Ken Livingstone, London’s former mayor who is running again for mayor, has reportedly said that “rich Jews” would never vote for him. Livingstone made the comment while meeting supporters in the Jewish community. The left-wing Labor Party politician stands accused of anti-Semitism for the comment, for using the word ‘Zionist’ as an insult and confusing the label ‘Israeli’ with ‘Jew’.
Jewish supporters of the Labor Party have now written to party leader Ed Miliband, who is himself Jewish, warning him to rein in Livingstone or face losing vital support in the London mayoral race. The letter was written ahead of a meeting between the Jewish communal leadership and Ed Miliband later this month when the issue of Livingstone will be top of the agenda.
It is not the first time Ken Livingstone has caused offense to the Jewish community. In 2005, he called a Jewish newspaper reporter a “concentration camp guard”. He blamed his defeat in the 2008 mayoral elections partly on the Board of Deputies of British Jews who he said had collaborated with the newspaper to “get rid” of him. Members of the London Jewish Forum, Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council had called a meeting with Livingstone on 1 March to discuss why he supported radical Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi and accepted money from Iranian state broadcaster ‘Press TV’.
In the letter obtained by the weekly ‘Jewish Chronicle’, its authors said Livingstone’s language when discussing the Jewish community, Israel and Zionism was close to “classic anti-Semitism”. They wrote: “Ken, towards the end of the meeting, stated that he did not expect the Jewish community to vote Labor as votes for the left are inversely proportional to wealth levels, and suggested that as the Jewish community is rich, we simply wouldn’t vote for him.”
"Ken determines Jews as a religious group but does not accept Jews as an ethnicity and a people and did not respond on this other than to say that as an atheist he found this hard to comprehend. In the same way that Black, Irish, Women and LGBT groups are afforded the right to determine their own identity, many of us feel that Ken doesn't afford Jews that right," they write. The letter also reveals that Livingstone used the words Zionist, Jewish and Israeli interchangeably and did so "in a perjorative manner".
A spokesman for the former mayor, who is seeking re-election against the Conservative Party incumbent Boris Johnson (who beat Livingstone in 2008), said the meeting in which the comments were made was in private and off the record.
Full text of the letter