Racism is a uniquely reactionary ideology, used to justify the greatest crimes in history - the slave trade, the extermination of all original inhabitants of the Caribbean, the elimination of every native inhabitant of Tasmania, apartheid. The Holocaust was the ultimate, "industrialised" expression of racist barbarity.
Racism serves as the cutting edge of the most reactionary movements. An ideology that starts by declaring one human being inferior to another is the slope whose end is at Auschwitz. That is why I detest racism.
No serious commentator has argued that my comments to an Evening Standard reporter outside City Hall last month were anti-semitic. So I am glad that Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, accepted on these pages that "Ken is sincere when he states that he regards the Holocaust as the worst crime of the last century".
The contribution of Jewish people to human civilisation and culture is unexcelled and extraordinary. You only have to think of giants such as Einstein, Freud and Marx to realise that human civilisation would be unrecognisably diminished without the achievements of the Jewish people. The same goes for the Jewish contribution to London today.
As mayor, I have pressed for police action over anti-semitic attacks at the highest level, and my administration has backed a series of initiatives of importance to the Jewish community, including hosting the Anne Frank exhibition at City Hall and measures to ensure the go-ahead for the north London eruv.
Throughout the 1970s, I worked happily with the Board of Deputies in campaigns against the National Front. Problems began when, as leader of the Greater London Council, I rejected the board's request that I should fund only Jewish organisations that it approved of. The Board of Deputies was unhappy that I funded Jewish organisations campaigning for gay rights and others that disagreed with policies of the Israeli governmen.
Relations with the board took a dramatic turn for the worse when I opposed Israel's illegal invasion of Lebanon, culminating in the massacres at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila. The board also opposed my involvement in the successful campaign in 1982 to convince the Labour party to recognise the PLO as the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people.
The fundamental issue on which we differ, as Henry Grunwald knows, is not anti-semitism - which my administration has fought tooth and nail - but the policies of successive Israeli governments.
To avoid manufactured misunderstandings, the policies of Israeli governments are not analogous to Nazism. They do not aim at the systematic extermination of the Palestinian people, in the way Nazism sought the annihilation of the Jews.
Israel's expansion has included ethnic cleansing. Palestinians who had lived in that land for centuries were driven out by systematic violence and terror aimed at ethnically cleansing what became a large part of the Israeli state. The methods of groups like the Irgun and the Stern gang were the same as those of the Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic: to drive out people by terror.
Today the Israeli government continues seizures of Palestinian land for settlements, military incursions into surrounding countries and denial of the right of Palestinians expelled by terror to return. Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, is a war criminal who should be in prison, not in office. Israel's own Kahan commission found that Sharon shared responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila massacres.
Sharon continues to organise terror. More than three times as many Palestinians as Israelis have been killed in the present conflict. There are more than 7,000 Palestinians in Israel's jails.
To obscure these truths, those around Israel's present government have resorted to demonisation. Initial targets were Palestinians, and have now become Muslims. Take the Middle East Media Research Institute, run by a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence, which poses as a source of objective information but in reality selectively translates material from Arabic and presents Muslims and Arabs in the worst possible light.
Today the Israeli government is helping to promote a wholly distorted picture of racism and religious discrimination in Europe, implying that the most serious upsurge of hatred and discrimination is against Jews.
All racist and anti-semitic attacks must be stamped out. However, the reality is that the great bulk of racist attacks in Europe today are on black people, Asians and Muslims - and they are the primary targets of the extreme right. For 20 years Israeli governments have attempted to portray anyone who forcefully criticises the policies of Israel as anti-semitic. The truth is the opposite: the same universal human values that recognise the Holocaust as the greatest racist crime of the 20th century require condemnation of the policies of successive Israeli governments - not on the absurd grounds that they are Nazi or equivalent to the Holocaust, but because ethnic cleansing, discrimination and terror are immoral.
They are also fuelling anger and violence across the world. For a mayor of London not to speak out against such injustice would not only be wrong - but would also ignore the threat it poses to the security of all Londoners.
Ken Livingstone is the London mayor.
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.