Jeremy Corbyn urged to suspend Ken Livingstone in fresh anti-Semitism row
Jeremy Corbyn was under pressure to suspend Ken Livingstone today after he used the memory of Adolf Hitler to defend a Labour MP accused of anti-Semitism.
The former mayor of London also accused "the Israel lobby" of trying to "smear" critics of that country's actions in Palestine as anti-Semitic.
And he said "anti-Semitism and racism (are not) exactly the same thing" because it was right to criticise the "brutal" Israeli government.
His astonishing remarks, in a live radio interview, came the day after Bradford West MP Naz Shah was suspended over Facebook posts in 2014 saying Israelis should be "relocated" to America.
Ms Shah has apologised and insisted she no longer holds those views.
Mr Livingstone told BBC Radio London her comments "were over the top but she’s not anti-Semitic".
He said: "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. 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."
Mr Livingstone, a member of Labour's ruling national executive committee, added: "As I’ve said, I’ve never heard anybody say anything anti-Semitic, but there’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this."
Asked what he thought was "over the top" about the criticisms of Ms Shah, he said: "To think of anti-Semitism and racism as exactly the same thing. Criticising the government of South Africa doesn't make me a racist and it doesn't make me anti-Semitic when I criticise the brutal mistreatment by the Israeli government."
His comments immediately sparked a furious backlash from Labour MPs, who demanded Mr Corbyn take immediate action against his left-wing ally.
John Woodcock told PoliticsHome: "These latest remarks from Ken Livingstone are so grotesquely offensive and deliberately bringing the party into disrepute that Jeremy Corbyn has no choice but to suspend him.
"Both what he says about Hitler and his use of a classic anti-Semitic trope in 'the Israel lobby' is designed too be explosive and can have no place in the Labour party."
Others, including Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan and party whip Conor McGinn, took to Twitter to express their disgust.
In Parliament this morning, Labour's shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant said: "Anti-Semitism is wrong full stop, end of story. I'm sick and tired of people trying to explain it away and yes, I'm talking to you Ken Livingstone."
But a defiant Mr Livingstone hit back at his critics.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Rupa Huq also attempted to defend Ms Shah during a bizarre interview on the BBC's Today programme.
The Ealing Central and Acton MP, who was speaking on a mobile phone from outside a Tube station, suggested her colleague had been subjected too "trial by Twitter".
She said: "As far as I know Naz Shah did not write anti-Semitic tract or anything like that, she pressed ‘share’ on a picture which was [inaudible] and foolish to compare something, comparing the land mass to the United States to the current borders of Israel.
"But we are a party which believes in a two state solution, we completely believe in the right of Israel to exist. I think it was a silly moment of sharing a silly picture which I’m sure she regrets. I think we need to think of the implications of our actions before clicking ‘like’ or ‘share’ or whatever it is we do nowadays. We are entering an era where there is a lot more scrutiny on everyone."
One Labour MP said: "This is the Labour party in 2016 - a Labour MP conducting an interview with seven million listeners outside a Tube station defending an dismissing anti-Semitism as silly. That is entirely a product of a lack of leadership.
"When you have someone like Jeremy Corbyn as leader, you end up in a situation where total idiots are on the radio defending anti-Semitism.
"We have elections in a week's time - why would any Jewish person in the UK vote Labour?"
Labour MP John Mann, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-Semitism, said Naz Shah should be made to visit Israel - or be thrown out of the party.
He told the BBC's Victoria Live show: "Well, they’re stupid remarks but they’re also racist remarks and highly offensive and therefore either she’s thrown out or she’s educated about anti-Semitism and the grave offence she’s created.
"What I’ve recommended, and I did so before she was suspended to Jeremy Corbyn and to her directly, personally, is that she should be educated in anti-Semitism in order that she be one of the people that fights it and that should include – and I’ve asked Jeremy Corbyn to do this – that she should go to Israel, to the Holocaust centre at Yad Vashem and also to Sidrot where the missiles from Hamas hit families, to get a better understanding of Israel and why her remarks are so offensive."
The row is the latest in a string of anti-Semitism controversies to hit Labour in recent months,
A party source said they were examining Mr Livingstone's comments.