by Hugh Muir | The Guardian | 4 March 2005
Ken Livingstone has reignited his dispute with Britain's Jewish leaders by launching a provocative attack on the "war criminal" Ariel Sharon.
In a riposte to criticism from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the London mayor accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" and said its prime minister should be imprisoned. He also accused Israel of demonising Muslims.
Writing in the Guardian, he again rejected accusations of anti-semitism arising from his confrontation two weeks ago with the Jewish newspaper reporter he likened to a German concentration camp guard.
But while stressing his steadfast opposition to racism and his regard for the Jewish people, he accused Israel of spreading misinformation about the scale of anti-semitism in Europe, and seeking to silence critics by calling them anti-semitic.
Mr Livingstone said: "Israel's expansion includes ethnic cleansing. Palestinians who had lived in that land for centuries were driven out by systematic violence and terror aimed at ethnically cleansing what became a large part of the Israeli state."
He added: "Today the Israeli government continues seizures of Palestinian land for settlements, military incursions into surrounding countries and denial of the right of Palestinians expelled by terror to return.
"Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, is a war criminal who should be in prison not in office. Israel's own Kahan commission found that Sharon shared responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila [Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut] massacre."
Mr Livingstone said the Israeli government presented a "wholly distorted picture of racism and religious discrimination in Europe", so it appeared Jews suffered most discrimination.
"The reality is that the great bulk of racist attacks in Europe today are on black people, Asians and Muslims. They are the primary targets of the extreme right."
Relations between the mayor and key sections of the Jewish community are tense because of his clash with the Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold and his subsequent refusal to apologise, and his invitation to the Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi to speak at a conference in London last year.
One of Mr Livingstone's most high-profile critics following the clash with Mr Finegold was Zvi Heifetz, the Israeli ambassador to London.
He said last night: "The mayor is confused once again. Ethnic cleansing was perpetrated in the concentration camps which he should know being such an expert on them.
"The dozens of world leaders who attended the London meeting only two days ago [all commend Mr] Sharon, for his courageous steps to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Commenting on the row with an article in Wednesday's Guardian, Henry Grunwald of the Board of Deputies said Mr Livingstone must reverse his stance and make amends, adding: "He has let us down. He has let his office down. Oliver Finegold deserves an apology, Holocaust survivors deserve an apology, the Jewish community deserves an apology and most of all, London deserves an apology. Then we can all move on."
The Board of Deputies has triggered an investigation into Mr Livingstone's conduct by the local government watchdog, the Standards Board for England.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies last night accused Mr Livingstone of seeking to deflect attention away from his own behaviour by attacking Israel.