Ken Livingstone: I am right - you are all wrong

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone, Labour's candidate for Mayor of London, held a secret meeting earlier this month with Jewish Labour supporters, the JC can reveal. But although the meeting was designed to build bridges, sources present at the dinner described the event as "frustrating" and "disappointing," with Mr Livingstone refusing to give any ground on issues that have caused deep concern within the Jewish community.

The former mayor, who is neck and neck in the polls with incumbent Boris Johnson, stood his ground on his decision as mayor in 2004 to embrace the Islamist cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has condoned suicide bombing against Israeli targets.

Mr Livingstone said he would be proved right on this issue, just as he had been proved right in the past on gay rights and talking to Sinn Fein.

Challenged on his decision to take money from the Iranian state broadcaster Press TV, Mr Livingstone said it was important for him to get his views across to the Iranian people. He said his role at Press TV was equivalent to the one he once held as a columnist at the Sun.

The dinner was held on 1st March at the London Jewish Cultural Centre with around 25 people present, including Labour councillors and Rabbi Abraham Pinter from Stamford Hill.

Because of the sensitivity of the relationship between Mr Livingstone and the Jewish community, the talks were confidential and off the record.

Guests were chosen to represent a wide range of Labour-supporters and Jewish groups and were not the "usual suspects" from the community leadership.

Mr Livingstone was keen to emphasise that although he has been a consistent critic of Israel, he has always turned down invitations to visit authoritarian regimes across the Middle East.

He recognised that Israel was a democracy, said he did not want to push Israel into the sea and repudiated any suggestion that his criticism of Israel was motivated by antisemitism.

Although his preference was for a one-state solution, he said he was pragmatic enough to recognise that a two-state solution might be a more realistic outcome.

The former mayor told guests he had employed an Orthodox Jewish nanny.

Mr Livingstone has been under fire since it was revealed he was channelling income from his media and public speaking work, including money received from Press TV and thus the Iranian government, through his own company, Silveta Ltd, allowing him to pay corporation tax at a lower rate than he would have paid in income tax.

However, those present at the meeting were said to be more concerned about his unapologetic attitude to taking Iranian money in the first place.

Rabbi Pinter told the JC: "I was hoping he would be more forthcoming and I was disappointed. I said 'let's forget the past and talk about the future', and gave him the opportunity to respond, and he didn't take it."

A spokesperson for Mr Livingstone said: "This was an excellent opportunity to engage with and listen to a number of key opinion-formers in the Jewish community, as part of Ken's effort to look forward to how we make London a fairer and better place to live. A private forum with time to talk meant we could get many subjects out on the table, and Ken enjoyed the opportunity to hear them and discuss the way forward."

Last updated: 4:53pm, March 15 2012