Why Liv­ing­stone gets my vote

We should vote for the man who is best for Lon­don, not who is best for the Jews


IWOULDN’T VOTE for Ken Liv­ing­stone to be the next head of the United Syn­a­gogue. If he was run­ning for the chair­man­ship of the Jewish Na­tional Fund, he wouldn’t have my back­ing. And if he wanted to lead the Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion, he could count me out. We all know why Liv­ing­stone has dis­qual­i­fied him­self from those posts. He’s the man who hugged Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Mus­lim cleric who jus­ti­fies at­tacks on Is­raeli civil­ians; who told the Reuben brothers to go back where they came from; who heard a Jewish re­porter say he was of­fended to be com­pared to a con­cen­tra­tion camp guard and didn’t care; and who, most re­cently, wrongly claimed that for­mer Chief Rabbi Im­manuel Jakobovits had de­clared the cre­ation of the state of Is­rael a mis­take.

So Ken can rule him­self out as a fu­ture pres­i­dent of the Board of Deputies. Luck­ily for him — and us — that’s not the job he’s seek­ing. He wants in­stead to carry on serv­ing as the mayor of Lon­don. And the ba­sis on which Jewish Lon­don­ers make that de­ci­sion should be en­tirely dif­fer­ent.

For if we are full par­tic­i­pants in the life of this city — and I be­lieve we are — then we should elect a mayor not be­cause of how he ap­peals, or doesn’t ap­peal, to our own par­tic­u­lar, sec­tional in­ter­ests, but what he does for Lon­don as a whole.

We would take a dim view of an Amer­i­can Jewish voter who chose be­tween Obama, Clin­ton and McCain solely on the ba­sis of how closely each can­di­date cud­dled up to Is­rael rather than on what they would do for Amer­ica.

The same ap­plies in Lon­don.

Sure, we may not like the way Ken Liv­ing­stone speaks about the Mid­dle East — thought the mayor has taken an ad­mirable stance against the aca­demic boy­cott of Is­rael — pre­fer­ring the emol­lient words of Boris John­son. But this is not about choos­ing a speaker for the an­nual Jewish Care din­ner. Rather, we need to weigh up a record that has seen a con­ges­tion charge im­ple­mented and now copied around the world, put thou­sands more po­lice on the streets and which has seen racist crime fall in the cap­i­tal — even as it has been ris­ing in the rest of the coun­try — and ask whether that record would be con­tin­ued or jeop­ar­dised by elect­ing a man who, yes, pens a lively col­umn and does a funny turn on TV but has done noth­ing to sug­gest he could run a ma­jor world city.

This is not to say we should put our Jewish sen­si­bil­i­ties to one side. I can think of at least two ways in which a Jewish out­look might in­flu­ence our vote.

The first is high­lighted by the laud­able Board of Deputies cam­paign, along­side other or­gan­i­sa­tions, to block the Bri­tish Na­tional Party. If turnout is low on May 1, the BNP could eas­ily clear the 5 per cent thresh­old and win one, two or even three seats in the Lon­don As­sem­bly. That would give them the most pres­ti­gious plat­form they have ever won in Bri­tain. The only way to stop them is to en­sure a high turnout, which means ev­ery one of us us­ing our vote — no mat­ter who we vote for.

This is the rous­ing ap­peal Ken Liv- in­g­stone makes when wind­ing up his cam­paign speeches. Whether he loses his job or not is sec­ondary, he says, to the larger cause of stop­ping the fas­cists of the BNP.

I saw an au­di­ence oth­er­wise hos­tile to Ken cheer him as he made this point: they know that, what­ever else you may think about the mayor, his record in fight­ing the far right is long and sin­cere.

As for Boris John­son, suf­fice it to say that the BNP is so com­fort­able with his pol­i­tics — his leisurely brand­ing, in writ­ing and in doc­u­mented con­ver­sa­tion, of black peo­ple as “pic­canin­nies”, his claim that Africa’s prob­lem is that it’s no longer ruled by the Bri­tish Em­pire — that they are urg­ing their sup­port­ers to use their sec­ond pref­er­ence votes for John­son.

That’s right: the BNP is back­ing Boris.

Sec­ond, we can use a bit of Jewish em­pa­thy. In the week af­ter the July 7 bomb­ings, John­son wrote a piece which de­scribed the Ko­ran and Is­lam it­self, not merely Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism, as “vi­ciously sec­tar­ian” and “me­dieval”, ac­cus­ing it of “dis­gust­ing ar­ro­gance”, and adding that Is­lam­o­pho­bia was a “nat­u­ral re­ac­tion” to Mus­lim holy texts.

Now ask your­self, as a Jew, how you would feel if some­one who wrote that way about Jews and Ju­daism was lead­ing in the polls for the Lon­don may­oralty. Then ask your­self, as a Lon­doner, whether that was the mes­sage we needed to hear in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of 7/7 when ev­ery other pub­lic fig­ure, in­clud­ing our own Chief Rabbi, was urg­ing peo­ple to come to­gether and not to turn on a re­li­gious mi­nor­ity be­cause of the wicked ac­tions of four mur­der­ous in­di­vid­u­als. Do all that — and then vote.

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