Ken defends record against 'tissue of lies'

Ken Livingstone has said the capital's Jewish community "should be celebrated" and promised to work to defend Jewish rights if elected as London's Mayor next week.

Addressing a London Jewish Forum lunch in Hampstead on Tuesday, Mr Livingstone took issue with his critics. He claimed the letter sent last month by prominent Jewish Labour supporters to Ed Miliband expressing concerns about him had been a "tissue of lies".He also said his comments about "rich Jews" not voting for him had been misunderstood.

"I had come out of the meeting [with the Labour supporters] thinking: 'Well it was heavy going but we cleared the air'. Then I read the letter from Neil [Nerva of the Jewish Labour Movement] and thought: 'What a tissue of lies'. I was so angry. I remember thinking that Jonathan Freedland was there and that he would blow all this away."

He did not respond to an audience question about Labour peer Lord Sugar's advice that "nobody" should vote for the Labour candidate.

Praising the Jewish community's "immense contributions, economically, culturally, intellectually, philanthropically and artistically", Mr Livingstone said he would focus as mayor "very much on the here and now and not on the past".

He pledged to "defend the cultural and religious rights of Jewish people", protecting shechitah, for example. In City Hall, his door would "always be open" to London Jews.

Asked about his infamous 2005 clash with Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold - whom he likened to a concentration camp guard - Mr Livingstone dismissed it as "a huge fuss over nothing.

"I wasn't rude to Oliver Finegold because he was Jewish. I was rude to him because he was a reporter. I could produce large numbers of reporters I've been much ruder to than [I was to] Oliver Finegold."

At an LJF breakfast last Friday, Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick said he wanted to help the strictly Orthodox solve housing problems.

Answering questions from a small audience at the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green, Mr Paddick said that problems over antisemitism in the capital must be acknowledged and promised to do "everything I can to promote cohesion among Londoners".

    Last updated: 6:06pm, April 26 2012