Prime Minister Tony Blair urged London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Wednesday to apologize for making an offensive remark to a Jewish journalist that compared him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
“A lot of us in politics get angry with journalists from time to time but in the circumstances, and to the journalist because he was a Jewish journalist, ‘yes,’ he should apologize. Let’s just apologize and move on — that’s the sensible thing,” Blair said on television.
For several days, Livingstone has turned down requests for an apology from Jewish and Holocaust groups, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and the London Assembly.
Livingstone said he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong.
“You may think my remarks to that reporter — and many over the years — are offensive,” he said Tuesday. “That is purely a matter of judgment. If you think they are racist, I think you are wrong.”
Livingstone made the comments last week when approached by a reporter for the Evening Standard newspaper at a reception for the gay and lesbian community.
The mayor, an outspoken left-winger nicknamed “Red Ken,” dislikes the paper and its conservative sister paper, the Daily Mail.
The Daily Mail had a pro-Nazi editorial line in the 1930s, and Livingstone asked journalist Oliver Finegold if he had been a “German war criminal.” Finegold replied that he was Jewish. Livingstone told the reporter he was “just like a concentration camp guard. You’re just doing it because you’re paid to, aren’t you?”
The conversation was recorded on tape and played before the London Assembly on Monday. The body passed a unanimous motion calling on the mayor to withdraw his remarks.
It said that, despite Livingstone’s record in fighting racism, his remarks damaged his credibility, offended the Jewish community and probably hurt London’s chances of hosting the 2012 Olympics.
A major Jewish group, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has made an official complaint to local government watchdogs to demand an investigation into the mayor’s comments.