I’m the victim of smear campaigns, says mayor

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, believes that he was the victim of orchestrated campaigns over incidents that have produced outrage within the Jewish community during his recent term of office.

Speaking to the JC ahead of next Thursday’s Mayoral election, the capital’s Labour’s leader criticised reaction to his welcome of the Islamic cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi in 2004 and his comparison of a Jewish journalist to a concentration-camp guard.

The visit of Dr Al-Qaradawi, who has justified Palestinian suicide bombers, had been met with “a whipped-up hysteria”, he claimed.

“No one picked up the phone from the Jewish community to talk to me about it. What I saw was, this guy arrives, there’s a wave of stuff in the newspapers.

“And then there’s a campaign between leading members of the Jewish community, and some of the Board [of Deputies], Tory members of the GLA and the Evening Standard. So it doesn’t look to me like anyone wanted to engage, they just wanted to destroy.”

He explained that his remark about the concentration-camp guard had been his “standard line to any journalist I don’t like for 30 years”.

He said he had been “happy to apologise” for the comment, made to Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold in 2005, at the first Jewish event after the threat of his being suspended for it had been lifted.

Asked why he did not express regret at the time, he said: “We had 48 hours of silence and then I opened the Evening Standard and there are three full pages of coverage. The Tory group on the GLA is putting down a special motion… I recognise a campaign when I see one. No-one wanted an apology, they wanted my scalp.”

On the positive side, he highlighted the drop in racist and antisemitic incidents in the capital during the eight years of his mayoralty and his office’s support of Jewish cultural events.

He also welcomed the creation of the London Jewish Forum two-and-a-half years ago as a vehicle to discuss and do “things that are relevant to the Jewish community in London”, whereas in the past “the only real debate between me and the Jewish community was about what’s happening in the Middle East”.

If some voters made the Middle East their primary concern, “that’s fine,” he said. But there would be others who “think it’s important, but as the Mayor doesn’t have any say over this… the issue is who runs the city well”.

    Last updated: 8:50am, May 15 2008