On Tuesday 24th, there was an open meeting organized by the London Jewish Forum, backed and co-organized by the Jewish Leadership Council, at which Ken Livingstone spoke and answered questions from London's Jewish community. about his Mayoral bid and his past and present views.
The introduction given for Livingstone by the meeting chair Adrian Cohen, the very aimiable non-elected Labour loyalist who chairs the LJF, came across as an astounding piece of straight advocacy. He spent over five minutes presenting every possible positive piece of information he could dig up to show how positive and supportive Livingstone is and always has been towards the Jewish community. The repeated controversies and tensions were alluded to in the briefest of euphemisms. It was in contrast to the introduction he gave at the equivalent meeting for Boris Johnson, which, although friendly, warm and suportive, did not compare, did not amount to advocacy, and was nothing like as long and gushing.
Here's a YouTube clip of Adrian Cohen’s gush
Adrian Cohen's introduction confirms the case I’ve made here. What’s supposed to be a genuinely representative body for the whole Jewish community is now controlled and unacceptably biased to serve the political priorities of a Labour Party/liberal left and Peace-Now oriented unrepresentative group of millionaires, billionaires and party activists who do not reflect the political outlook of the Jewish community as a whole.
In the case of the London Mayoral election, it's as if they set out to do everything possible to window-dress Livingstone’s image, airbrush out and explain away his long established record of Jew-baiting and invoking anti-semitic allusions to attack Jews he doesn't like, and present him as a much misrepresented warm friend to the London Jewish community.
I don't think Adrian Cohen himself is a part of that inner group. He has honourable intentions, and like some other supporters of the present direction, may well have believed that he should do everything possible to avoid presenting a hostile or aggressive Jewish community face to Livingstone, and that his role was to help the audience take on board that Livingstone should not be regarded as a pantomime villain, and the fact that his record does include some positive actions towards the Jewish community recognised. There was an alternative, of course, which was to be polite and welcoming, to acknowledge some of the few high notes of Livingstone's relationship with the community when Mayor and then act as a facilitator.
It does say something about the dangers of an inward-looking largely non-elected politically highly compatible insider group holding the reins of access to dialogue between the Jewish community and local and national government that he could consider as acceptable an introductory speech instantly labelled by audience members other than myself as "a Party Election Broadcast", "ridiculous" and "unbelievable". Those were all spontaneous comments I heard from others I'd never met before who walked downstairs or stood outside with me after the meeting.
In my view, it represents a sort of political myopia which can be paralleled with that of Livingstone, except that his is malign, where theirs is misguided and unjustified, given their status should derive from genuinely representing rather than trying to manipulate the views of the wider Jewish community. Above all it springs from an unrepresentative and largely unaccountable group being able to take decisions about how to deal with challenges to the Jewish community, and opportunities to influence policy without having to subject their plans to scrutiny. Behind that, they've a shared belief that, at best, they know what the community wants, or at worst, they know best and it's a utopian fantasy to operate any other way.
There are those who take the view (and I'm told that it's a view amongst some of those who ran this meeting) that Livingstone will win the London Mayoral election, and it's therefore important to have a Jewish community group who can speak to Livingstone rather than further promoting the widely perceived view of the organized Jewish community being hostile to him. But in my view, that's a self-serving and highly misguided argument, based on an either-or choice of two extremes. It would have been perfectly possible to have a policy of engaging with Livingstone and inviting him to meet the Jewish community, whilst adopting at least the same level of stringent neutrality to him as a candidate as would be expected of a broadcasting service. In a very close election, being seen to have been leaning over backwards to present a highly controversial candidate in the best possible light is totally unacceptable for a supposedly whole-community body.
In the course of the discussion in the video clip at the head of the post, there's a question asked about why Livingstone’s so called “apology” to the Jewish community included the astounding statement that Jews are a people, not an ethnic group or a rellgion. The response by both Adrian Cohen and by Livingstone was that this was what the Jewish Leadership Council and London Jewish Forum strongly pressed him to write, so he wrote it. In other words, not only was the ‘apology” not his own sentiments, but Adrian Cohen and his colleagues openly acknowledge their role in helping draft it. Adrian Cohen appears to see the statement as perhaps the unfortunate consequence of his attempts to explain to Livingstone the nature of Jewish peoplehood, but it does not account for Livingstone having written that Jews are not a religion and are not an ethnic group.
Again, I find it difficult to stress sufficiently how utterly out of order this bit of partisan spinning and lobbying is for a whole Jewish community representative body to have indulged in, and how utterly cynical it shows Livingstone to be when in pursuit of votes.
Livingstone consistently presented himself as a mild-mannered friend to the Jewish community, in favour of a two state solution, against suicide bombing anywhere, and ahead of his time in seeing the way to Middle East peace before the Jewish community and Israel.You'll hear in the clip at the head of this post Livingstone's repeated assertions that he "doesn't agree with" the extremist hate preacher Qaradawi's strong support of suicide bombings and killings of Jews of every age in Israel.
But consider this. At least two young British Jews were murdered in Israel since the Hamas campaigns of bombing buses and stabbing lone Jews took off.
Shmuel Mett, a Mir Yeshiva student about to be married, was stabbed to death walking through the Old City back to his Yeshiva in Jerusalem circa 2007.
Yoni Jesner, a promising 19 year old university student spending the summer on a Bnei Akiva youth movement visit, was murdered in a bus bombing in Tel-Aviv.
Many London Jews knew one or both of these young men personally.
Bnei Akiva is the largest and most popular youth movement of the mainstream Orthodox and Yoni Jesner was a well loved and admired young leader in the movement.
Shmuel Mett was the son of a former teacher at the Hasmonean High School, and studied at the Mir Yeshiva, which is the most revered and prestigious of the great Charedi Yeshivas in Israel, where many strictly Orthodox and mainstream orthodox young men from London choose to spend a period of study.
As you can hear on the clip, Livingstone was repeatedly pressed about his embrace of Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s hate preacher who advocates suicide bombings and murders of Jews in Israel as a religious obligation.
But look at what he said at the meeting when repeatedly pressed to give an assurance that he would not be inviting Qaradawi or any other hate preachers to London again if elected Mayor:
“I won’t ask Qaradawi to drive the 210 bus”That’s how aware of and sensitive he is to London’s Jews, and how seriously he takes their feelings about Israeli suicide bus bombings.
And in case you think I'm making too much of an unfortunate foot-in-mouth moment, Livingstone expressed amazement at what he said was the audience's "obsession with Qaradawi. He also said,
"It's only Jewish Londoners who ask me about Israel. No-one else ever mentions it."
Livingstone carefully avoided saying anything about any other hate preachers, which he was repeatedly questioned about, gave no undertakings, despite being repeatedly urged, not to invite or welcome more of them, and maintained his line that he knew nothing but good of Qaradawi when he invited him. And he's still unwilling to accept the repeatedly and widely documented record of Qaradawi's misogyny and homophobia, as well as his anti-semitism should mean he revises his original opnion to one of condemnation.
The wish to improve the reach of the 210 bus route, by the way, exercises many in London’s most orthodox Jewish communities, because it’s the nearest route to a direct connection between Stamford Hill and Golders Green, the two largest centres of Charedi Jews in London. Only so far, it involves having to get off the bus and change at Finsbury Park Station.
If anyone has any doubts about what a totally dishonest performance the whole thing was, here's my transcription of what Livingstone actually said– with a degree of passion and intensity of feeling that was wholly absent fromTuesday’s performance– about his real feelings about Israel, at the Trafalgar Square Gaza rally in 2009.
Let’s send a message directly to the Israeli government: if you think you can win votes by the indiscriminate slaughter of Palestinian men, women and children, you are wrong.
That is what is happening. In an attempt to outflank the even more abominable Netanyahu, they are prepared to unleash this terror.
And this has to end. When we campaigned here and many of these faces—Tony Benn, George Galloway and many others, were here in this square were here again and again to demand an end to Apartheid, demand justice for black South Africans. And that was crushed in just over four decades.
The Palestinians continue to suffer now into a seventh decade of oppression and near-slavery.
What we see in Gaza is a ghetto. A ghetto in which people cannot achieve their potential. A ghetto in which death rains down. This is obscene.
And if it was any other conflict, world leaders would be queueing up to denounce it.
But there’s a double standard at work. And that double standard is wrong.
I heard Gordon Brown denounce Apartheid year by year by year.
I want him to denounce the oppression of the Palestinian people. I want our government to say, “If you behave like savages, we will not send an Ambassador to Israel. We shall be withdrawing our Ambassador. We shall be convening a meeting of European Union leaders to say, “Why should we tolerate the importation of goods grown on stolen land, whilst the people dispossessed from that land look on from the camps where they’ve been incarcerated for over sixty years. “”
In the same way that Apartheid was doomed to fail, the attempt to deny the Palestinian people their right will fail as well, because it’s an injustice that screams out to be rectified.
And although so many world leaders seem to be frightened to condemn the Israeli government, when I did my radio programme this morning, the calls supporting Palestine as opposed to Israel were three or four to one in favour of justice for the Palestinian people.
Here in this square, that is London’s central square, know this: that Londoners by a vast majority want to see an end to the oppression of Palestinian people. They want to see justice for Palestine. This city recognises that.
I think we need to say, we will not tolerate year by year of this oppression.
Don’t complain when young men launch their rockets, when that’s all you’ve left them the right to do.
One of the most revealing aspects of the dishonesty of Livingstone's performance becomes apparent if you look at his body language on Tuesday's meeting. His whole LJF performance comes across as that of a bored machine politician. There's no passion in his voice. Look at his body language. His facial expressions are bland, but his hand gestures are dismissive, constantly flipping and brushing away. He sits as part of a solid phalanx behind the tables, like a man who's most at ease behind the platform barrier of an old-style party machine.
Contrast that to the obvious passion in his facial expressions and his voice when he's ranting on in Trafalgar Square with his real political convictions about the Israeli government as the equivalent of the South African Apartheid regime and the supposed enslavers in camps and ghettos of the Palestinians for the last sixty years.
And here's another contrast-- a clip of Boris Johnson answering questions at the equivalent London Jewish Forum meeting just a week earlier. Boris chooses to stand and engage with the audience. His hand gestures reach out towards the audience, and his facial expressions show him relishing spontaneously knocking his own official and a fellow Tory London politician--"the Councillor from Barnet" as well as enjoying some opportunities to make jokes at Livingstone's expense.
Livingstone has rightly said that the Mayoral contest isn't about electing a chat show host. But it is about electing a Mayor who seems genuinely interested and engaged in interacting with people outside the party machine, who responds with more than just the entirely predictable line, and who seems ready to acknowledge their own shortcomings and say openly when their own administration isn't serving the voters well enough.
Make your own judgement between these two candidates as to who's more engaged and responsive to the what the Jewish community says it's concerned about, and who's more concerned to explain to that community why their perceptions are mistaken and their concerns about anti-semitism and hate preachers aren't worth worrying about. And consider also whether the way the meeting with Livingstone was conducted really enabled Jewish Londoners to press Livingstone and get real answers to his attitudes to hate preachers and taking their concerns seriously.
By the way, there's one thing that both the London Jewish Forum and the Jewish Leadership Council deserve huge credit and applause for. That's the quality of the spreads they provided for both the breakfast meeting with Boris Johnson and the meeting with Ken Livingstone. I don't know which kosher caterer they hired, but the food was good enough to have been served at an upscale wedding reception. And perhaps it's only at a Jewish community event that a free spread of that quality would be served in abundance for all comers.