Ken Livingstone and Zionism
by Michelle Stoops
Introduction to talk:
When Ken Livingstone, two years ago, made his infamous statement about Hitler being a Zionist and his belief that Jews should go to Israel, he showed himself and the Labour Party to be anti semitic. This argument is still rumbling on today.
Since Ken Livingstone made this statement there has been a lot of moral outrage, but no hard facts. In fact the only one giving out fact has been, ironically, Ken Livingstone. His main crime was not to give the facts historical context and without context you can view the fact that he has put in front of you and end up agreeing with him.
Whilst listening to the talk you must bear in mind theses things: firstly these events took place in 1933, long before the Holocaust or the Final Solution had ever been thought of. Jews were being ordered to leave Germany and many did leave - they went to France, Belgium and the Netherlands no knowing that there would be a war and they would be engulfed by it. Secondly that Jews were making deals with the Nazis. The anti semitic agenda would view this as Jews collaborating with the Nazis, but the case was quite the opposite - the point was to save Jews by getting them to Palestine. Thirdly, Zionism then and now. Whilst the precepts of Zionism have not changed, a homeland where Jews can rule and defend themselves, the context has changed. In the 1930s Palestine was a dusty third world country. If you lived in a comfortable apartment in Berlin why would you want to move to a country in the Middle East where the culture and language is completely different. You must also remember Palestine was under British rule so Jews in Palestine were not ruling themselves.
The Nazis came to power at the beginning of 1933. Part of their manifesto that won the election for them was to rid Germany of all Jews. One of the the first actions of the Nazis against the Jews was evict every Jew working for a government body from their job. Many anti semitic measure were brought about too: Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend state run schools; there were many restrictions against Jewish businesses; academics were no longer allowed to lecture in universities.
In 1933 the Nazis wanted Jews to leave Germany, but they didn’t want them to go to neighbouring countries as this would cause a Jewish refugee crisis on German borders.
At this point in time many Jews did leave Germany. Some went France, Belgium and the Netherlands. However there were some young Zionists that saw their future in Palestine. Chaim Arlosoroff came from Palestine to work with the German Zionist Federation and negotiate with the Nazis. The Nazis thought that it might be a good thing for Jews to go to Palestine as they would be able to sell German made goods there and help the German economy which was failing due to sanctions from many countries due to the treatment of German Jews.
Arlosoroff and the Nazis put together the Ha’avara Agreement. This agreement initially allowed Jews to emigrate to Palestine with their property, but the Nazis wouldn’t allow that. The Nazis wanted the Jews to go, but not their property. Instead the Jews had to put their money into a special bank account, this money was then used to purchase German goods for export to Palestine. The proceeds of the sale of these goods were given to the Jews on their arrival in Palestine. For the Nazis this helped them get rid of the Jews whilst trying to overcome an international boycott of Nazi goods. From a moral point of view it was the Jews who were importing the goods and not the Nazis. The Yishuv was also pleased to receive this influx of capital.
Only a small fraction of German Jews were Zionist and many of those were orthodox. Between 1933 and 1936 approximately 34,600 Jews emigrated to Palestine via the Ha’avara Agreement. This was out of Jewish population of approximately 505,000. In 1937 the Jewish desk of the security services of the SS compiled a report stating that they were not happy with emigration rate to Israel. The truth is that many German Jews didn’t want to go to Palestine. They preferred to take their chances in a country that they knew and understood rather than go to place that would be totally foreign to them. Also in 1937 there was the Arab uprising against British rule in Palestine which had been fuelled by Jewish immigration. This put off a lot of Jews considering going to Palestine.
Soon after this the British gave into Arab pressure and cut the quotas of Jews coming into Palestine. In 1937 there was a Royal Commission led by Lord Peel known as the Peel Commission that came to conclusion that Palestine should be partitioned into Arab and Jewish states. The Nazis paid close attention to this and they realised that if the Jews gained their own state they would be eligible for membership of the League of Nations. They would then have a platform from which to attack Germany and defend Jews in other countries. It was then that the Nazi stopped any emigration of German Jews to Palestine.