Mayor of London candidates outline plans for capital at Jewish hustings


The leading candidates in the race to be the next mayor of London have outlined their views on issues including rising antisemitism and faith schools during the only Jewish hustings of the campaign.

Front-runners Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate, and Labour's Sadiq Khan were on the five-strong panel at the JW3 centre in north-west London.

They were joined by Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Pidgeon, Ukip's Peter Whittle and Jonathan Bartley who was standing in for Green candidate Sian Berry.

Audience members asked questions relating to anti-Israel activity, including the annual Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) on university campuses and boycott initiatives, as well as the politicians' plans to increase places for pupils hoping to attend Jewish schools.

Asked how they would act on boycotts of Israel, Mr Goldsmith said his experience of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement had left him "suspicious. It's a cover for something else".

Mr Khan added: "BDS doesn't work. I'm not in favour. I won't give a running commentary on the Middle East as mayor."

The strongest condemnation came from Mr Whittle who said that as a gay man he found it "outrageous" that Israel could face boycott calls given its prominence on LGBT rights.

There was obvious concern in the audience over IAW action at universities.

Mr Goldsmith said he would "apply pressure to universities. There is a line that's clear. When students cross the line - such as at King's College in London - the authorities need to take a zero-tolerance approach".

But he warned that social media was one of the biggest threats when it came to antisemitism. Users faced, he said, a "torrent of abuse and hatred".

Mr Khan said he condemned IAW, adding that freedom of expression was "not an absolute right".

On education, Ms Pidgeon won applause for saying: "I absolutely support faith schools, as long as they teach the curriculum."

In his opening statement, Mr Khan said he wanted to be "the best mayor Jewish Londoners have ever had. I know what it's like to be different. I know the importance of our religions to what we eat, to education, to burial, to male circumcision".

He said it was "unacceptable" that there was antisemitism in his party and said it may be necessary for Labour national executive committee members to be educated about Jew-hatred.

Asked whether his party leadership was a "help or hindrance" to his campaign, Mr Khan said he was "embarrassed and sorrowful" about antisemitism in the party and said the leadership could have done more to tackle the problem.

Mr Whittle was loudly applauded for pointing out that Mr Khan had nominated Jeremy Corbyn to be on the Labour leadership ballot.

Mr Goldsmith said he would work to help specialist schools, improve bus routes to Stamford Hill, and would back the annual Chanucah in the Square event.

He described his determination to stop London's Jews developing fears like those of the Jewish community in Paris about their future in the face of rising antisemitism.

Mr Bartley said the Greens were the "party of shalom". He praised Israel's technological developments and said the capital could benefit from similar investment.

Ms Pidgeon said it had been a "challenging debate but it's time to stop talking and start doing".

The session was organised by the London Jewish Forum and chaired by Doug Krikler. The LJF launched its manifesto for London at the event.

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