So Mayor of London Ken Livingstone finally “apologized” for his Nazi jibe at a Jewish reporter. Not that it does a shred of good.
Earlier this month, Livingstone was approached by a reporter from The Evening Standard, a newspaper affiliated with Associated Newspapers (which also includes The Daily Mail). Livingstone had just attended a soiree on behalf of a gay MP’s coming-out anniversary when he was approached by the reporter in question. Part of the transcript between the reporter Oliver Finegold and Mayor Livingstone is as follows:
Finegold: “Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?”
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?”
Livingstone: “Oh 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: “Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?”
Livingstone: “It’s nothing to do with you because your paper is a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots.”
Ken Livingstone is right on only one point – both The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail are indeed reactionary papers. And, as reported by conservative rival The Daily Express on February 18, Associated Newspapers has a history of supporting the Nazis and engaging in anti-Semitism of its own during the 1930s and early ’40s. In 1940, The Daily Mail wrote in a lead editorial that British Jews “should be careful not to arouse the same resentment here,” that “resentment” culminating in the fate of Jews in Hitler’s Germany (and elsewhere). And if Mr. Finegold is blind to the history of the paper company he works for, then the worse for him.
However, in no way, shape or form did this excuse the Mayor of London from issuing a timely and genuine apology. Livingstone dared to compare his experiences with reporters as comparable to Holocaust victims. On February 13, Holocaust survivors gathered at City Hall to hear what they hoped would be an admission of wrongdoing by the Mayor, only to hear him announce: “I could apologize, but why should I say words that I don’t believe in my heart?” Livingstone – better known as Red Ken for his extreme Left-wing sentiments – took nearly two weeks to clear up any ambiguity in that statement. Was he not sorry for having a go at a reporter for The Evening Standard, or was he not sorry for likening a Jewish person to a concentration camp guard?
True, short of Finegold wearing a yarmulke, there is no way Livingstone could have known that the reporter, at the moment he thrust the tape recorder at his face, was Jewish. But, once Finegold told him he was Jewish and offended at the remark, you’d think Livingstone would be grown up and sensitive enough to quickly apologize for the remark. “I’m sorry about that. I’m mad at the paper you represent, but I meant nothing personal,” is what any decent person would have said on the spot. And if Ken was just too angry to issue that personal mea culpa right away, then he is, as his political leanings would suggest, immature.
All five parties on the London Assembly, which runs the gamut from Right-wing, centralist and Left-wing parties, and including Livingstone’s own Labour party (from which he was nearly ousted in 2003), demanded that the Mayor make an apology. Livingstone steadfastly refused.
This is the same Mayor who called President Bush the greatest threat to world peace. Yet, as Howard Jacobson, a Jewish novelist wrote in a guest column for The Evening Standard on February 14, “Marching against the Iraq War, he would have seen banners mixing swastikas with stars of David.” It is deplorable that Livingstone, like any other anti-war activist, simply cannot make the connection between the anti-war effort and vicious anti-Semitism.
On February 16, the Mayor’s spokesman issued a statement that Livingstone regarded the Holocaust as “the greatest racial crime of the 20th century and Nazism as the greatest evil in history.” Ah, yes, the infamous spokesman (or to be politically correct, the spokesperson)! How valuable they are. Always there to say your words for you! Livingstone claimed to be too busy with the committee for bringing the Olympics to London in 2012 to issue his own statement. How convenient. On the same day, the Mayor also said that he would ignore any request by Prime Minister Tony Blair to apologize. Blair not only requested Red Ken’s apology, but he demanded it.
On February 21, the National Union of Students, which usually allies itself with the far-Left faction of Labour, banned the Mayor from their annual conference, issuing the statement that “the NUS hopes he [Livingstone] will apologize as a matter of urgency.” Around the same time as the NUS ban went into effect, Labour MPs planned to raise the Mayor’s conduct at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which represents backbench opinion.
All the while, the Board of Deputies of British Jews demanded an apology as well.
There’s another point to be made. Early in 2004, Livingstone invited the radical sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi to London, despite protests by several groups concerned about the cleric’s advocation of suicide bombers, wife beating and homophobia. It proved to be too much for even the Green Party, which immediately called for Livingstone’s censure in the London Assembly. Ren Ken, as usual, refused to back down or clarify his position. He was Al-Qaradawi’s buddy and that’s all that anyone needed to know.
I think that Ken Livingstone has shown, beyond a shadow of doubt, that his apology issued today is not sincere. He still refers to the fascist-supporting past of Associated Newspapers, which he is right to do, but still does not give in on the matter of a personal apology to the reporter Oliver Finegold as he should have done from the very beginning. Worse still is the fact that the majority of Londoners feel that he has nothing to apologize for. Despite the fact that the 2004 race for mayor was neck-and-neck with Conservative Steve Norris, Londoners have voted this man in twice. What does that say about this city?
Despite the furor created by official political parties and factions over Livingstone’s Nazi jibe, the case has demonstrated only too well the battle that the Jewish people still face to get respect in England or anywhere in Europe.