London’s newly elected Muslim mayor paid respect Sunday to the millions of Jews slain in the Holocaust as his first public engagement in office — and received a hero’s welcome from London’s Jewish community at the end.
Sadiq Khan attended the north London ceremony following a racially charged election campaign during which Conservative Party opponents sought to portray him as an apologist for Islamic extremism and to highlight cases of alleged anti-Semitism within the ranks of Khan’s Labour Party.
The annual Holocaust memorial event inside a rugby stadium brought together thousands from London’s Jewish community, including more than 150 Holocaust survivors and a combined choir from five Jewish elementary schools. Khan attended alongside Lord Levy, one of Labour’s most senior Jewish supporters and the party’s former lead fundraiser.
“I was really privileged and moved to meet survivors of the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust as well as their children, their great-grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren,” Khan said, after being mobbed by well-wishers.
Some said they had come specifically to meet London’s first Muslim political leader. Many said they had been offended by recent anti-Israeli comments attributed to other Labour politicians, but they applauded Khan’s attendance.
London’s previous Labour mayor, Ken Livingstone, was suspended last month from the party after he claimed that Adolf Hitler had supported the Zionist aim of establishing Israel. Livingstone, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2008, has defended his comments and has vowed to fight potential expulsion from Britain’s main opposition party.
Rabbi Avraham Pinter, principal of London’s Yesodei HaTorah, told Hamodia that despite recent controversy regarding the Labor Party, he looked positively on Khan’s election.
“There are clearly quite a few people in the Labor party with negative views about Jews, but he is not one of them. In fact, he was the first one to publicly denounce Livingstone after his shocking comments, and said that there is no place for such views in the Labor party” he said, adding that his election could help make inroads in combating anti-Semitic views in the Muslim community as well. “I think that he will be able to address these issues and work against stereotyping and the like. He recognizes that it exists and is not denying it.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has established an independent inquiry into the extent of anti-Semitic views within party ranks. The left-wing party traditionally has sympathized with Palestinian demands for nationhood and adopted a critical line on Israel.
“Labour is an anti-racist party to its core and has a long and proud history of standing against racism, including anti-Semitism,” Corbyn said when establishing the fact-finding probe April 29. It is supposed to recommend party reforms including sanctions against members who adopt bigoted positions.
Rabbi Pinter, who met the new mayor when he visited Yesodei HaTorah on a campaign trail stop, said that he expected Khan to be supportive of the Orthodox community in ongoing issues such as shechitah and kvod hameis, and protection of mosdos hachinuch.
“We have been having a lot of problems from organizations pushing a secularist agenda,” he said. “I think that having a religious person with respect for religious values will be a real plus. The fact is that our communities have many common needs.”
Updated Sunday, May 8, 2016 at 6:59 pm with comments from Rabbi Pinter, principal of London Yesodei HaTorah school