Sadiq Khan has said it “pains me to my core” that many Jews have been made to feel Labour “doesn’t have their best interests at heart” and expressed solidarity with MPs facing abuse, as he made his most powerful intervention yet on the antisemitism crisis.
The Mayor of London also demanded the Labour Leadership makes a “concerted effort” to build relations with the community when he delivered the keynote address at the Board of Deputies president’s dinner last night.
He again paid tribute to the victims of the “wicked” attack at he Tree of Life Synagogue – in whose memory he attended a vigil a week ago and a Shabbat service this weekend. Saying the atrocity felt like an attack on “all of us”, he told 450 guests that antisemitism is a “fight” for all Londoners as it presents a threat to “our values, the cohesiveness of our communities”. The mayor pledged his personally support to stamp out Jew-hatred, saying he was “a Muslim mayor standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community”.
But pointing out he attended the event as a Labour politician as well as mayor, Khan referred to the “deeply disappointing collapse in trust” between much of the Jewish community and Labour’s leadership over antisemitism. He received rapturous applause as he put “on record” his support for “honourable” former parliamentary colleagues who have faced abuse – naming Luciana Berger as well as others in the room like Dame Margaret Hodge, Ian Austin and Joan Ryan.
He said: “It pains me to my core when I hear that many Jewish people now feel that a party that would normally be a natural home in our democratic process have been made to feel that it doesn’t have their best interests at heart. And even worse, Labour looks reluctant to tackle anti Semitism from within the party itself. This simply is not good enough.”
Only after an outcry did the party’s governing body accept the definition with all its examples, while adding an additional clarification on freedom to criticise Israel. But he insisted Labour should have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism “no ifs and no buts” from the start. He added: “The Labour leadership needs to make a concerted effort to rebuild the relationship. I’ll be using my influence to ensure this happens.”
He earlier told the gathering – attended by the Chief Rabbi and heads of all the main synagogue movements – “People say we need to learn from history. This is the moment we show we’ve learnt these lessons. We have to encourage people of all faiths and backgrounds to play their part, and by the way this includes politicians here and around the world. Refrain from playing to people’s worst instincts and using the language of division.”
Khan recalled his first very first engagement as mayor – the community’s Yom HaShoah commemorations – as a day “forever etched in my mind”. The “privilege” of meeting survivors and their families, he suggested, motivates him to “redouble” his efforts to tackle antisemitism.
During the speech – in which he joked about the similarities of high “parental expectations” in the Muslim and Jewish communities and how Gerald Ronson had told him he attended so many Jewish events it was time he had a barmitzvah – he also praised president Marie van der Zyl and the Board staff for “doing the community proud”, including in its interfaith work.
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, hailed the relationship between her officers and communal organisations as the “envy” of law enforcement worldwide.
She said: “We are proud to serve our Jewish citizens and communities. Every day my officers and colleagues across the country are working to protect you to the best of our abilities.”
Van der Zyl cited last week’s vigil for Pittsburgh and the Enough is Enough rally against antisemitism in Labour as evidence that “when our community comes together it is a very special thing”. The rally in Parliament Square showed “were not afraid to make a noise”, she added. She also acknowledged by name the MPs who hate stood up to abuse.
She also had a message for Jeremy Corbyn, telling him: “You know what you need to do because we’ve told you time and time again. Kick out racists. Disown your friendship for terrorists and Holocaust deniers. Enough is enough.” But she heaped praise on her “outstanding” predecessor Jonathan Arkush and the only other woman to hold the Board’s top job Jo Wagerman, who passed away last month.
The dinner was also addressed by Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, who led a minute’s silence for the 11 victims of Pittsburgh, and Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev.