Oliver Finegold, a journalist for the Evening Standard, approached the Mayor as he left a party, late at night, at City Hall, 8 February 2005.
Finegold: Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did tonight go? (transcript here)
Livingstone: How awful for you. Have you thought of having treatment?
A childish and silly reply, so Finegold tries again.
Finegold: How did tonight go?
Mr Livingstone: Have you thought of having treatment?
Finegold tries a third time:
Finegold: Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?
Mr Livingstone: What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?
Finegold: No, I'm Jewish, I wasn't a German war criminal and I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?
So at this point the Mayor understands that Finegold is Jewish and that he finds being compared to a “German war criminal” offensive. And he has a tape recorder running. So how does Livingstone react? The Mayor is not at all concerned that Finegold is offended. Livingstone thinks he’s onto something clever, so he clarifies his point.
Mr Livingstone: Arr right, well you might be [Jewish], but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?
Finegold is hanging around outside City Hall trying to get a comment from the Mayor because he is paid to do it. Its his job. He’s a journalist. This, according to Livingstone, is “just like” someone that participated in the Nazi genocide of Jews during the Second World War. They were paid to do that too. The Mayor thinks that being a journalist for the Evening Standard is “bad” in the same way as taking part in a genocide is “bad” – and both are done by people who are only obeying orders, only doing their jobs.
Finegold: Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?
Mr Livingstone: It's nothing to do with you because your paper is a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots.
Maybe Ken is a little drunk? (he has denied it – he says he was absolutely sober.) It is clear that his talent for a sharp insult is not shown in its very best light by this effort. Ken Livingstone has, in his time, dealt with all the newspapers, owned by all kinds of “scumbags and reactionary bigots”. He has worked for the Standard and he has worked for the notorious Murdoch tabloid, the Sun.
Finegold: I'm a journalist and I'm doing my job. I'm only asking for a comment.
Mr Livingstone: Well, work for a paper that doesn't have a record of supporting fascism.
Well that’s clear then. The Evening Standard has a record of supporting Fascism. Doesn’t it?
So Ken goes home and the story breaks the next day (incidentally, it isn’t Finegold the Jew that breaks it because he feels insulted, but someone else that heard the exchange).
What does Ken do now? Well its obvious, isn’t it? He sees that he’s been silly, and perhaps a bit offensive, and he apologises. He says “Sorry I was a bit silly, I was a bit drunk, I was tired, it was late, I was fed up with being chased around by reporters, and I said some silly things. I’m sorry and I’ll send Oliver Finegold a bunch of flowers at his office.” Problem solved.
What if it had been a black journalist? “What did you do before, were you a plantation owner?” “No, and I’m quite offended by that.” “Well you might be black but actually you’re just like a plantation owner…”
What if it had been a Muslim journalist? “What did you do before, were you a suicide bomber?” “No, and I’m quite offended by that.” "Well you might be Muslim but actually you’re just like a suicide bomber…”
But no. Ken doesn’t apologise for his low-level racist abuse. After he’s had two weeks to think about it, he explains that his responses to Finegold were 100% appropriate and reasonable:
He says the Evening Standard and Associated Press, which owns it, through its other titles, has been horrid to him in the past and has made a big deal out of this particular story.
He points out that, in July 1992 (13 years ago) there was a party at the Daily Mail where people dressed up in Nazi uniforms as fancy dress. And Associated Press has not apologised for that.
He says that the Daily Mail campaigned to bar Jews from entering Britain before 1905 (100 years ago). And the Daily Mail supported the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s (70 years ago).
He says that in 1933 (72 years ago), the owner of the Daily Mail supported Hitler. In 1938 and 1940, the Daily Mail articulated antisemitic policies. And in 2001, a parliamentary sketch in the Daily Mail referred to someone in antisemitic language.
I, says Ken Livingstone, am much less antisemitic than the Daily Mail and Associated Press. I, says Ken, have always fought racism and antisemitism.
“I”, says Ken “regard the positive contribution of the Jewish people to human civilisation as unexcelled”.
“I”, says Ken, “appointed as Nicky Gavron as Deputy Mayor, who is both Jewish and the daughter of a holocaust survivor”.
He has never, as far as I know, exclaimed that some of his best friends are Jewish.
Brian Coleman, Conservative Chair of the London Assembly, uses language that is seized upon by racists, Ken tells us.
“The public” says Ken, “understand what is being attempted is a frame up orchestrated by racist sections of the press against someone with a long record of fighting against racism”.
But then Ken softens for a moment. “Over the last two weeks my main concern has been that many Jewish Londoners have been disturbed by this whipped up row.” Jewish Londoners, you understand, have been disturbed by the whipped up row, not by Ken’s own bizarre behaviour. And then:
“I do believe that abdicating responsibility for one's actions by the excuse that "I am only doing my job" is the thin end of the immoral wedge that at its other extreme leads to the crimes and horrors of Auschwitz, Rwanda and Bosnia.”
So Ken stands by his absurd words, spoken to Oliver Finegold. He is not as racist as the Daily Mail, he has spent his life fighting against racism and therefore... therefore his childish responses, his uncaring offensiveness, his low-level racism is perfectly fine.
Shalom Lappin takes up the story on Normblog:
He did not simply insult a Jewish journalist by suggesting that he had worked as a Nazi concentration camp guard and then refuse to apologize for the comment. He reacted to criticism of this insult by publishing an article in the Guardian under the title 'This is about Israel, not anti-semitism'(March 4 2005), in which he sought to change the topic of discussion by insisting that the problem is not anti-Semitism but Israel's 'racist' policies. (I responded to this piece with a letter in the Guardian, which can be found here.)
Livingstone followed up on this sterling performance with his virtual justification of Palestinian suicide bombing ('Palestinians don't have jet fighters, they only have their bodies to use as weapons. In that unfair balance, that's what people use...'), delivered at his press conference on July 19 2005. On this occasion he unconditionally condemned terrorist attacks against civilians in Britain and the United States, while expressing understanding for assaults on Israeli civilians.
For the past two years he has been promoting Yusef al-Qaradawi as a progressive religious figure and a leading moderate, as a means of recruiting support among Islamist groups like the MAB. His comment to Oliver Finegold may have been an ill-considered act, but the manner in which he dealt with the reaction to it was not. Livingstone's subsequent conduct was an integral part of a cynical campaign of divisive ethnic politics that he has been pursuing for electoral advantage.
Peter Tatchell, campaigner for Lesbian and Gay rights, produced a dossier about Qaradawi, the man that Ken Livingstone is fond of hosting at City Hall. Qaradawi preaches that “apostates” ought to be killed; that a “Muslim husband is to order his wife to wear hijab”; that a man may admonish his wife “lightly with his hands”; that participation in “martyr operations” in Palestine “is one of the most praised acts of worship”; that the appropriate state punishment for homosexuality is death.
You can watch one of Qaradawi’s sermons here where he refers to the “alleged Holocaust”.
Qaradawi on Muslim/Jewish dialogue:
"The iniquity of the Jews, as a community, is obvious and apparent. Let me explain: The West, I can say about some of them [i.e., Westerners] who are iniquitous, and others who are not iniquitous. And it is possible. But iniquity on the part of the Jews is great iniquity, grave iniquity, iniquity that is incomparable and overt. Therefore, when it was suggested to me that Jews would be participating in the dialogue in the upcoming interview, I rejected this. I said no, we should not conduct a dialogue with these [people] while their hands are stained with our blood."
Livingstone’s response to Quaradawi? "I welcome you as an honoured guest".
In today’s Guardian, Livingstone portrays himself as the victim of an undemocratic coup. “The fundamental issue” he writes, “in this whole affair is not whether or not I was "insensitive", it is the principle that those whom the people elect should only be removed by the people or because they have broken the law.”
Who is behind the undemocratic coup? In recent days Livingstone’s attack has shifted from Associated Press to the Board of Deputies for British Jews, because the Board was one of the organisations that referred his absurd and eccentric behaviour, and his wilful failure to apologise, to the Standards Board.
The Board of Deputies, he argued at his press conference yesterday, has pursued this vendetta because Livingstone is critical of the Israeli government.
"For far too long the accusation of anti-semitism", writes Livingstone in today’s Guardian, "has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been." Notice the use of the passive – "has been used". This circumlocution enables Livingstone to make an accusation without saying who he is accusing. The perpetrators of this crime of accusation are left hanging – left to our imagination. He is talking about “the Zionists” and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Livingstone does more than "criticise the policies of the Israeli government". For thirty years now, he has been part of a movement in the UK that seeks to demonize Israel as a pariah state and that seeks to hold "the Zionists" responsible for much that goes wrong in the world. In the 1980s Livingstone was associated with the Workers Revolutionary Party – a party that railed against global Zionist conspiracies and that was partly financed by the Libyan state.
This is why Livingstone is happy to treat the antisemite Qaradawi as an honoured guest. This is why Livingstone is happy to employ low-level racist abuse against a Jewish journalist even when he has been told that the journalist finds this offensive. This is why Livingstone chose to make such a big issue out of this story rather than back down quickly and pragmatically. This is why he reacted with a tirade against Sharon to claims that his conduct was offensive. This is why he opposes suicide bombing of buses in London but excuses the suicide bombing of buses in Tel Aviv.
What is Ken Livingstone Up To?
Added by David Hirsh on March 01, 2006 01:44:56 PM.