(photo credit: REUTERS)
What does Sadiq Khan’s victory in London’s mayoral elections mean for the Jews? Based on Khan’s past association with anti-Jewish Islamists, there might be room for concern. Looking to the future, though, his election presents a unique opportunity.
In 2003, for example, Khan shared a stage with Yasser al-Siri, who was convicted in 2005 for assisting the man behind the World Trade Center bombing in New York, and Sajeel abu Ibrahim, who ran a terrorist camp that trained the ringleader of the 2005 7/7 London bomb attacks.
Khan has also publicly defended Yusuf Qaradawi, long influential within the Muslim Brotherhood, telling Britain’s Select Committee on Home Affairs that he “is not the extremist that he is painted as being.” He has come to the defense of Babar Ahmad, convicted of conspiracy and providing material to support Islamist terrorism.
In 2006, by which time he had been elected to Parliament, Khan was one of the signatories of a letter to The Guardian that blamed terrorist attacks such as 7/7 on British foreign policy.
Khan was one of the 36 Labor MPs who helped get Jeremy Corbyn on the party’s ballot in the hope of broadening the debate (though he did not vote for Corbyn in the leadership contest itself).
And Khan has made controversial statements that seem to undermine his image as a “moderate” Muslim.
In 2009, in an interview to Iran’s Press TV, he referred to moderate Muslims as “Uncle Toms.” In the same interview he seemed to show support for boycotts of Israel.
The few Labor Jews who voted for Khan probably did so with a heavy heart.
Indeed, the schism between Labor-voting Jews and the party has widened recently in the wake of Corbyn’s rise to power and the anti-Semitism scandal that has rocked the party. Corbyn’s accession to power has turned Labor into an inhospitable place for Jews considering that 93 percent of British Jews identify in some fashion with Israel according to a comprehensive academic survey released a few months ago.
Jews’ departure from Labor began long ago. Large numbers deserted since Tony Blair’s period in office. A Survation poll for the Jewish Chronicle which was conducted recently indicates that only 8.5 percent of British Jews would vote Labor if a general election were held tomorrow.
The Muslim population of the UK is 10 times the Jewish population and thus far more electorally significant. It is no surprise that all political parties, especially during election campaigns, take note of this. Losing the Jewish vote can be a price worth paying for many Labor politicians.
Still, Khan has made a real effort to distance himself from his controversial statements and from the anti-Semitism in his party.
He attacked former London mayor Ken Livingstone for his claim that Hitler was a Zionist, saying the comments “were appalling and should have no place in our party.”
Khan also expressed remorse for using the term Uncle Tom to describe moderate Muslims, noting correctly that the term could be used to describe himself.
A practicing Muslim who, according to the Daily Mail, was the first British minister to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Khan has been the target of Islamist death threats because of his liberal social views, particularly his support of same-sex marriage.
The question now is which side of Khan will emerge as mayor of London. Will it be the Khan who associates with and defends radical Islamists or the Khan who is willing to integrate his Muslim faith with liberal social views? On Sunday, we got a glimpse of an answer after Khan attended a Holocaust memorial service in London, one of his first actions since becoming mayor.
As a practicing Muslim, Khan has a unique opportunity to show a more humane side of Islam that rejects anti-Semitism, terrorism and intolerance. The Muslim world is engaged in a massive struggle to come to terms with the challenge of modernity. The West has an enormous stake in the outcome. Men like Khan can play a critical role in bridging faiths and cultures. We hope he rises to the occasion. If he does, Khan will be a leader who is good not only for the Jews but for all the people of London.