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A tale of two mayors: Livingstone and Reepalu

Ken Livingstone and Ilmar Reepalu, who are running for election in London and Malmö, respectively, both have a sordid history of anti-Semitic slurs
The photo tweeted by Khulood Badawi, allegedly depicting a Palestinian girl killed in an Israeli airstrike.
The photo tweeted by Khulood Badawi, allegedly depicting a Palestinian girl killed in an Israeli airstrike.

When politics turns ugly, the first place to look is not to presidents or parliaments, but to city halls. A century ago, Adolf Hitler’s first political hero was Karl Lueger, the cynical anti-Semitic mayor of multicultural Vienna. A century later, mayors in two of Europe’s most advanced countries have disgraced their offices.

London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone

“Red Ken” Livingstone has debased progressive politics with Jew hatred. For instance, sharply questioned in 2005, Livingstone responded in an exchange with reporter Oliver Finegold this way:

Livingstone: What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?


Finegold: No, I’m Jewish, I wasn’t a German war criminal and I’m actually quite offended by that . . .


Livingstone: Ah right, well you might be Jewish, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?

Criticized by a unanimous vote of the London Assembly, Mayor Livingstone offered this non-apology: “the form of words I have used are right. I have nothing to apologize for.” An Adjudication Panel suspended Livingstone for four weeks, though a judge later overturned the ban despite criticizing the Mayor’s language.

In a 2006 press conference, Livingstone said of David and Simon Reuben — two Indian-born Jewish businessmen involved in a property development project for the 2012 Olympics — that “if they’re not happy they can always go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs.”

Ken Livingstone at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2008. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA World Economic Forum, Wikipedia)
Ken Livingstone at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2008. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA World Economic Forum, Wikipedia)

Referring to US President George H. W. Bush as “the greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably ever seen,” Livingstone managed to suggested that Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians somehow extenuated the attack on the London subway by Muslim terrorists:

Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves.

And who can forget Mayor Livingston rolling out the red carpet for Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has said “O God, destroy the Zionist, the American and the British aggressors,” and — for good measure — has justified Palestinian women who choose to become suicide bombers, wife beating and death sentences for homosexuals.

Many had hoped that Livingstone’s exit from the London Mayor’s residence after his 2008 defeat would signal the end of his public career. Not so. After barnstorming Venezuela on behalf of despot Hugo Chavez, Livingstone is back in London, running as the Labour Party’s official candidate for mayor. Despite having to return money donated to his campaign by Press TV, the Iranian dictatorship’s official TV channel, Livingstone — a longtime favorite of London’s Muslim voters — leads incumbent Mayor Boris Johnson in the polls.

Malmö Mayor Ilmar Reepalu

Ilmar Reepalu, the Swedish Social Democratic mayor of Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city with a 20 percent Muslim population, is not as well known globally as Livingstone for outrageous anti-Israel, anti-Jewish statements and actions, but he is trying hard to catch up. Most recently, Reepalu charged that the extreme-right Swedish Democratic Party has infiltrated Malmö’s Jewish community to spread hate of Muslims. This caused Lena Posner Körösi, chairwoman of the Sweden’s Central Jewish Council, to characterize Reepalu an “anti-Semite” because of his history of hatred directed at Jews.

In 2010, a group of Swedish Muslims in Malmö shouted “Sieg Heil” and “Hitler, Hitler” and threw rocks at a small group of Jews peacefully demonstrating in support of Israel. Reepalu said that Sweden’s Jews were largely culpable for the violence inflicted on them because they hadn’t “distanced themselves” from Israel during the Gaza war.

In 2009, the Malmö City Council voted five to four to hold the scheduled Davis Cup Match between Israel and Sweden behind closed doors in response to a campaign by the “Stop the Match” coalition that prevailed on the Council’s Socialist-Left majority to quarantine Israelis and Jews behind a police cordon sanitaire. The spectacle of Israeli athletes forced to perform under what amounts to apartheid conditions, and Jewish fans barred from attending events to root for them, recalled nothing so much as the 1936 Berlin Olympics — except that Hitler’s athletic PR machine was more subtle in discriminating against Jews.

An anti-Israel protest in Sweden, 2009 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An anti-Israel protest in Sweden, 2009 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center slapped a travel advisory on Malmö in late 2010, after it became clear that local Police were doing nothing to protect the community’s rabbi from incessant taunts and threats. We then travelled there to meet Reepalu and his police chief face-to-face in a vain effort to win the beleaguered local Chabad rabbi and Jewish citizens equal protection under the law.

Reepalu’s latest cynical outburst says it all: How should the Jews of Malmo feel this Passover after the murders in Toulouse of a rabbi and his small children? One can only hope that members of Reepalu’s own party will denounce his disgraceful and dangerous rhetoric.

Democratic elections put these men in power, and it will be up to the voters of these cities to decide if such despicable rhetoric is condemned or rewarded. If Reepalu and Livingston are reelected, they might as well declare one another’s burgs “sister cities.”

About the Author
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Dr Harold Brackman is a historian and a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center