Red Ken suspended from office after Nazi slur
24 February 2006
LONDON – London’s mayor Ken Livingstone, who is no stranger to controversy, was Friday suspended from office for a month after being found guilty of damaging its reputation by comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.
Livingstone, 60, responded angrily to the move, which he indicated he would challenge.
“This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be removed by the voters or for breaking the law”, he said in a statement.
The suspension will come into effect on March 1, a special Adjudication Panel ruled Friday.
It found that Livingstone had acted in an “unnecessarily insensitive and offensive” manner when he made the remarks a year ago.
The hearing followed a complaint from the Jewish Board of Deputies, which brought the action under provisions regulating standards in public life.
In February, 2005, Livingstone told Oliver Finegold, a Jewish reporter on the Evening Standard newspaper, that he had been acting “just like a concentration camp guard.”
Livingstone, whose outspoken and often left-wing views led to his temporary exclusion from the ruling Labour Party in 2000, stood as an Independent and was elected mayor that year.
He is well liked by many Londoners and has won praise for his sensitive handling of the aftermath of the July 7 suicide attacks last year in which 52 people died.
But Livingstone has refused to apologize for the Nazi slur.
He said in his defence that he had been rude to journalists for 25 years and would continue to do so.
But Livingstone also claimed he had not meant to downplay the horror of the Holocaust but had hit back because of a “hate-campaign” against him in the media.
The incident occurred as Livingstone was approached by Finegold as he left a party for prominent gays and lesbians at City Hall, the mayor’s offices in London.
Livingstone, who claimed Finegold had “harassed” him as well as party guests, said to the reporter: “Were you a German war criminal?”
On being told that Finegold was Jewish, he continued: “Ah, well, you might be but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?”
The three-member disciplinary panel ruled unanimously that Livingstone’s treatment of the journalist was “unnecessarily insensitive and offensive.”
“The case tribunal has concluded that the remarks have also had the effect of damaging the reputation of his office of mayor”, panel chairman David Laverick said.
Adrian Cohan, chairman of the London Jewish Forum, Friday welcomed the ruling.
“It should never have reached this point when a simple apology could have avoided all the pain caused to so many Jewish Londoners who have been affected by the Holocaust”, he said.
“The mayor urgently needs to develop a strategy which accords to the Jews of London both dignity and respect”, Cohan added.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, while regretting the escalation of the row, said Livingstone’s remarks had “certainly been very upsetting” for Holocaust survivors.
Jon Benjamin, of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said he hoped Livingstone would understand that “he is not the sole arbiter of standards in public life.”
Tony Travers, a sociologist at the London School of Economics who has observed Livingstone for 30 years, said: “He sees himself as being at the forefront of the fight against discrimination of any kind, so the remarks he made could not logically have been anti- Semitic, and therefore he cannot apologize for them.”
The conservative deputy chairman of the London Assembly, the city parliament, Brian Coleman, said: “This is a humiliation for Ken Livingstone. He has let down every Londoner who has ever put their trust in him.”
But Nicky Gavron, Livingstone’s deputy who will take over as mayor while he is suspended, and whose mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany, said: “He uses the war and Hitler as a moral reference point. But I wouldn’t work for him for a minute if he was anti- Jewish.”
Livingstone, who rejoined the Labour fold in 2004, is on record as having describing US President George W. Bush as the “most dangerous man on the planet.”
He also provoked anger by suggesting that Israel’s Likud party and Hamas were “two sides of the same coin”, and last year said he was looking forward to the day when the Saudi royal family would be “swinging from lamp posts.”
Back in 1984, Livingstone alleged that the Board of Deputies of British Jews was “dominated by reactionaries and neo-Fascists.”
But he also said: “Being born in 1945, I grew up in a world in which all the horror of what the Nazis did unfolded…The incident of the Holocaust just infuses all my politics – and I look for parallels.”
Subject: German news