LONDON (AFP) – London’s outspoken mayor Ken Livingstone denounced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a war criminal, in a searing critique of Israeli policies published in The Guardian newspaper.
Livingstone also rejected accusations of anti-Semitism, and brushed off fresh calls in his article to apologize for comments last month comparing a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard.
Sharon “is a war criminal who should be in prison, not in office”, he wrote, saying that even an Israeli commission had blamed the prime minister for deadly massacres at Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
The mayor also denounced “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians during the expansion of the Israeli state, Israeli settlements in the territories and the denial of Palestinians’ right to return.
“Sharon continues to organize terror,” he said, citing the disproportionate number of Palestinians killed compared to Israelis during the intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
Livingstone argued that it was necessary to separate criticism of Israeli policies from anti-Semitism, saying the Israeli government deliberately attempted to conflate the two.
The Israeli government has for the past 20 years “attempted to portray anyone who forcefully criticizes the policies of Israel as anti-Semitic. The truth is the opposite: the same universal human values that recognize the Holocaust as the greatest racist crime of the 20th century require condemnation of the policies of successive Israeli governments,” he wrote.
Livingstone’s comments came as a response to criticism printed a day earlier in The Guardian by the head of Board of Deputies of British Jews, Henry Grunwald.
Grunwald said that the mayor had “let his office down” and should apologize for comments made to Oliver Finegold, a reporter for the Evening Standard, a paper which Livingstone considers hostile to him.
Last month he compared Finegold to a concentration camp guard since he was “just doing it because you are paid to” — a reference to working at the Standard.
But the Labour mayor, long associated with left-wing politics, defended his record on fighting anti-Semitism and racism, and rejected a fresh call from a Jewish community leader to apologize for the uproar.
“No serious commentator has argued that my comments… were anti-Semitic,” Livingstone wrote in The Guardian.
His administration had fought anti-Semitism “tooth and nail”, and he continued to “detest racism”, he said.
Livingstone is under investigation by the Standards Board for England, the local government watchdog, over whether he breached a code of conduct for the Greater London Authority with his remarks to Finegold.
If he is found to have broken the municipal government’s ethical code, the mayor could be suspended from office for up to five years.