Rogge Branded ‘Hypocrite’ Over Munich Silence Row

Monday’s event at the Guildhall, to be attended by the IOC chief Jacques Rogge and the leaders of Britain’s three major political parties, will feature the lighting of candles in memory of the 11 Israeli coaches and athletes murdered at the Games in Germany 40 years ago. A guestlist that also includes London 2012 Chairman Lord Coe, Mayor Boris Johnson and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bernard Hogan-Howe will also help to ensure this is the most high-profile of the commemorations that have been held to mark the anniversary.

However, for many in attendance, including two of the widows of Munich victims, the failure of the IOC to include a minute’s silence for their husbands at last week’s Olympics opening ceremony – as they and tens of thousands of supporters around the globe demanded – will be at the forefront of their minds when Rogge gets up to speak at the Guildhall ceremony, which has been organised by National Olympic Committee of Israel, the Jewish Committee for the London Games and the Israeli Embassy.

Peter Mason, Director of the London Jewish Forum, said: “Without a doubt, many of those who will speak, including those who will represent the Jewish community will make clear the absolute need for the IOC to take it upon themselves in recognising and commemorating the events of 1972, at the same time expressing disappointment in the failure of the IOC to do so 40 years on.”

The inclusion of a section in Friday’s curtain-raiser that included images of loved ones lost by those in the stadium, but was also widely interpreted as a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 attacks, brought further questions about the IOC’s motives for dismissing calls for a Munich tribute, particularly as Rogge had earlier claimed it was not the right atmosphere “to remember such a tragic incident”.

Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said: “The ceremony did include moments of silence and respect for those British citizens who died during terror attacks. We can only conclude that Rogge meant that the opening ceremony was not fit to remember a tragic incident involving Israelis.”

He added: “On Friday night, Rogge finally ran out of excuses. He said a minute silence was not part of the protocol, yet many previous Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies held a minute silence.

“It was claimed that it was too political, yet many political causes have been remembered during opening ceremonies. Finally, he said it was not an atmosphere fit to remember such a tragic incident, yet other tragic incidents were remembered. Rogge lost our respect and his ability to legitimately represent the Olympic ideal that all are equal in the family of nations. He was exposed as a hypocrite and someone led by political interests.”

The opening ceremony saw eight inspiring individuals carry the Olympic flag into the stadium in Stratford, prompting observers to suggest an alternative route for the IOC to honour the victims of Munich would have been to at least offer a spot to one of the widows. One of two Jews who were given that honour alongside UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Doreen Lawrence was Sally Becker, a goodwill ambassador for Children of Peace who rescued some 170 children and their families during the Bosnian conflict and in 2006 distributed supplies to inhabitants of northern Israel afflicting by rocket attacks.

She told the Jewish News this week of how she said a silent prayer for the victims of Munich as she carried out her duties in front of an estimated television audience of one billion.

And the aid worker, dubbed the Angel of Mostar, added: “I felt very honoured to be chosen to carry the Olympic flag, the International symbol of a peaceful and better world. After years of battling with the UN and other agencies and having to justify my actions to the press, this was a great endorsement of my work. Nevertheless, had it been possible to give up my place to one of the widows of the athletes who died at Munich I would have.”

Last Friday, ahead of the opening ceremony, hundreds participated in commemorations in Trafalgar Square and at the Israeli Embassy. During the latter, that was broadcast online across the world, Ambassador Daniel Taub stated: “We are gathering here, together with thousands of people joining us through the internet, to remember the Olympics’ darkest moment. It was a direct assault on the Olympic ideal of peace and understanding through friendship, solidarity and fair play. And that is why this needs to be remembered publically, as a message that those ideals have not been forgotten.”

At the same time, crowds gathered at the famous square where thousands celebrated London being awarded the Games seven years ago and recited kaddish ahead of the minute’s silence. Ari Soffer, director of the British Israel Coalition, which organised the vigil, said: “It is shameful that the IOC has refused to hold just one minute of silence at any official Olympic event here in London.

“We are here today to remember the Israeli victims of this brutal attack, and to show that the Olympics must never again be allowed to be highjacked by violent murderers.”

In a sign of how far the campaign for a silence has spread, members of the Italian Olympic team observed a silence in the Olympic Village this week while the pilot on an Easyjet flight to Tel Aviv urged passengers to join the crew in a silent tribute at they passed over Munich.

Speaking ahead of the Guildhall event, which will be presented by actor Chaim Topol, David Cameron said: “This year’s London Olympics mark 40 years since one of the darkest days in the history of the Games. The murder in 1972 of 11 Israeli athletes was an appalling act of terrorism.

“It’s vital that this tragedy is properly commemorated, which is why a minute’s silence was observed at the athletes’ village on the Olympic Park. And that’s also why I want to pay my respects on behalf of the British people at the commemorative event at the Guildhall.”

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Here’s your chance, Ken

Ties between Labour’s mayoral candidate and the community plumbed new depths last month when he was reported as claiming that Jews would not vote for him because they are rich. Livingstone has since denied saying that but, in a contrite article seen as highly significant by many, acknowledged he could see “the way the conversation unfolded meant this interpretation was placed on it”.

And although he agreed with those who want to “break out of the ‘drama’ of ‘Ken and the Jewish community’” and hoped his words start to show “how we can make my work with Jewish Londoners deeper, better and productive”, community sources stressed this week that more was needed and words must now be backed up by actions.

One such opportunity to build on last week’s rhetoric will come on 24 April when Livingstone will take questions from community leaders and the public at the third in a series of London Jewish Forum events with the candidates from the three main parties.

Livingstone said: “I’m looking forward to meeting the London Jewish Forum. I am committed to doing everything I can to support their vital work in the capital.”

The fact the meeting will take place just one week before polling day on 3 May will be viewed by some as showing the importance placed by the candidate and his team on the event, which had been on the cards for months but was only confirmed recently.

Among the controversial issues likely to feature at the meeting, and not mentioned by Livingstone in his recent article, are Livingstone’s likening of a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard and his support for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has condoned bombings against Israelis.

Last week, Livingstone’s relationship with the community featured prominently in a meeting between the JLC and Ed Miliband. The Labour leader told JLC members that Livingstone would issue an apology. However, the article published the next day did not go far enough, said one participant. “I hope he means it, but I’m sceptical,” the source said.

Another source, with connections to the Labour Party, said Livingstone “has some way to go. What he has written is still not enough. He has to take actions now to build on his good words. He’ll be judged by his actions.”

Meanwhile, the London Jewish Forum launched a Manifesto for Jewish London in advance of the London Mayoral and Assembly Elections, setting out priorities across issues including housing, health and education.

Peter Mason, LJF’s Director said: “We’ve worked with communal agencies and have identified the concerns of the community. The mayor and the London boroughs have real power which can be used to address concerns. We’re really keen to hear what the parties have to say on these concerns and look forward to working with the winning candidate and London boroughs after 3 May.”

And Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman urged Jewish voters to get out and vote on 3 May. “our voices must be heard,” he said.

Register interest in attending the London Jewish Forum events at londonjewishforum.org.uk

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Miliband: ‘Ken is keen to rebuild his relationship with British Jews’

Labour’s London mayoral hopeful, who is locked in a close battle for City Hall with Boris Johnson, has long had a fractious relationship with British Jewry, including over his stance on Israel. That relationship reached an all-time low over the veteran politician’s likening of a reporter to a concentration camp guard and his support for a controversial cleric during his last spell as mayor.

During a Young Norwood event last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband acknowledged the infamous clash with Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold “was totally inexcusable – he was right to apologise for that”. But he added: “What I know from talking to Ken is that he would like to rebuild his relationship with the Jewish community. I know there is scepticism about him in the Jewish community. I don’t believe he is against the right of Israel to exist. I think he, like me, wants a two-state solution.”

The remarks came only days before Livingstone attended his first public Jewish event since his selection as Labour’s mayoral candidate when he spoke at the gala dinner of Stamford Hill nursery and special needs school Side by Side. He received a warm round of applause after describing how getting to know the Stamford Hill community during his time on the GLC in the 1970s had given him an understanding of their needs and said he would be honoured to help the nursery, which he had visited as mayor, in the future. However, there was no mention of the issues that have plagued the relationship with sections of Anglo-Jewry.

Despite last Sunday’s dinner, Peter Mason, director of the London Jewish Forum, said Livingstone currently “has a lack of visibility within the Jewish community. It’s difficult to know whether this is because he isn’t getting many invitations, or if there is a lack of interest, ambivalence or possibility apprehension on his part, to proactively engage. While most Jewish Londoners don’t vote entirely on the basis of communal interests, given the troubled relationship, there is a risk that some Jewish Londoners who vote Labour feel disenfranchised”.

But stressing the importance of the community having a relationship with Livingstone, he added: “He could well be the next mayor. Even if he isn’t, he is an important voice on the left of London politics. Without proactive engagement, Ken won’t get to hear our concerns, and we won’t have the opportunity to influence the potential decisions he could well be making or views he will be articulating that will affect Jewish Londoners.” While Mason referred to concern over the former mayor’s “at times intemperate language, continuing fixation over the Israeli Palestinian conflict and comments in defence of Sheikh al-Qaradawi”, he said: “That doesn’t negate the work he has done to diversify London’s housing stock for larger families or to promote Jewish culture. He has also come out against the boycott of Israel, helping with the campaign against the academic boycott.”

Introducing the mayoral hopeful at Sunday’s dinner, Rabbi Avrohom Pinter – who has known Livingstone for 35 years – referred to “issues pertaining to the Charedi community” where “we had the help and support of Ken”. And although he acknowledged the pair have had “disagreements”, he added: “We’re still talking.”

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No Need to Fear Nick, the Clown Prince of Fascism

The 40 or so British National Party supporters who smuggled their pantomime baddie leader (boo hiss!) into the BBC for his star turn on Question Time last week could learn a lesson in self-awareness from those comedy Germans.
BNP members all look like they should be members of the BNP. Forgive my lazy stereotyping but you can spot one a mile off.

Want the BNP look this autumn? Simply combine a black leather jacket with a white shirt and black tie, then accessorise with dark glasses and a pained expression between cross and constipated and you’ll soon be putting the fashion into fascist.

Griffin’s goons are crying out for Gok Wan to revamp their wardrobe (before sending the half-Chinese style guru back to where he came from – the East Midlands). “Darrrlings!” Gok might gush. “That dreary jacket is crying out for some sparkly gold buttons and a matching man-bag.”

Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930, may have been an equally drab dresser but he was reportedly pretty decent company when he wasn’t busy marching down Cable Street upsetting the neighbours in his black shirt. Catch him on a chatty day and he’d happily bang on about his new conservatory and the miles-per-gallon on his new BMW.
Nasty Nick, however, is clearly someone to avoid sitting next to at a dinner party.

Just ask Bonnie Greer. He was given a golden opportunity to show his human side when the Question Time debate shifted away from his warped views and on to the tragic death of singer Stephen Gately.

Rather than grasp the chance, he launched into a homophobic rant as seamlessly as a Daily Mail columnist.

Ask Nasty Nick about England‘s football World Cup chances in South Africa next summer and he’d tell you why Ashley Cole shouldn’t play at left back.

He could turn a pub chat about the postal strike over a pint of British ale (none of that fizzy foreign muck) into 10 reasons we’d all get our mail on time if the blood lines were pure.

There is no possibility of him or any other BNP candidate winning a seat in Westminster.

Family Guy’s Peter Griffin stands a better chance of becoming an MP. The natural reaction of all but 0.7 percent of the British electorate is to recoil at the spite of a convicted racist.

In fact, the BNP’s presence at the ballot box is all the motivation most casual voters need to get off their backside and place a cross next to any other party.

Which made last week’s protests on Twitter, threats of legal action and clashes outside the studio like using a chainsaw to lance a boil.
There are 650,000 anti-BNP members on Facebook, 645,000 more than there are BNP members on the site (maybe that’s just because racists don’t know how to turn on a computer).

Come election time, BNP support may well hold up in Barking and Dagenham. They might even nudge the Tories or Labour into third place in Burnley.
But their inability to offer any coherent policies beyond protecting the “indigenous British population who’ve lived here for 17,000 years” condemns them to Monster Raving Loony Party status.

Nasty Nick should swap his poppy for a flower that squirts water.
If he was serious about using the BBC to get millions of public votes, he should have walked straight past the Question Time debate last week and danced a decent Paso Doble in the studio next door.

Richard Ferrer becomes Editorial Director of the Jewish News & Media Group next week

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So How Should We Deal with the British National Party?

There’s always a moment when the realisation hits you that the holiday is over and you have to return to cold weather and commuting. For me, the holiday came to an abrupt early end in Heraklion airport, where I was confronted by obscenely racist graffiti scrawled all over the toilets by British National Party supporters. It was shockingly dissonant to see such a public reminder of the ugly side of British politics in such a beautiful place.

On the day this article is published, the British National Party will appear for the first time on Question Time. Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, will feature as a panellist on the BBC‘s flagship political show alongside Jack Straw, Baroness Warsi and Bonnie Grear.

The BBC is a publicly funded, well loved and hugely trusted body. The corporation has come under fire from politicians, trade unions and the Jewish community for its decision to offer a prominent platform to a racist, fascist party.

Yet there is a surprising amount of public support for the BBC‘s controversial decision. Polls conducted by media outlets indicate that around 60 percent of the electorate support the BBC’s stance, whilst only 25 percent oppose it. Those who support the BBC’s position do so for a variety of reasons, many good.

Staunch supporters of free speech recognise the value of a society where we are free to make statements that others vehemently disagree with. The BNP likes to portray itself as an outsider party that is bold enough to speak the truth, gagged by a liberal conspiracy. When mainstream politicians refuse to debate with BNP members, it can fuel this victim mentality. Freedom of speech is a basic tenet of a liberal, democratic society.

Others see Question Time as an opportunity to undermine support for the party. The BNP has strived to rebrand itself as a party that eschews violence and speaks for the real people of Britain – those who feel that politicians no longer represent their concerns. It is possible that under rigorous cross-examination in front of a studio audience, the veneer of respectability can be stripped away and the hatred and racism that lies at the heart of the BNP will be exposed.

Opponents of the BBC decision know that this is naïve. BNP politicians have emerged unscathed from interviews with such renowned interrogators as Jeremy Paxman. Nick Griffin is media-savvy. His presence at Question Time will only lend credibility to the BNP and enable them to reach out to a wider audience.
The BBC’s decision is straightforward – it is based on the current national level of electoral support for the BNP. Media outlets have a duty to interview and hold democratically elected representatives to account. The BNP has made huge electoral gains over the past few years and now boasts more than 50 councillors, two MEPs and a member of the London Assembly. The sad truth is that the BNP is now a significant minority party.

Despite my hatred for the BNP and all that they stand for; despite my fear of lending credibility to such a party; despite the danger of offering the BNP this opportunity for self-promotion; the BBC has made the right decision. The BNP is a legitimate political party with democratically elected representatives. Perhaps it shouldn’t be allowed to be a legitimate political party – but this is a question for the laws of this country and for the electorate. It is not up to the BBC to pick and choose which politicians are allowed to represent us.

The furore over the BBC’s decision to invite Nick Griffin onto Question Time is hiding the real scandal – that greater and greater numbers of the British electorate are choosing to vote for a racist, fascist party; that it is no longer considered shameful for people to identify themselves as BNP supporters; that British tourists write racist graffiti in airports abroad. Question Time is not lending the BNP legitimacy – they have already grasped legitimacy from the voters.

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Shoah Memorial Day Marred by Disputes

A commemoration by the London Assembly, an annual event initiated in 2005 by Assembly Member Brian Coleman, was marked with controversy this year when the Conservative politician decided not to attend the ceremony following a disagreement on where certain members should be seated.

Coleman told the Jewish News the argument concerned BNP Assembly Member Richard Barnbrook’s participation at the event, and assembly members being moved from the main floor to an area generally reserved for public seating.

A spokesman for the Assembly told the Jewish News: “It was decided that the best people to be sat on the chamber floor were Holocaust survivors and some of the students who were participating… not all the assembly members were able to attend, but all who did attend were sat in the first row of the general seating.”

Coleman disagreed, saying the change was politically motivated and that while he may disagree with Barnbrook’s ideology, the Barking and Dagenham councillor had been fairly elected and deserved to sit with the assembly he was appointed to.

Coleman added: “I will not be bullied into compliance. The only way to deal with the BNP is to ignore them and I’m amazed that the chairman of the Assembly has succumbed to pressure. The commemoration is a day to honour victims of the Holocaust and it seems some people are forgetting that.”

Political divisions also got in the way of the Berlin Parliament’s ceremony when the Central Council of German Jews decided to boycott, citing that Holocaust survivors in attendance had been treated as “onlookers” at past events. Stefan Kramer, general secretary of the Council, claimed survivors were given seats with the regular audience and were not welcomed as an active part of the service. Kramer told reporters: “It’s unacceptable for Holocaust survivors to be seated in the dignitaries section and be treated like audience in a theatre – as if the ceremony had nothing to do with them.”

Members of the group also reportedly implied the abstention came from a feeling that as anti-Semitic attacks continue to rise in Germany, a gathering aimed at joining heads of state with Jewish community members was tantamount to a farce. Kramer said: “There is a creeping hostility toward Jews, more and more in the centre of society.”

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, expressed her concern that the day may have been used for divisive purposes: “Holocaust Memorial Day and Holocaust education is more important now than ever. If these stories are true, it is a great shame that a day which honours all victims of the Holocaust and pays tribute to other more recent genocides, is being marred by political events.”

Meanwhile, Shoah commemorations were cancelled in both Spain and Sweden, due to the Gaza war.

A march was called off in the northern Swedish town of Lulea, a decision made by the municipal board and local church who claimed the choice was for safety reasons, though a clergyman and spokesman for the church, Bo Nordin, told Swedish National Radio: “It feels uneasy to have a torchlight procession to remember the victims of the Holocaust at this time. We have been preoccupied and grief-stricken by the war in Gaza and it would just feel odd with a large ceremony about the Holocaust.”

And in Catalonia, officials cancelled a remembrance ceremony as a result of Israel‘s military involvement in Gaza, a move that was criticised by B’nai B’rith as “cynical” and “endemic”. In a statement letter the human rights organisation quoted a Barcelona official as saying: “Marking the Jewish Holocaust while a Palestinian Holocaust is taking place is not right.”

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TJ Looks Backs At 5768…

As leading lights from the communal and political worlds gathered in Westminster to celebrate the paper’s 10th anniversary in October, the Prime Minister – who the same month granted us his first interview with the Jewish press since entering No.10 – sent a video message in which he hailed our support for countless charitable initiatives.

In fact, so taken was he by our work that just last month he joined David Cameron and Nick Clegg in backing an initiative to send Jewish News Rosh Hashanah cards to kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

However, it wasn’t just for members of the Jewish community that we intervened over the past year. In July, on the anniversary of the Evian conference when Europe closed its doors to hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis, we urged the government not to send refugees from Darfur back to a country where they will face intimidation and torture. You responded in your hundreds to our front page petition.

While there was no shortage of occasions when we ourselves made the headlines, we were, of course, always there to report the other big stories affecting our community.

You might have thought you had déjà vu though when we reported in May that the University and College Union had voted for yet another motion backing calls for an academic boycott of Israel. Urging members “to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions”, the resolution came after another UCU motion was abandoned after the union’s own lawyers deemed it discriminatory.

Other issues surrounding educational establishments also garnered headlines in 5768. In a High Court action, a Jewish father claimed that JFS had racially discriminated against his 11-year-old son after denying him a place because his mother’s Progressive conversion was not recognised by the United Synagogue. In July, a judge decided that the school’s policy was “entirely legitimate”.

The community’s schools were also among those publicly named for having breeched admissions codes by referring to voluntary contributions – used for security and Jewish studies – on admissions forms.

In the political world, the lead-up to May’s elections saw the Board of Deputies involved in a campaign to try to prevent the BNP gaining ground by urging community members to go to the polls to vote for other candidates. Despite fears that they could win three seats on the London Assembly, there was still disappointment when they won a single seat. The local elections coincided with a trip to Krakow by Prince Charles, who opened WJR‘s new community centre in the city.

The year ended with further bad news regarding the BNP – it was announced last month that the party would be fielding candidates in by-elections in Hampstead and Muswell Hill – the latter poll being held on Yom Kippur.

But it wasn’t all bad news. This summer, following more than two years of acrimony, JNF UK and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael finally reached a peace agreement under which the former will support KKL projects in Israel while also being able to select other initiatives in the country to fund.

However, the reunion wasn’t all a bed of roses. By the end of the summer, JNF‘s long-serving President and Chief Executive, Gail Seal and Simon Winters, had both left the charity.

The highlight of the communal year, though, came with the Salute to Israel Parade, when an estimated 40,000 people – and thousands more at a sister event in Manchester – celebrated Israel’s 60th anniversary in central London. Under bright sunshine, dozens of floats wound their way through Piccadilly as part of an unprecedented public parade, before attention switched to a massive rally in Trafalgar Square.

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Why I Decided I Had To Take Jewish Radio Station To Court

That’s what the Jcom radio station imputed to me last year, and it cost them at the High Court last week.

When I complained about their sick spoof, I got a supercilious response that claimed the broadcast was not in the least defamatory. As Mr Justice Eady, who heard the case last week, put it, such a claim is palpably “absurd”.

Jcom then failed to agree with me an apology but instead published on its website, though did not broadcast, a form of words which fell short of the categorical retraction of the imputation of anti-semitism that I insisted upon.

Therefore there ended up no alternative but legal action, during which judge Eady stated, “Mr Galloway is the founding member of the Respect Party and is prominent in denouncing racism and discrimination, and has no anti-semitic or racist views.” He awarded damages of £15,000 against the station, which will be recovered, despite its saying that it will apply to be wound-up.
Some might ask, why not let the matter drop?

Well, I cannot accept that the accusation of anti-semitism is part of the badinage of political debate. It’s a most serious allegation and hurling it around as the Jcom broadcast did does nothing but belittle victims of genuine anti-semitism.

I am, of course, a prominent critic of Israel and opponent of the political ideology of Zionism. But, despite all sorts of mental gymnastics by some defenders of Israel, anti-Zionism is not equivalent to anti-semitism and nor does it entail it.

Indeed, anyone who has listened regularly to my own radio show on talkSPORT will testify that while my criticisms of Israel are trenchant, I have repeatedly dispatched those who have tried to insinuate some anti-semitic canard about “Jewish power” or even domination.

I come from a political tradition that contrasts the role of Jewish leaders in the European socialist movement with the baleful influence of Zionism. You might not agree with my take, but it is a legitimate political position and one shared by many Jewish socialists.

To paraphrase a cliché, some of my best friends are anti-Zionist Jews.
But whatever your position on Israel, it should not blind you when it comes to forging the unity needed to resist anti-semitism and racism here.

The BNP, led by a man who’s been convicted for inciting racial hatred, is spreading the poison of race hatred. It is focusing on Muslims, the whipping boys of our age, but it is motivated at its core by a white supremacism that regards Jewish people, black people, Roma, disabled people, gay people, and others as inferior, as subhuman.

Seventy years ago, in the area of London I represent in Parliament, Jewish immigrants came together with socialists, communists, Irish dockers and others to stop the BNP’s antecedents, the British Union of Fascists, at Cable Street.
That tradition, which inspired the anti-fascist battles of the 1970s and 1990s, lives on today as we come together from Tower Hill to Dagenham to combat fascism.

When it comes to defending free speech, a good start would be support for that struggle, rather than libelling those who are in the trenches alongside you.

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Race for City Hall: You Decide

With just seven days before what promises to be the closest Mayoral election the city has seen, Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone today details his record during eight years at City Hall while his Conservative and Liberal Democrat challengers, Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick, lay out their plans for London under new leadership. While the current Mayor’s relationship with the Jewish community has improved over the past year, for the Jewish community, 1 May will be the first opportunity to cast a verdict on Livingstone since controversial cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi was welcomed to City Hall and he likened a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

Writing exclusively in this week’s Jewish News, Livingstone said: “I have put good community relations at the centre of my Mayoralty and worked with the Jewish community not simply to crack down on anti-semitism but to for the first time officially and very publicly celebrate the gigantic Jewish contribution to London.” He made specific reference to Simchah on the Square, the annual public festival that was introduced in 2006 and to the first Chanukiah lighting in Trafalgar Square last December, while adding that “we have also backed larger family housing at affordable costs”.

He wrote: “Celebrating Jewish culture is as vital to the future of our city as stamping out anti-semitism. Enjoying and sharing each other’s culture, celebrating diversity, helps build respect and understanding and undermines racism and anti-semitism.” He also pledged to campaign “as hard as I can” to ensure there is no BNP member of the London Assembly.

With recent opinion polls giving Johnson as little as a single percentage point lead over Livingstone, the support of London’s 150,000 Jews could prove critical.

While Livingstone claimed to have put 10,000 more police on the streets and presided over a fall in crimes including racist attacks, in his article, Boris Johnson claimed “throughout London people of all ages and from every community do not feel safe…The current Mayor tells us that crime has fallen; he protests that he is powerless to act because TV glamorises violence. It’s as though I’m supposed to shrug my shoulders and say ‘Fair enough, there’s nothing more we can do’. Well it’s not fair enough, and we can do something about it, and if I become Mayor, I will.

“Last year there were 247 anti-semitic incidents in London; 26 percent were categorised as assault. I take the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism very seriously and if elected, would consult with the community on how best to implement these to stem the rise of anti-semitism. I will not allow hate crime to flourish in any guise.” Johnson – who in common with the other two main candidates has taken part in a number of Jewish events in the lead-up to the poll – insisted the community “offers many examples of best practice through its community groups.”

Brian Paddick, meanwhile, wrote that in his opinion Jewish people want much the same as everyone else from their mayor including safer streets and good transport. The former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner said: “I hope you will not be disappointed to find that I don’t think Londoners – or Israelis for that matter, will be any the poorer if I focus on solving London’s traffic problems, rather than pontificate on the Middle East…Faith schooling, where open and inclusive, is a success story and politicians shouldn’t get in the way or use it as a political football – as is happening in Barnet at the moment. In other words, politicians should, wherever possible, leave London’s communities to themselves and just ‘butt out’ – a good Liberal principle if ever there was one.”

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‘Why we accepted a BNP ad’

Now that Northern Ireland‘s blood-stained extremists have been effectively assimilated into the mainstream, the BNP is the last remaining Bogey Man of British politics.

Somebody has to be, and the BNP is the obvious candidate. In all probability, its members were as surprised as anyone to hear that the advertisement had been accepted, and would be seen by people of every persuasion including Jewish readers of the Ham&High. The potential for controversy was clear.

It is of course already clear that the Jewish community is not afraid to challenge the BNP on an open and democratic basis. The Board of Deputies is using its own website to promote the fight against the BNP’s political ambitions. Its president, Henry Grunwald QC, recently travelled to East London to ‘highlight the rising threat’.

And the campaign launched last month to encourage Jews to register to vote, goes by the name of Your Voice Or Theirs – an acknowledgement that while BNP extremism must be confronted, it does have a voice and the only legitimate way to silence it is through the individual choice which the ballot box affords.

The biggest danger now for those who believe in consigning extremists to political oblivion is that the BNP could creep into the Assembly by the back door.

To get the five per cent of votes they need to win a seat, the BNP is relying on voter apathy. As it works hard to maximise its potential vote, it also relies on the inherent inability of the mainstream parties to get their voters out of their comfortable armchairs and into the polling booths.

The last thing it wants is a strong turnout of voters wise to their intentions and determined to do something about it.

Regardless of its views on the acceptance of BNP advertisements, this is something the Board of Deputies understands, as did the various mayoral candidates who came together last week to give the BNP a ‘platform’ of sorts by putting them at the centre of a televised press conference aimed at countering voter apathy.

If the inclusion of these contentious adverts in Archant titles brings about the opposite of what the BNP intended, I for one will be cheering from the rafters, though it is stating the obvious to say that this was not part of the rationale for running them.

Granting them access to our advertising columns was an odious prospect but it was very much the lesser of two evils. The only realistic alternative was a blatant act of political censorship.

While a minor media frenzy ensued, a quick check at the local casualty wards confirmed that no-one had choked on their cornflakes as our Thursday morning edition containing the offending advert landed on the breakfast tables of Hampstead Garden Suburb and Golders Green.

There were complaints of course: about one for every 5,000 readers. It was no surprise that first out of the blocks were rival politicians, who reacted as if the very future of democracy as we know it was at stake.

The indignant tub-thumping was led by an old adversary, Labour councillor Theo Blackwell, whose surreal starting point is that the BNP shouldn’t even be quoted in our news columns even when they are at the heart of a story.

For Theo, this unexpected controversy was virtual manna in his quest for status, since his leadership qualities still tend to be carelessly overlooked by his party colleagues.

Undeterred by messages on his website advising him to ‘get a life’, Theo was blogging for all he was worth even before some editions of the Ham&High hit the streets.

Then Camden Council’s newly assimilated Gang of Four, comprising council leader Keith Moffitt, deputy leader Andrew Marshall, Labour leader (sit down Theo, it’s not you) Anna Stewart and Green Party leader Adrian Oliver put their names to a sanctimonious letter telling us where we went wrong.

In a phone call, one of the four threatened a withdrawal of council advertising, a reader boycott, a Searchlight protest on our doorstep, censure from Ken Livingstone and the admonishment of the Board of Deputies. Now, all or none of these things might happen, but invoking all five in a single breath sounded just a tad hysterical.

Critics of our position fail to address one crucial point, which is not open to debate. It is that no matter how repugnant the BNP might be, it has a right as a political party to fight this election on equal terms.

The government, not averse to proscribing organisations it deems ‘unfit for democracy’, chooses not too interfere with that right. The BBC, as a bastion of British media freedom, is required by law to allow parties fighting elections to air advertisements to an audience of millions in the form of party political broadcasts.

Newspapers aren’t bound by this legislation, but many in the community sector use it as a general guideline.

Hammering the BNP is a no-risk zone for rival politicians. Their vested interest is that there is much election mileage to be gained. From their comfortable vantage points on the high moral ground they are unlikely to acknowledge that one effect of the advertising campaign will be to act as a wake-up call, producing an anti-BNP reaction more effectively than their own dull and insipid campaigns ever could.

What we should all be aware of is that the entire episode is a precursor of a time in the not too distant future when politics in London becomes rather less cosy for the status quo, as positions fragment and the spectrum of opinion widens -no doubt to include more of the people who pose a threat to community cohesion in the UK.

Geoff Martin is Editor of the Hampstead and Highgate Express.

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