Early Returns

Jewish Light Editorial

While time will tell the full story, initial actions bode well for the leadership of Sadiq Khan, the first member of his Muslim faith to become mayor of London, particularly as relates to his relationship with the city’s Jewish population.  

Khan is, according to JTA, a “self-described moderate Muslim.” He started his term with the very positive decision to attend and take part in the London Jewish community’s Yom HaShoah commemoration, and has promised citizens of London that he will be the mayor for “all the people” of Great Britain’s capital city.

Speaking prior to the event, Khan was “honored that my first public engagement will be such a poignant one, where I will meet and hear from Jewish survivors and refugees who went through unimaginable horrors in the Holocaust.”

Khan’s participation in the Yom HaShoah program last Sunday is a most welcome act and sets the right tone for the start of his term of office. And that action does not sit in a vacuum; as Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz wrote previously, “barely a day passes without photographs of Khan, wearing a snug kippa, appearing at some synagogue, or in a Jewish community center, or meeting with the chief rabbi.”

His current approach is a notable contrast to the actions and words of some in Khan’s Labour Party, which has been under fire recently for accusations of rabid anti-Semitism within its ranks.  

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The allegations roiled the election campaign, in which Khan defeated the Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith, winning 44 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Goldsmith.  JTA reports that anti-Semitic comments by some Labour Party leaders had caused a major backlash among British Jews.

Andrew Dismore, a Labour City Council member who represented the heavily Jewish boroughs of Barnet and Camden, said that his own campaign suffered from what he called the “Livingstone effect.” This was a reference to Ken Livingstone, a Labour member who was suspended from the party after asserting that Adolf Hitler was a “Zionist” before he turned to genocide.

Jeremy Corbyn, another Labourite, has been roundly condemned for, and charged with, “hate speech” for describing Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends” that he was “proud to host” in Parliament. So serious is the concern among British Jews, that Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Labour had a “severe” anti-Semitism problem.

Khan’s words and participation in the Yom HaShoah program, on the other hand, coupled with his confrontation of Corbyn and others in the party, underscore his promise to eschew all forms of bigotry and to serve as mayor of all Londoners regardless of religion or background.

Yet even as Khan was giving Yom HaShoah the gravitas it so emphatically deserves, anti-Semitic hate surfaced in direct response to his actions.

Khan tweeted that day, “At Yom HaShoah commemorations today. So important to reflect, remember and educate about the 6 million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust.”

Some of the Twitter responses to that tweet showed unbridled hate and ugliness. For instance, here are a couple as reported by Haaretz:

“Much of the so-called ‘holocaust’ has been faked….”

“Have you plucked that figure of 6m out of thin air?…..Don’t distort history.”

Clearly Khan and others who strive to combat all forms of anti-Semitism in London, and Europe in general, have their work cut out for them. But Khan’s defiance and rejection of some in his own party stands in stark contrast to hateful rhetoric being espoused in London and beyond.

In our own presidential election, we’ve witnessed ugliness galore. Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) voices keep pushing from some on the left, while xenophobia, racism and sexism have been embedded in the public pronouncements of one of the presumptive general election candidates. All such rhetoric, no matter the source or the political persuasion, should be met with emphatic disapproval and disdain.

We’re of course cautious about the situation in London, given continuing invective hurled toward both Jews and Israel. But Khan’s efforts both during the campaign and since election have set a different tone, one of respect for all and outright rejection of anti-Semitism. We hope that he chooses to keep that approach front and center, and if he does, we hope Londoners will work hard to combat those who would deal a blow to fairness, equity and justice for Jews and all citizens.