Former London Mayor Ken Livingston’s favorite “historian” is an Orthodox Jew turned Marxist, Lenni BrennerHistorians in the News
tags: Israel, Zionism, anti-Semitism
The former mayor of London Ken Livingstone has defended his explosive claim that Adolf Hitler was ‘a Zionist’ by citing Lenni Brenner’s book Zionism in the Age of Dictators. According to Livingstone – now suspended from the UK Labour Party – ‘Lenni’s book shows a shared common belief between the Nazis and the Zionists … they wanted to preserve their ethnic purity and that’s why they had a working relationship.’ In this comprehensive critique Paul Bogdanor skewers Brenner’s many factual manipulations and pseudo-scholarship and explains why his work is a fixture of antizionist and antisemitic propaganda about the Holocaust on both the far left and on the far right, avidly followed by those convinced that ‘Zionists’ are to blame for all evil in the world.
In April 2016, Britain was rocked by scandals involving antisemitism in the opposition Labour Party. There were complaints that student members had been dismissing Jewish colleagues as ‘Zios’. Numerous party activists were suspended or expelled for offences such as stating that Jews had ‘big noses’, that Hitler was the ‘Zionist god’, that socialists had to address ‘the Jewish Question’, or that Jews were behind the slave trade and ISIS. A Member of Parliament was obliged to issue an apology after proposing the ‘transportation’ of millions of Israeli Jews to America.
Into this maelstrom stepped former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who denied the existence of any antisemitism in the party, and volunteered that Hitler ‘was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.’ For this, and for related comments, he too was suspended from the Labour Party.
To justify his claims, Livingstone invoked Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, a book published by Lenni Brenner in 1983. Livingstone had written in his memoirs that Brenner’s work ‘helped form my view of Zionism and its history’ (Livingstone 2011: 223). The book is a fixture of antizionist and antisemitic propaganda about the Holocaust on both the far left and on the far right, and Brenner has a cult following among those convinced that ‘Zionists’ are to blame for all evil in the world.
Lenni Brenner’s Background and Importance
Brenner was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in 1937. By his teenage years, he was an atheist and a Marxist. In the 1960s he was arrested repeatedly for his activities in the civil rights movement and for marijuana possession, ultimately spending several years in prison. An acquaintance from those years remembered him as ‘a non-student “Marxist agitator” who would stand near the Bancroft strip and rail about the Pope, the Bay of Pigs, and marijuana, indifferent to the fact that most passersby thought he was “certifiably crazy”’ (Berkleyan, 2004).
During the 1980s, Brenner worked with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist faction of the Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO). Brenner himself is a Trotskyist. He is the author of an attack on the Democratic Party and a book on the American Founders’ views on church-state separation. But it is for his vitriolic assaults on Zionists and the American Jewish community that he is best known. These include Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, as well as The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism From Jabotinsky to Shamir, Jews in America Today, and 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration With the Nazis (Brenner 1983; Brenner 1984a; Brenner 1986; Brenner 2002a).
Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators sought to document his claims that Zionism is a reactionary ideology with many similarities to fascism and Nazism; that Zionists have always betrayed the Jewish masses, whose interests were, in reality, defended by the Bolsheviks and their legitimate heirs, the Trotskyists; and that during the 1930s and 1940s all branches of Zionism attempted to collaborate with the fascists and Nazis. According to Brenner, the Zionists were to blame for the collapse of the Weimar Republic; they supported Japanese imperial expansion in Asia; and – worst of all – they contributed to the Holocaust, which some of them welcomed as a step towards the creation of a reactionary and racist Jewish state in Palestine (Brenner 1983: 27-37, 183-6, 238, 263-4, 269). In his own words, by the time of the Holocaust, ‘Zionism had come full turn: instead of Zionism being the hope of the Jews, their blood was to be the political salvation of Zionism.’ (Brenner 1983: 238)
Brenner was not writing in a vacuum. For many years before the publication of Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, the Soviet bloc had been waging an antisemitic campaign with the same themes. The Soviet propagandists were, however, far cruder. Whereas Brenner was content to pose questions – for example, ‘Who Helped Kill 450,000 Jews?’ (Brenner 1983: 263) – the Soviets gave explicit answers: the Zionists did. They spoke of ‘the true role of the Zionists in organising the mass destruction of Jews’ (IJA 1978: 69). ‘Together with the Nazis,’ they proclaimed, ‘the Zionists bear responsibility for the destruction of the Jews in 1941-45 in Europe. The blood of millions is on their hands and on their conscience.’ (IJA 1978: 69)
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