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Moving on from ‘Ken and the Jews’

The last week saw my relationship with the Jewish community in the headlines. I agree with those including in my own party who want to break out of the “drama” of “Ken and the Jewish community” – it’s time to move on from that, onto something less headline-grabbing but more dynamic.

I understand the dismay caused when these kinds of controversies hit the headlines. Politicians ought to have humility when things like that happen. I am no exception.

Let me start with the report that I said at a meeting of mainly pro-Labour Jewish Londoners that Jews will not vote for me because they are rich. I didn’t actually say this. However, I can see that the way the conversation unfolded meant this interpretation was placed on it.

When such controversies unfold it is easy to get dug in and appear to defend positions. I don’t wish to do this. Jewish voters are not one homogeneous block. A 2010 report for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research shows the range of Jewish voting preference. In North London Labour was the preferred party, for example.

If I believed that Jewish people won’t vote Labour in this election, and I did not value the opinions and concerns of Jewish Londoners, I would not have spent my evening at that meeting.

Jewish people have shaped London. I could not cherish London and not value Jewish London. The contribution of Jews to London is immense – politically, economically, culturally, intellectually, philanthropically, artistically. I may shoot my mouth off and I may not always appear to be listening, but I am. I am a socialist, a believer in rational thought and the rule of law. The Jewish people have laid the foundations of all of those things. Working with the Jewish community is essential to me and what I stand for. Moreover, contrary to any impression, I do explicitly see Jewish people as a people – not either a religion or an ethnicity but a people. The Tories take Jewish London for granted. I will not.

We can view my record through press cuttings or we can judge it through what I did as mayor: developing a housing policy to address the issues of the Charedi community; publication of the Jewish London Guide; the Chanucah menorah lighting on Trafalgar Square; marking Holocaust Memorial Day; delivering Simcha in the Square, since abolished by Boris Johnson; working to make the North London Eruv possible; changing the day of London’s “Rise” anti-racist festival so that Jewish people could play their part; opposing the academic boycott of Israel; regular Jewish community events and meetings.

(If I win on May 3 that – not wild headlines or old arguments – is how I want to work with Jewish London, including the London Jewish Forum whose work is making a real difference.)

On Israel I have always refused to visit the surrounding dictatorships because they are just that, dictatorships – but I have visited Israel because it is democratic. Support for a peaceful outcome with two states enjoys majority support among both peoples. I said when I was mayor that I believed in a two-state solution and that remains my position. In my view it requires strong economic ties to make both states economically successful and committed to lasting peace.

On London’s communities, if I am elected my policy will not be to promote one faith or community over another, as has been suggested in this election, but to promote interfaith and inter-community dialogue. I want my mayoralty to be at the forefront of encouraging dialogue. Many Jewish-led organisations have a taken a lead in this and I want to support that work. Moreover, if an invitation is extended I would be delighted to attend Limmud as Mayor – where I know an extensive dialogue takes place.

One aspect of the report into our North London meeting particularly affected me. It was that Rabbi Avraham Pinter – and others – felt that I did not answer his question. He was reported in this paper as saying: “I said ‘let’s forget the past and talk about the future’, and gave him the opportunity to respond, and he didn’t take it.” I agree, I want to talk about the future.

I regret that I did not give Rabbi Pinter the answer he needed. I have known and worked with him for many years and he is a man I like and respect in equal measure. I am sorry he did not hear from me what he wanted and needed to hear.

I hope that in some of these points for the JC today I have started to map out how we can make my work with Jewish Londoners deeper, better and productive; and I hope that in doing so I have begun to address what Rabbi Pinter asked me.

This article first appeared at the Jewish Chronicle.

One Comment

  1. John reid says:

    just because you don’t like the hassle of livingstone having to explain himself saying move on ,doesnt mean ken hasn’t got form here,
    when Stephen lawrence parents wanted a investigation into whether DS davidson wsa paid to mess up the lawrence investigatrion, the telegraph was full of letters saying they’ve found people guity, can’ they move on. or when people talk about the slave trade can’t they move on ,no they can’t. When the public rejected the 83 manifesto, Tony benn said it was because it wasn’t left wing enough, and nearly vonvinced the labour party of this, Kinnock had to try to convince benn that benn was blaming everone else, like benn livingstone should admit his mistake

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