(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jewish institutions and leaders have welcomed the election of London’s first Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan, and have praised him for attending Sunday’s Yom HaShoah Holocaust memorial event in the capital, Khan’s first public appearance since his election on Thursday.
The Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a central representative body of Anglo Jewry, and other Jewish communal representatives congratulated Khan on his victory, while analysts of the UK Jewish community asserted that the new mayor would have a positive impact on communal relations in London and across the country.
On Sunday, Khan was in attendance the annual Yom HaShoah ceremony, held in front of 5,000 people at the Barnet Copthall Stadium, and sat next to UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during the event although he did not address the gathering.
Speaking before the ceremony, the new mayor said “I’m 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 the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, yet have managed to not only build lives here in London, but give so much back for the benefit of wider society.”
After the ceremony, Khan commented on the ongoing furor over anti-Semitism in the Labor Party, asserting “the need to understand, not just as the Labor Party but as a civilized society, that racism is racism, and there can't be any hierarchy when it comes to racism,” the Jewish Chronicle reported. “It's really important that message is sent loud and clear from City Hall,” added Khan.
Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella organization of major UK Jewish institutions, said that Khan had engaged with the Jewish community during the mayoral election campaign and welcomed his appointment.
“The fact is that he has done what might have been hoped for and expected of a London mayoral candidate. I have known him for seven years personally, and I have always found him to be understanding of Jewish issues,” Johnson told The Jerusalem Post.
“Even those who might not have voted for Khan will have seen he’s done right thing during the campaign and immediately after the election.”
Johnson said Khan was warmly welcomed at the Yom HaShoah ceremony on Sunday and that the Jewish community at large had been pleased to note that it was his first public engagement as mayor.
During the campaign, Khan was strongly criticized by his opponent Zac Goldsmith of the Conservative Party for in the past having shared platforms with and associated with with extremist Islamist groups and radical preachers, and for having supported a boycott of Israel.
During the election campaign, Khan said he regretted “giving the impression I subscribed to their views and I’ve been quite clear I find their views abhorrent.”
In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle he also said he no longer supported boycotts against the Jewish state.
“The evidence clearly shows that boycott, sanctions and divestment against Israel do not help us achieve peace – we must not turn our face against Israel,” he told the newspaper. “As the boycotts of Sodastream International showed, boycotts only hurt working people and do nothing to build a lasting peace in the region.”
Johnson pointed out during a campaign event held in early April by the London Jewish Forum, a member organization of the JLC, Khan had publicly criticized Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labor party, for failing to deal with anti-Semitism in the party, saying he was “embarrassed” and “sorrowful” about anti-Semitism in Labor.
These comments came before the furor that began in late April surrounding former Labor mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s comments that Hitler had supported Zionism and a Jewish state.
Professor Alan Johnson, an analyst and Senior Research Fellow at the British Israel Communications and Research Center said that Khan is now a declared opponent of Islamic extremism and that his election could have a global impact on the fight against such radicalism.
“He’s been on a journey and he has made a huge effort to understand the new anti-Semitism and the demonization of Israel,” said Johnson. “He hasn’t been shy about saying this, and has also vocally critical of Corbyn about anti-Semitism in Labor.”
Johnson pointed that Khan specifically chose to be sworn in as mayor in the capital’s Southwark Cathedral, and had presented himself as unifying figure for London’s different religious and ethnic communities.
“He articulates a different way of being a Muslim in the West, and the fact that he was willing to be sworn in in a church in such a visible fashion, and his attendance at Yom Hashoah on Sunday is very significant,” said Johnson.