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(photo credit: Associated Press)
Jewish leaders in Britain have applauded Friday's decision by a civil service tribunal to suspend London Mayor Ken Livingstone from office for making an anti-Semitic slur, but noted that it was the mayor's own intransigence that forced the issue.
"All we ever sought was an apology," Jon Benjamin, chief executive officer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told The Jerusalem Post. But he "brazened it out and fought the case" defying "the prime minister and his own Labor Party councillors."
A three-man committee from the Adjudication Panel for England on February 24 unanimously held that Livingstone had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" to Oliver Finegold, a journalist at the Evening Standard. The tribunal suspended Livingstone from office for "four weeks from March 1" and fined him the costs of the litigation, approximately 80,000.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews brought the case to the civil service review board after he refused to apologize for comments he made last February. Livingstone responded to a question from the reporter by saying, "What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?"
Finegold replied, "No, I'm Jewish. I wasn't a German war criminal. I'm actually quite offended by that." Mr. Livingstone replied, "Well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it 'cause you're paid to, aren't you?"
David Laverick, chairman of the panel said, "the tribunal is concerned that the mayor does seem to have failed, from the outset of this case, to have appreciated that his conduct was unacceptable, was a breach of the [civil service code of conduct] and did damage to the reputation of his office."
"It was his comments that started the matter and thereafter his position seems to have become ever more entrenched" and it "the mayor who must take responsibility," Laverick said.
Livingstone, who did not attend the hearing, issued a statement denouncing the ruling, saying that he was considering an appeal. "This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law," he said.
"I have been advised that the decision of this tribunal today may be open to challenge. I will meet with my legal representatives early next week and will then make a statement about whether I will be exercising my right of challenge," the mayor said.
Livingstone, whom the Board of Deputies has accused of being an apologist for Muslim interests, has had a stormy relationship with British Jews.
Following July 7 terror bombings in London he justified Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, saying, "The Palestinians don't have jets and bombs, they only have their bodies to use as weapons" and has equated the Likud to Hamas saying they were "two sides to the same coin."
In a statement released after the verdict, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it "regrets that the mayor's intransigence over his hurtful comments last February outside City Hall and his subsequent failure to apologize has led to a finding that the Office of the Mayor has been brought into disrepute.
"Had the mayor simply recognized the upset his comments had caused, this sorry episode could have been avoided. He has been the architect of his own misfortune," it said.
"We didn't want this to happen," Benjamin told the Post, but the mayor "must recognize the consequences of his actions."