According to this transcript, this is how the conversation went:
Finegold: Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did tonight go?
Livingstone: How awful for you. Have you thought of having treatment?
Finegold: How did tonight go?
Livingstone: Have you thought of having treatment?
Finegold: Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?
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. So, how did tonight go?
Livingstone: Ah right, well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?
Finegold: Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?
Livingstone: It’s nothing to do you with you because your paper is a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots.
Finegold: I’m a journalist and I’m doing my job. I’m only asking for a comment.
Livingstone: Well, work for a paper that doesn’t have a record of supporting facism.
It has also been reported that Mr Finegold then offered some four-letter insults in return.
Mr Livingstone apparenty intended to criticise Mr Finegold’s decision to work for Associated Newspapers. He draws a parallel, which he clearly intends as unfavourable, to people who sought to defend their role in the holocaust by saying they were "just doing their job". Mr Livingstone said afterwards:
I don’t suggest for one minute that has anything to do with the Holocaust which was uniquely the most evil chapter in history. But when reporters say to me I’m only doing this because it’s my job… that’s the same abdication of moral responsibility at the thin end of the wedge that in its most extreme and horrific version ends up with others being prepared to stand as a concentration camp guard.
Mr Livingstone is entitled to disapprove of the Evening Standard; and its parent company, Associated Newspapers. He is entitled to disapprove of the people who work for the company, and he is entitled to be offensive to them. He is entitled to be offensive even if the person he offends is jewish. Being offensive to a jewish person is not the same as being anti-semitic. Mr Livingstone does not criticise Mr Finegold for being jewish; he criticises him for working for the Evening Standard. Reaching deep for a profound insult to express his disgust for that newspaper, Mr Livingstone drew on his abhorrence of those who abdicated moral responsibility for their actions during the holocaust. There is no interpretation of his remarks that could be construed as either criticizing Mr Finegold for being jewish, nor as seeking to diminish the atrocity of the holocaust. His remarks were (deliberately) offensive, but they were not anti-semitic.
The over-reaction has been quite astounding. Melanie Phillips claims that Mr Livingstone’s remarks are an implicit Holocaust denial. The London Assembly has censured him. The path of least resistance would be to fall back on the tired formula of "being sorry if I offended anyone". But I rather admire Mr Livingstone’s refusal to make an apology that he does not mean, and which he should be under no obligation to make.
Ken Livingstone has a proud record of standing up for the rights of minorities; and for standing out against discrimination on grounds of race and ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability. Contrast his record to that of Associated Newspapers, which spent the 1930s publishing numerous articles lamenting the number of German Jews entering Britain as refugees after the rise of Nazism, and which, on 9 January 1934, celebrated a British Union of Facists rally with the front page headline: Hurrah for the Blackshirts. For Associated Newspapers to accuse Mr Livingstone of anti-semitism is opportunist hypocrisy. And it would be a supreme injustice if Mr Livingstone were forced to resign at the hands of an organisation that was a leading advocate of appeasement of the Nazis.
As for Tony Blair, he should know better than to get involved in this. As should I. (It is a long time since I have agreed with Boris Johnson, but I agree with him on this. See his excellent article in today’s Telegraph.)