Two-term former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, has always made a point of using the city’s public transport to get around Britain’s capital. On Tuesday morning, he took the elevator from the platform of Belsize Park Underground station up to street-level. For a couple of seconds, it seemed to stop in mid-ascent. “Maybe we’ll get stuck” he said to an aide, with a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes. The elevator began moving again, taking him and his team to a public meeting with a group of Jewish voters.
Livingstone, now in opposition, will be competing for the fourth time, next Thursday, for the Mayor’s office, trying to unseat incumbent Boris Johnson. In the long campaign, Livingstone’s uneasy relationship with London’s Jewish community has come to the fore, bringing in to question his sensitivity towards minority groups and his views on Israel have diverted attention from his policies on transport and housing. His appearance this week at an event organized by the London Jewish Forum, was officially a meeting like two previous ones held between Jewish voters and the other main candidates, but in reality it was a last chance attempt to patch things up between the community and the past and perhaps future mayor.
Nearly two months ago, a previous, closed meeting, between Livingstone and leading Jewish members of the Labor party ended acrimoniously after he had seemed to be saying that Jews would not vote for him because they are generally wealthy and therefore not inclined to vote Labor. Livingstone enraged his listeners when he failed to recognize the fact that Jews are a people, not just a religion or an ethnicity and seemed to be mixing up “Jews,” “Israelis” and “Zionists.” In addition, he refused to apologize for previous statements in which he had justified Palestinian suicide-bombers, accused a Jewish reporter of behaving like “a concentration camp guard,” calling upon two Indian-born Jewish businessmen to “go back to Iran,” a slur which he since exacerbated by becoming a presenter on the Iranian government-owned news channel Press TV.
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