A High Court judge in London has issued a temporary stay of Mayor Ken Livingstone's four-week suspension. The February 28 court order permits him to remain in office while mounting a legal challenge to the findings of a civil service tribunal, which suspended Livingstone and fined him 80,000 for comments he made to a Jewish reporter.
In a statement issued from London's City Hall, Livingstone attacked the tribunal's findings as undemocratic and lambasted the Board of Deputies of British Jews, accusing them of using "the tactic of McCarthyism" to silence his criticism of Israel.
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A charge, Jon Benjamin, chief executive officer of the Board of Deputies, dismissed as a "smokescreen." The "case is not about Israel or the Board of Deputies" but the Mayor's conduct, Benjamin told the Jerusalem Post.
On Friday, the Adjudication Panel of the Standards Board for England suspended Livingstone from office for four weeks, effective March 1, and fined him the costs of litigation for likening Oliver Finegold, a Jewish reporter for the Evening Standard
, to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The Panel found Livingstone's remarks to be "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" and "conduct [which] was unacceptable, a breach of the [civil service] code and did damage to the reputation of his office."
"The fundamental issue is not whether or not I was `insensitive'," Livingstone responded, "it is the principle that those whom the people elect should only be removed by the people or because they have broken the law" the Mayor said on February 28.
There was "virtual unanimity" across the political spectrum, Livingstone argued, "that it is wholly wrong that an un-elected [body] should have the power to remove from office a mayor who has committed no crime and has been elected on two separate occasions by the voters of this city."
Livingstone denied he was an anti-Semite, pointing to his appointment of Jews to work in his administration as proof of philo-Semitic credentials. He stated, however, he did not believe the Board of Deputies had filed the complaint because of "how I treated one reporter who happens to be Jewish," but because the "Board of Deputies asked to meet me to urge me to tone down my views on the Israeli government."
"For far too long the accusation of anti-Semitism has been used against anybody who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government," Livingstone asserted, and "the charge of anti-Semitism has been used to try to suppress any meaningful debate about the policies of the Israeli government."
Jon Benjamin dismissed the Mayor's suggestion that the Board of Deputies was "part of a larger plot" or Jewish cabal out to get him as a "complete and utter fantasy." We used due process when we had a concern. That is the route we went," Benjamin said.