(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Sunday I was honored to attend the annual Iftar at Finchley Reform Synagogue, one of a number where I have been welcomed in my first Ramadan as mayor of London.
During my time there, it was inspiring to hear that the synagogue has been hosting local Somali Bravanese worshipers since their community center was burned down in an arson attack three years ago. Many of these individuals had never set foot in a synagogue before, but now friendships have developed over shared meals, and the two communities held an Interfaith Succot Festival at a local shopping mall last year.
This is just one example I’ve witnessed through my attendance at a wide variety of Iftars this Ramadan, of faith groups coming together. It has been humbling to see people from many backgrounds finding common ground as we break the fast. London’s greatest strength is our diversity and it’s wonderful to see Londoners celebrating our capital’s different traditions, determined to stand up to division.
As a British Muslim, I am no stranger to prejudice. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against just because of your background or religion. That’s why I promise to fight racism in all its forms and will make challenging the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in recent years a priority.
In my first weeks as mayor I am proud to have signed the Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism pledge.
Sadly, for many people here in London, anti-Semitism is a very present problem. Over the past five years, anti-Semitic offenses in the capital have increased by 153 percent with 267 more offenses in 2015 compared to 2011. There are schools in London that need security simply because they are Jewish faith schools. There are places of worship that require protection simply because they are synagogues. This simply isn’t good enough.
I am adopting a strict zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and all hate crime – whether it’s on the basis of someone’s age, sexuality, gender, religion, race, nationality or disability.
I want our police officers to have the resources and training they need to investigate hate crime fully, and to ensure we have neighborhood police teams that understand and reflect the communities they serve. I am also looking at what more can be done to protect people on public transport and work with Transport for London and the British Transport Police to stamp out hate crime and reassure passengers.
We need to send the message far and wide that anti-Semitism is totally unacceptable and can never be justified, and I will be encouraging other mayors across the country and Europe to sign the pledge. We must work together to root out anti-Semitism wherever we find it – and, yes – that includes within the Labour Party.
Most importantly, I want to give victims the courage and support they need to report each and every incident.
The Community Security Trust (CST), working with our police officers, does excellent work in reassuring and encouraging victims to come forward.
One of the great things about the CST is that they have always been willing to share their knowledge and expertise to help other communities set up similar organizations, and I hope this continues.
As MP for Tooting I joined local school students on an HET trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and saw at first hand the great work of organizations like the Holocaust Educational Trust ensuring young people learn and understand what happened during this dark time. With anti-Semitism on the rise again, this work is now more important than ever.
The Board of Deputies also does fantastic work to help protect Jewish communal interests and it’s a pleasure to be able to work with them, as well as groups like Mitzvah Day, and all of London’s faith communities, to promote unity and understanding across our city.
I am proud that London is a city where, the vast majority of the time, Jewish people, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, those who are not members of an organized faith, black, white, rich, young, gay, lesbian – don’t simply tolerate each other, but respect, embrace and celebrate each other.
I want to send a message around the world by being the London mayor of Islamic faith who does more to protect Jewish Londoners from anti-Semitism than any mayor in this city’s history. Any attack on Jewish people or the Jewish community should be considered an attack on all of London’s communities and everything we stand for.
The horrific murder of MP Jo Cox is a brutal reminder that there are people who are determined to perpetuate hatred and ignorance. I knew Jo as a fearless campaigner working on behalf of some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people – her death has strengthened and renewed my own determination to fight hate crime in all its forms.
Everyone has a part to play – so let’s work together and ensure that London continues to be a global beacon of tolerance, acceptance and respect.The author is the Mayor of London.