'Red Ken' Livingstone will roll out welcome mat for Muslims if elected mayor of London
Saying he wants to make London, a "beacon" of Islam, former mayor Ken Livingstone is neck and neck with current mayor Boris Johnson in the race to reclaim the office he held for 8 years.
Needless to say, the 200,000 Jews who call London home are not happy with Livingstone's surge in popularity in recent days, and several Jewish members of parliament have come out in opposition to his candidacy.
Livingstone's attitude to Jews and other minorities has been a factor for the wider electorate as well. On March 1, Jewish Labour supporters attended a private meeting with Livingstone in order to explore ways in which he could reconnect with his alienated Jewish voters. Livingstone responded that they would not vote for him anyway, as the Jewish community is "rich." Six of the attendees wrote a letter expressing concern to British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (who is himself halachically Jewish), which was later leaked, garnering national attention.
"Whereas before, Ken's views tended to be dealt with in the Jewish press, with limited circulation, this time the [general] media picked it up," says Mike Freer, the Member of Parliament for Finchley and Golders Green, heavily Jewish areas. "He has been trying to set off one community against another. Even the Islamic community has noticed that he is revelling in being rude and divisive. If you pick on one community one week, it's only a matter of time until you pick on another."
By contrast, says Freer, Boris Johnson is a mayor "for all London." (Both Freer and Johnson are members of the right-wing Conservative party, which is currently in government.)
If most elections are referendums on the incumbent, this election is rapidly turning into a referendum on the challenger, particularly amongst Jews. Livingstone, with his radical politics and often abrasive personality, tends to stir up strong emotions.
His attitude toward Jews is one of contempt and hatred:
And there have been persistent concerns over his association with radical Islamists, in particular his decision as mayor to host Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi, a radical Egyptian cleric who has supported suicide bombings in Israel, and his decision to present shows on Press TV, the global English-language television channel controlled by the Iranian government. He is an impassioned supporter of the Palestinians, excusing Palestinian suicide attacks, accusing Israel of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians and, during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, of the "slaughter and systematic murder of innocent Arabs." He has said more than once that he considered former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon a war criminal who belonged in jail.
Surprisingly, London Jews are seriously considering whether to vote for the rogue. Evidently, dialogue between Livingstone and parts of the Jewish community in London has been ongoing and some Jews say they would have to consider "whether it is possible for the community to manage the relationship with Ken and if we believe that's possible, it would not be a stupid decision to vote for him as London mayor."
The election will be held on Thursday with the two candidates virtually tied. It would be a disaster if Livingstone was elected mayor again, after his first terms were marked by conflict and ugliness.