London's Jews optimistic about first Muslim mayor

Why, despite the anti-Semitism scandal rocking his Labour Party, are London's Jews hopeful about Mayor Sadiq Khan?

Ari Soffer,

London Mayor Sadiq Khan
London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Reuters

Despite receiving a nationwide drubbing in local elections, the UK Labour Party did claim a major scalp in the UK capital, with Sadiq Khan becoming London's first-ever Muslim Mayor, ending eight years of Conservative Party control.

But while you might expect London's Jewish community to be worried - and indeed, some Jewish leaders have expressed concern over Labour's success in spite of the anti-Semitism scandal rocking the party - Jewish Londoners are in fact heartened by their newest mayor.

The race for Mayor of London - the most powerful directly-elected office in Britain - was a dirty one, with Khan and his opponent Zac Goldsmith trading barbs and accusations of racism and extremism. Khan's own past associations with a string of Islamist figures was one of the topics of controversy, which had many British Jews particularly concerned given the ongoing Labour scandal.

Khan for his part has claimed he only associated with those figures in his capacity as a human rights lawyer - a contention some have questioned - and pointed to his liberal voting record as proof that he himself is an avowed moderate.

But his past record aside, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which officially represents the UK's roughly 270,000-strong Jewish community, enthusiastically congratulated the new Mayor of London.

Noting that "his first public engagement will be the Yom HaShoah commemoration" on Sunday, the BoD expressed "hope that this will set the tone for his mayoralty's engagement with our community."

"We look forward to working with him in his new role," it added.

The UK Zionist Federation - the country's largest pro-Israel organization - also sounded an optimistic note.

"We are hopeful that he is mayor we can work with," said ZF Chairman Paul Charney.

"He is moderate and pluralistic, he has shown a clear stance against anti-Semitism in his own party, even to the extent of distancing himself from Corbyn," Charney stated.

And there is much reason for London's Jews to feel positive about their new mayor, BoD President Jonathan Arkush told Arutz Sheva.

Indeed, rather than some of his questionable past associations, London's 170,000-strong Jewish community have been far more interested in his particularly high-profile stance against anti-Semitism in general, and Jew-hated emanating from his own party in particular.

Khan's outspokenness against anti-Semitism within Labour is not to be taken for granted. As illustrated by the disturbing popularity of anti-Semitic MPs and councilors in regions - such as Bradford - with far larger Muslim communities than Jewish ones, it may well have been more politically-expedient for Khan to avoid the issue as much as possible, rather than wading in to so strongly criticize anti-Zionist extremists within his own party. London's Muslim community is similarly far larger than its Jewish population.

Echoing the BoD's official statement, Arkush - himself a Londoner - also cited the fact that the new Mayor's first official engagement will be to participate in Holocaust commemorations, and further noted that he would be sharing the podium with the UK Chief Rabbi and Israeli Ambassador in the process - a strong snub to the hard-left within the Labour Party.

"I am hopeful about him," said Arkush. "I think that in the run up to the election, he was exceptionally friendly in his dealings with the Jewish community."

"He was one of the leaders of the charges within Labour that were very critical of Jeremy Corbyn," he continued, adding that he firmly believed Khan's sentiments towards the Jewish community were sincere.

"I don't see any of that as being purely for electoral reasons," he insisted. "On the contrary, I think Sadiq Khan's commitment to genuine middle-ground politics and friendship towards all communities - certainly including the Jewish community - are entirely genuine."

Arkush went even further, voicing hope that Khan could act as a counterweight to extremist leaders within the Muslim community, and that as Mayor he could help bridge the divide between London's Jewish and Muslim communities.

"I would like to think that if Sadiq Khan indeed develops further into a moderate, tolerant, enlightened politician from the Muslim community, that he could stand as an important role model for British Muslims, who currently lack such figures. Time will tell."

Addressing the anomalous Labour victory in the capital, against the backdrop of an otherwise terrible election day for the leading opposition party, Arkush cautioned against drawing wider conclusions about the public's perception of Labour under its current far-left leadership.

"Labour was always going to win a majority in London," he noted, though he estimated the Jewish vote for a Labour candidate had likely dropped sharply, as it did on the local level. London has always been a Labour stronghold, with Khan's predecessor Boris Johnson's success hinging to no small degree on his "pure force of character," he said.

And Arkush emphasized that, overall, the British electorate had delivered a fairly resounding message against the Labour Party's current extremist trajectory - on everything from anti-Zionism, to the economy and British national security.

"Although to the Israeli press with the Labour controversy it seems like the UK is anti-Semitic, the reality is different," he insisted.

"These people who have been suspended from Labour are not new anti-Semites. Most of them were there all along - some of them are just more emboldened now to say what they are saying."

On the contrary, he asserted, the fact that they have all been suspended - if often far too slowly - and the fact that the British media and public have reacted so negatively to extremism within Labour, bodes well for the future.

And after such a disastrous local election, Corbyn's days may well be numbered.




top