(JTA) — Former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who was recently suspended from the Labour Party for saying that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism, said he may have Jewish roots.
Livingstone told the London-based Jewish Chronicle newspaper that his maternal grandmother had what he was told was a Jewish last name.
He also said the late Jewish Labour lawmaker Geville Janner used to drive him home from Parliament at night.
“We would chat away about the Middle East. He would speculate about whether or not I was Jewish because my grandmother’s name was Zona,” Livingstone told the Jewish Chronicle.
“Zona” is the Hebrew word for prostitute.
“I have lots of Jewish friends and I always have. I have had members of the Board of Deputies round for parties,” he told the Jewish Chronicle, adding: “When I went to Israel and stopped by a kibbutz, I felt completely at home there. Everyone was a leftie like me.”
Livingstone spoke to the newspaper after testifying before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on anti-Semitism. During last week’s hearing he ignored repeated offers from committee members to retract the claim he made in an April radio interview, the Jewish Chronicle reported. Instead he doubled down on the remarks.
In a radio interview with the BBC, Livingstone had 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.”
He made the remarks in defense of Labour lawmaker Naz Shah, who was suspended a day earlier over a Facebook post in 2014 suggesting that Israelis should be moved en masse to the United States. Days later, Livingstone was suspended from the party for the remark
Livingstone served as mayor twice, from 1981 to 1986 and from 2000 to 2008.
He told the Jewish Chronicle his suspension from Labour is because he supports party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who critics say has not enough to curb anti-Semitism in the party.
“It’s not really about anti-Semitism; it’s just about undermining Jeremy because I am one of Jeremy’s key supporters. All I want to focus on is Jeremy’s economic policies. Jeremy and I have been campaigning side by side for 45 years,” he said.
Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who in 2009 called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends” after inviting representatives from both terrorist groups to visit the British Parliament as his guests, is also accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.