political enemies. Months later and Jewish academics were purged from teaching positions at universities.

All this violence and discrimination came before the signing of the Ha’avara agreement on August 25, 1933. The antisemitic climate in Nazi Germany increased with each passing month and year.

The Nazis made clear in in 1937 that a single Jewish state would prove detrimental. A memo from German General Consulate in Palestine said:

The formation of a Jewish state… is not in Germany’s interest because a (Jewish) Palestinian state would create additional national power bases for international Jewry such as for example the Vatican State for political Catholicism or Moscow for the Communists. Therefore, there is a German interest in strengthening the Arabs as a counter weight against such possible power growth of the Jews.”


It’s true that some in the Nazi party did seek to deport Jews out of Europe in 1940. But crucially, as Ken Livingstone forgot to mention, was never adopted as policy. The idea went against the fundamental tenets of Hitler’s antisemitism.

Hitler wanted a genocidal response to what he saw as a global Jewish pursuit of power. He wrote that Jews were “a pestilence, a spiritual pestilence, worse than the Black Death.”

It’s why the Nazis and their collaborators had murdered nearly two out of every three European Jews by 1945.

In his magnum opus Life and Fate, the writer Vasily Grossman understood the varieties of antisemitism:

“Anti-Semitism is also an expression of a lack of talent, an inability to win a contest on equal terms – in science or in commerce, in craftsmanship or painting. States look to the imaginary intrigue of world Jewry for explanations of their own failure.

At the same time anti-Semitism is an expression of the lack of consciousness of the masses, of their inability to understand the true reasons for their sufferings. Ignorant people blame the Jews for their troubles when they should blame the social structure or the State itself. Anti-Semitism is also, of course, a measure of the religious prejudices smouldering in the lower levels of society.”

Ken Livingstone would do well to read Grossman, learn his history and not attack historical memory through the lens of antisemitic falsehoods.