Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative London mayoral candidate, has denied that attempts to link his Labour opponent, Sadiq Khan, to the antisemitism row surrounding former mayor Ken Livingstone amount to “dog-whistle politics”.
Goldsmith, who is trailing Khan in the polls before Thursday’s election, said Khan and Livingstone were “certainly part of the same movement within the Labour party” and had defended each other in the past.
Khan was one of the first MPs to call for Livingstone’s suspension from the party after the ex-mayor gave several radio interviews in which he said Adolf Hitler had been a Zionist before he “went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews”.
“Ken Livingstone’s comments are appalling and inexcusable,” Khan tweeted. “There must be no place for this in our party.”
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he was implying Khan was antisemitic, Goldsmith said: “I’m quite clear he has been making the right comments. But I can’t answer that question because I don’t know who Sadiq Khan is. He is a different person in this campaign.”
Boris Johnson, the current mayor, told LBC he believed there was “an ideological continuum between the views of Ken Livingstone about Israel and the position of Jeremy Corbyn and indeed the views of their candidate for London mayor, Sadiq Khan.” He called Khan’s condemnation of Livingstone “politically expedient”.
Goldsmith said he agreed with Johnson’s analysis. “They’re certainly part of the same movement within the Labour party,” he said. “Ken Livingstone has been a strong supporter of Sadiq Khan and vice-versa. Ken Livingstone hasn’t suddenly decided to make outrageous comments; he has been making them for a very long time, and on previous occasions Sadiq Khan has rushed publicly to his defence.”
He said the row currently engulfing the Labour party was not “a Ken Livingstone problem”.
“There is a streak running through the Labour party, and I don’t think anyone now denies it, where antisemitism of the most aggressive kind has become normalised,” he said.
“I’m certainly not suggesting Sadiq Khan is antisemitic, I haven’t made that claim, I haven’t even hinted as such. You need to be very clear on these kind of issues not to ride two horses.
“The reality is until this mayoral campaign began, Sadiq Khan has not been anything like as clear on this issue as he has been in recent weeks. On that basis, I think Boris Johnson is right.”
Throughout the campaign, Goldsmith has repeatedly drawn attention to Suliman Gani, a south London cleric who has shared a platform with Khan and who until 2013 was imam of a mosque in Tooting, where Khan is an MP.
In a speech in the House of Commons, David Cameron said Gani “supports IS [Islamic State]”, an allegation Gani called “defamation at the highest level”, and Goldsmith’s team have circulated a dossier claiming that Gani opposes homosexuality and endorses female subservience to men. Khan’s spokesman called it “desperate dog-whistling”.
Goldsmith said his criticism of Khan had nothing to do with the latter’s Muslim faith. “It’s completely wrong. It has nothing to do with faith,” he said. “This is not about Sadiq Khan on the basis of where he comes from, any more than Jeremy Corbyn’s background is relevant.
“There are big questions about his judgment and it is infuriating for people who ask those questions to be accused of racism.”
On Friday night, Corbyn announced the creation of an independent inquiry into antisemitism within Labour, led by Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of the human rights group Liberty, saying he was determined to tackle the issue.
This article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Saturday 30th April 2016 09.48 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010