It isn’t unusual for politicians campaigning for office to participate in ethnic or religious groups’ events. And during the recent London mayoral campaign, candidate Sadiq Khan went out of his way to court the Jewish community. A yarmulke on his head, he attended a Seder and met with shoppers at a kosher market.
Mr. Khan was also the first British Labor MP to denounce the anti-Israel (and, many contend, anti-Semitic) comments of his predecessor and fellow Laborite Ken Livingstone. He said Livingstone’s comments were “appalling” and had “no place in our party.”
Such things are considerably more significant in the context of a British election than in America. There are 10 times as many Muslims in the U.K. than Jews and so, unlike here in the U.S., there is no great price a politician in Britain will pay for ignoring the Jewish community. Yet, Mr. Khan chose to reach out to it.
More significant still, after he had been elected mayor of London, Mr. Khan, a practicing Muslim, chose — in fact, it was his first official act — to attend the U.K.’s Holocaust Memorial ceremony, where he said he was honored to “meet and hear from Jewish survivors and refugees who went through the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust” and spoke of the importance of “educating the next generations about the Holocaust.”
He also has pledged to visit Israel in order to foster commercial connections between his city and the Jewish state. That stands in stark contrast to the rabid anti-Israel sentiment that has come to be associated with many voices in Labor. In fact, some 50 leading members of the party — including Mr. Livingstone — have been purged from the party for slandering Israel.
Pointedly, Mr. Khan’s participation in the Holocaust gathering took place the day after Mr. Livingstone, who has called the creation of Israel “a great catastrophe,” repeated his bizarre contention that Hitler was a Zionist.
It seems clear that Mr. Khan is not the sort of person who might have first come to many minds at the phrase “Muslim politician.”
Considering that more than 12% of Londoners are Muslims and that the British capital is a Labor Party stronghold, it shouldn’t be shocking that Mr. Khan was elected mayor, or even that he won with a 13.6 percent margin of victory, the widest in a London mayoral election in 16 years. Still and all, a European capital with a practicing Muslim mayor — Mr. Khan prays and fasts and has made the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca — is undeniably remarkable. And that the mayor is someone like Mr. Khan, undeniably encouraging.
Before he was elected to Parliament, where he served for 11 years, Mr. Khan worked as a human rights lawyer and, par for that course, he advocated for some odious people — including Louis Farrakhan, who was barred from entry to Britain. But Mr. Khan bore no brief for Farrakhan’s racism and anti-Semitism, though, explaining that “even the worst people deserve a legal defense.” (The ban was overturned, but then reinstated on appeal.)
During the mayoral campaign, as might have been expected, Mr. Khan’s opponent, Zack Goldsmith, made sure that the public was aware of that unattractive baggage. But Mr. Khan, both during the campaign and after his election, has acted and spoken in ways that support the contention that “moderate Muslim” is not an oxymoron.
What is more, Mr. Khan, the fifth of eight children born to a bus driver and seamstress who immigrated to England from Pakistan, is an example for Europe’s Muslim population of how a person can be both a practicing Muslim and a responsible and successful member of a free, politically and ethnically pluralistic society.
Such examples are vital, especially with Muslim populations growing both from within and through immigration to Western countries, including our own. As Mr. Khan told a magazine, the best way to fight extremism is to “say to youngsters you can be British, Muslim and successful.”
No one can know what the future holds, whether London’s new mayor will indeed prove himself a beacon of light guiding other Muslims less inclined to good will than he. He has already been the target of Islamist death threats for his “liberal” views.
But British Jews, and all Britons of good will, are hoping that the new mayor will continue on the path he has trod, draw other Muslims to follow in that path and be successful in his endeavor to meet the needs of all Londoners.
We join in that hope.