Ken Livingstone has been suspended by Labour for “bringing the party into disrepute” in the wake of the anti-Semitism row, officials said.
Senior figures in the party, including Labour’s candidate for London mayor and two shadow cabinet ministers, called for Mr Livingstone to be thrown out after he said Naz Shah’s actions were “over the top” but not anti-Semitic.
In a BBC Radio London interview, the former London mayor claimed Hitler had supported Zionism before the Holocaust as he insisted he had never heard anyone within Labour be anti-Semitic.
Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan said: “Ken Livingstone‘s comments are appalling and inexcusable. There must be no place for this in our party.”
Before he was suspended, over 20 Labour MPs called for his suspension.
Shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant told MPs: “I’m sick and tired of people trying to explain it away and yes, I’m talking to you Ken Livingstone.”
Asked if Mr Livingstone should be suspended, shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger replied “yes”.
Former leadership contender Liz Kendall said: “We must not allow Labour’s proud history of fighting racism and prejudice to be put at any further risk. Ken Livingstone should be suspended.”
Labour former frontbencher anhn Woodcock backed Mr Khan, saying “this cannot go on”.
Joan Ryan MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “To speak of Zionism – the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – and Hitler in the same sentence is quite breathtaking. I am appalled that Ken Livingstone has chosen to do so. There cannot be one rule for some Labour party members and one rule for others. He should be suspended from the Labour Party immediately.”
Labour MP Wes Streeting, who has been pushing the party to take action to stamp out anti-Semitic behaviour, said: “Ken Livingstone has form on anti-Semitism and has been tolerated for far too long. He should be suspended immediately.
“Decent Labour members need to decide how to respond to anti-Semitism within our ranks. Silence is complicity. We must all speak out.”
Jewish community leaders reacted, with the Director of External Affairs for the Jewish Leadership Council, Bernard Hughes saying: “We do not believe the Labour Party is institutionally racist or anti-Semitic but sadly there are individuals within the party whose views and statements are anti-Semitic and have really shocked us. The party leadership must now act decisively. The JLC will continue to give very strong support to efforts by CST and the All Party Parliamentary Group on antisemitism to combat this terrible issue. We have supported the request by the Jewish Labour Movement to have Ken Livingstone suspended from Labour for the offensive remarks he made this morning.”
Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “KenLivingstone‘s comments were abhorrent and beyond disgraceful. He denies anti-Semitism in Labour when the evidence is there for all to see.”
He said the former London mayor “lacks any sense of reality and decency” and is “well past his sell-by date”.
He added: “He must now be expelled from the Labour Party without further ado.”
James Sorene, Britain Israel Communication CEO said: “Criticism of the Israeli government is of course entirely legitimate, as it is against any government. But when that criticism is expressed in violent language, directed at its people in racist terms or uses references to Hitler and Nazism, it is anti-Semitic and deeply offensive. If the only country in the world that you want to disappear is the Jewish one then you are in very bad company, on the wrong side of history.”
Former frontbencher Stella Creasy tweeted: “Not in my name #kenlivingstone – he should be suspended immediately without equivocation. Our #labourfamily has no place for such bigotry.”
Bradford West MP Ms Shah was suspended by Labour pending an investigation for posting offensive messages on social media before being elected to parliament.
Mr Livingstone told the BBC: “Her remarks were over the top but she is not anti-Semitic.
“I have been in the Labour Party for 40 years and I have never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic.
“I have heard a lot of criticism for the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians, but I have never heard someone be anti-Semitic.”
He added: “When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.
“But 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.”