Sadiq Khan must now build on his Yom Hashoah masterstroke

May 09, 2016 12:47

From eating matzah to donning a kippah and visiting charities - Sadiq Khan’s campaign to be elected Mayor of London was strewn with attempts to attract the capital’s Jewish voters.

But it was on Sunday, in one of his first official engagements since winning the keys to City Hall, that Mr Khan scored his greatest success.

Turning up at the Yom HaShoah memorial event alongside thousands of people including the Chief Rabbi and the Israeli ambassador was a PR masterstroke.

While his party – and specifically its leader – continues to sink to historic lows in the eyes of British Jews, Mr Khan grabbed not only the limelight, but also the initiative.

A Muslim politician, the son of Pakistani immigrants, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Shoah survivors? It looked good, and it felt good too. And that is not something Jews have been able to say about many Labour politicians in the past year.
Two days into the job, he has now cemented his position as the community’s go-to figure.

We will never know how many Jews backed him in last week’s election, but with more than 1.1 million votes, Mr Khan has the biggest personal mandate in the country. Now the real work begins.

Anecdotally, the Jewish community may have been warmer towards his Conservative opponent Zac Goldsmith. But the Tory’s frankly weird campaign offended most right-thinking people by initially tip-toeing around attempts to link Mr Khan to “extreme” figures, before wading in two-footed with personal attacks – with no noticeable effect at the ballot box.

Mr Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson spent eight years flattering the Jewish community with walkabouts in Golders Green and after-dinner charity speaking slots, but what did he really do for the Jews?

Sure, London’s business links to Tel Aviv are booming, but any mayor who failed to hitch the city to one of the world’s leading technology hubs would be desperately negligent.

In Mr Khan there is, perhaps a possibility for a more meaningful domestic relationship, based on shared life experiences. He has spoken of the racist abuse he has received as a Muslim, and he understands the difficulties and practicalities of religious life in multi-cultural Britain.

He should become a key ally on issues including kosher and halal food production, on circumcision, and – particularly in times of tension – a credible bridge between London’s Muslim and Jewish communities.

Critics will continue to throw at the former human rights lawyer his past legal defence of infamous Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and others, and his now desperately ill-advised decision to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for last summer’s Labour leadership ballot.

The Corbyn link will remain particularly toxic, however hard Mr Khan tries to separate himself from his party leader.

But for months Sadiq Khan has said all the right things – and now it is time for him to do them. If he does, a receptive Jewish community should respond in kind.

May 09, 2016 12:47

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