NEW YORK – The former London mayor and left-wing Labour politician Ken Livingstone has been suspended from his party for claiming that Hitler was a Zionist in the early 1930s. According to Livingstone, “before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews,” Hitler had merely wanted to expel them from their own countries to Palestine. And that, supposedly, made him a Zionist.
Historically, this is nonsense: Hitler never promoted Palestine as a Jewish state. And the implication that the Führer’s hatred of the Jews put him on the same side as Jews who wished to build their own state to escape from violent anti-Semitism is offensive, to say the least.
But Livingstone was probably being sincere when he said in his defense that “a real anti-Semite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbor...It’s a physical loathing.” Hating Jews in Israel is fine, then, because they are “Zionists,” and the sentiment isn’t visceral. Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing leader of Livingstone's party, was no doubt equally sincere when he said that anti-Semitism could not possibly be a problem on the left, because Labour has always been “anti-racist.”
It is a common conceit among leftists in Europe that racial prejudice, including anti-Semitism, is a uniquely right-wing phenomenon. This probably goes back to the Dreyfus affair of the late nineteenth century. When the French army captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason in a rigged trial in 1894, French society was divided between mostly conservative anti-Dreyfusards and liberal defenders of the Jewish officer. The conservatives were often staunch Roman Catholics, who felt deeply uncomfortable with the secular French Republic, which they associated with liberals and Jews.