Mayor Ken Livingstone has issued an apology for "causing offense" following clashes with the Jewish community in recent years, and said it was never a "calculated intention."
Livingstone, speaking to Jewish leaders at the launch of the London Jewish Forum (LJF) at City Hall over the weekend, said, "Finally, if I've caused any offense to anyone in the past, I apologize, it was never my intention. It was never a calculated intention to cause offence, as Rabbi Pinter, a member of the LJF steering committee, said, 'He's not anti-Semitic, he's just very rude.'"
The mayor repeated the apology and requested, "If I do it again, please pick up the phone and tell me rather than go to the Standards Board and cost thousands of pounds, as we are and we should be friends and we should be able to work together. So if we have a problem lets deal with it over the phone."
Relations between the mayor and Jews deteriorated after several incidents, including Livingstone's justification of Palestinian suicide bombings. Last year he likened Oliver Finegold, a Jewish journalist at the Evening Standard
, to a Nazi concentration camp guard. In March, following disagreement over a building project, he suggested that two Indian-born Jewish property developers, David and Simon Reuben, should "go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs," claiming later he did not know they were Jews.
While he recognized that anti-Semitism and racism "still exist," and have increased in Britain, he said that anti-Semitic incidents, along with other hate incidents, have declined in London by 38 percent since 2000.
Speaking of the need to work together with the Jewish community, he said, "I think we can adopt the credo of Prime Minister Tony Blair on how to deal with Ken Livingstone. If you think I've had some problems with some Jewish community organizations over the years, think of the problems me and Tony Blair have had with each other and the things we've said about each other over the years.
"We [Blair and Livingstone] have a working relationship based on a simple policy. We don't agree on foreign policy but we get on with everything else. We will always debate the issues of the Middle East. I will continue to argue for, and I suspect most in this hall support, a viable two-state solution and we have desperately to find a way of getting towards that," Livingstone said.
Adrian Cohen, chairman of the London Jewish Forum, said the forum was to ensure constructive engagement in all levels of London government to promote an understanding of interests, concerns, aspirations, contributions and potential of London Jewry and to ensure the government is responsive to our needs.
"We live in confusing times: The London Jewish community is a well established, vibrant and self-confident community. The best indicator of this is that more than half of Jewish children are attending Jewish schools and the community is building more to keep up with demand. Yet there are deep anxieties among Jewish Londoners which haven't been felt for decades. Jews are now feeling a degree of vulnerably, there seems to be an accommodation for anti-Semitism in certain quarters.
"It is in this context the forum has been established, to reach out and promote dialogue with London's civic institutions and our elected politicians to insist that our voices are listened to and acted upon and our sensitivities are respected... the Jewish community and the mayor can now begin to move towards a more positive relationship."