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(photo credit: Associated Press)
London Mayor Ken Livingstone's charge that two Jewish property developers should go back to where they came from has prompted cries of anti-Semitism from members of the London Assembly and outrage from Jewish leaders.
Currently fighting a four-week suspension handed down by a Civil Service panel for likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard, Livingstone's latest comments came during a press conference Tuesday discussing the 4 billion "Olympic City" building project in London's East End.
He blamed developers David and Simon Reuben for having created a "poisonous state of relations" within the syndicate building the project, and stated that if the Reubens were "not happy here, perhaps they could go back to Iran and try it under the ayatollahs."
Asked by reporters to clarify his remark, he affirmed his sentiments, saying the Reuben brothers, who were born in Bombay to Iraqi Jewish parents and have been British residents for the past 40 years, should "try their luck with the ayatollahs."
Livingstone's suspension for his camp guard comments is currently under review before the High Court, and he has been permitted to remain in office while the dispute is under appeal.
Livingstone's "latest anti-Semitic remark" was "shocking, outrageous and grossly offensive to the entire Jewish community," the London Assembly's Conservative Group said in a press statement.
"The mayor is anti-Semitic and we know that in London," Brian Coleman, assembly member for Barnet and Camden (Conservative), told The Jerusalem Post.
"This is the most extreme remark he has made," Coleman said, adding that the mayor's remarks "add fuel to the fire" and may land him before the Civil Service panel again.
"This was an appalling thing" for the mayor to say, Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Post.
Benjamin said the board hoped the mayor would reflect on the wisdom of his words, "but it will be interesting to see what his reaction is.
"To say to first- and second-generation immigrants to Britain that they should 'go back to where they came from,' that is the kind of language one would expect from one end of the political spectrum," Benjamin said.
Livingstone's "picking on the race or religion or ethnic origin of someone in a dispute," Benjamin added, was "not acceptable" civic discourse.
A spokesman for Britain's Commission for Racial Equality stated it would not be pursuing the matter, as "it doesn't fall within our remit."
Livingstone's office declined to comment on the controversy.
A spokesman for the Reuben brothers told the Post that they did not see Livingstone's remarks as anti-Semitic, and in a written statement disputed the mayor's contentions over their handling of the Olympic City project.
"The Reuben brothers remain completely committed to the Stratford City project in its entirety, as well as the Olympic opportunity. They are working extremely hard to deliver the development for the long-term benefit of London and Londoners," read the statement.