Sadiq Khan: Cable Street offers ‘roadmap’ to defeat extremism
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Sadiq Khan: Cable Street offers ‘roadmap’ to defeat extremism

The London Mayor addressed the community to mark the 80th anniversary of the confrontation with Oswald Mosely's blackshirts

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Sadiq Khan has said the way communities came together to repel fascism at Cable Street offers a “roadmap” for defeating extremists, as Jewish leaders and politicians came together to mark the battle’s 80th anniversary.

The community’s gathering was part of a series of events eight decades after a planned march through a Jewish area of the East End by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists was thwarted. Police had planned to allow the march to proceed on 4 October 1936 but it was later cancelled after 20,000 Jews, socialists and trade unionists took to the streets to set up barricades – a landmark moment in the fight against racism.

The London mayor said British Jews should be “proud” of the events of that day, whose message he said is as relevant today as then.

“It’s so important to recognise that history tells us there are people who would divide our communities – and history tells us the roadmap to defeat them,” he told the Jewish News. “Solidarity, people coming together, building bridges rather than walls. Some of the people we met today were there and we should recognise the huge contribution to London as we know it now.”

The gathering at Shoreditch Town Hall, close to the scene of the famous battle, was organised by the London Jewish Forum and Jewish Leadership Council and media partnered by Jewish News. Guests included MPs John Mann and Stephen Timms, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, local couccillors and Sir Trevor chinn, the inspiration behind the ceremony.

The Chief Rabbi hailed their “bravery and heroism” of those who took to the streets, 80 years after Jewish leaders urged people to stay at home. “It was here that we learnt the lesson of the power of unity. So many individuals, groups and families gained added strength from the numbers of people who poured on to the streets,” said.

“Eighty years after Cable Street, our society continues to be threatened by those who wish to destroy the stability and harmony within our ranks. And today we are particularly concerned with the rise of antisemitism. There should be no place for such sentiment or such actions – we need to have zero tolerance for racism, for xenophobia, for antisemitism, within each and every political party, there should be zero tolerance for antisemitism, and so too within the nation’s institutions and organisations.”

Ruth Smeeth spoke of her grandmother collecting rotten fruit to use as missiles during the battle, while Reform Movement senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner referred to her grandfather’s service to the area as MP for Whitechapel.

She said: “Today’s not a commemoration. Today’s a call to action. It’s a shofar blast. The Battle of Cable Street is not over. It’s now our turn to show a fraction of the courage shown by these veterans with us today. They showed hateful extremism wouldn’t be tolerated then. We must show that it never will be. This is our inheritance.”

MP Rushanara Ali spoke of her pride at representing an area “that is what it is because of the struggle particularly of the British Jewish community against fascism and anti-Semitism”, while LJF chair Adrian Cohen recalled the Battle led to the Public Order Act requiring a police license to march and the banning of paramilitary uniforms in political demonstrations.

He said: “Racist, misogynistic, homophobic or anti-Semitic prejud0ces ar not confined to fascist, although fascists tend to be more over and deliberate in their articulation of them. But we must all work together to resist our body politic across the spectrum from left to right becoming infected by ideologies of extremism and intolerant ways of behaving.. A Particular responsibility lies with our political leadership to address this.” Guests signed a pledge to tackle all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Photos by Marc Morris 

Meanwhile, thousands marched through the East end past the famous cable street mural, as part of an event organised by an assortment of organisations including the Unite union. Among them was a group from the Jewish labour Movement, who sung the Hatikvah and Odom Olam as they went.

Jeremy Corbyn, who learnt about the Battle from his mother Naomi who was there at the time, spoke of the “deep personal significance” of the historic event. “The principles that brought those people on to the streets runs through my DNA. Be in no doubt – I will never turn my back on those values. I will fight against those who today aim to drive a wedge between us and our communities.

“Our Labour Party will fight those who wish to scapegoat and blame migrants for the economic failures of this Government. If you’re a migrant, Jewish Muslim, Lesbian or Gay, our movement will not stand by. We will stand up and protect you just as our forefathers and others did 80 years ago.”

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