Sadiq Khan: Some Jews and Muslims don’t back me – I’ll build bridges

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Sadiq Khan: Some Jews and Muslims don’t back me – I’ll build bridges

In exclusive interview, London's new mayor sets his sights on tackling prejudice and speaks of plans to visit Israel

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Watching the commemoration in the company of the Chief Rabbi
Watching the commemoration in the company of the Chief Rabbi

Sadiq Khan has said some Muslims and Jews “don’t like the fact” he is London’s new mayor as he signalled his intention to use to his new role to build bridges between communities.

The new mayor noted the warmth with which he was received at yesterday’s Yom HaShoah commemoration where he was greeted with applause from the 3,000-strong audience at Allianz Park.

The event, his first in office, came a day after his signing-in ceremony was attended by fatih leaders including Rabbi Mark Goldsmith.

Asking how he would use his office to tackle prejudice, he told Jewish News: “We’ve got to accept there are some people who say they’re Muslim, some people of the Jewish faith who don’t like the fact I’m here. That I’m sitting next to the Chief Rabbi.

Mayor Sadiq Khan with the Chief Rabbi at Sunday's Yom HaShoah commemoration.
Mayor Sadiq Khan with the Chief Rabbi at Sunday’s Yom HaShoah commemoration.

“My message to those people is we live in the greatest city in the world and have to go get along. I’m the mayor of London, the most diverse city in the world and I’ll be everyone’s mayor. No preferential treatment but I have a role to build bridges. My signing in ceremony was deliberately designed to show the sort of a mayor I’ll be and I started as I mean to go on.”

He has previously worked with organisations – including the Coexistence Trust and Alif Aleph – that are specifically involved in Jewish-Muslim relations. “There are lots of wonderful projects going on,” he said. “I’m such a big fan of Mitzvah Day. There’s so much we can do. One of my criticism of previous mayors is they didn’t understand the power of mayor; it’s not simply the power given to you by Parliament, it’s also the pulpit of persuasion and I intend to use the powers I have to change our city for the better.”

Khan said it was a “privilege” to meet survivors and their families before taking his seat for the moving two-hour event, backed by 120 communal organisations. He had been “worried” as a communities minister about what the dwindling number of survivors would mean for passing on the memory of the Nazi horrors. But he said: “What’s great is that children were on stage today, involved in lighting candles. It’s important not just for people of the Jewish faith.”

Watching the commemoration in the company of the Chief Rabbi
Watching the commemoration in the company of the Chief Rabbi

The new mayor – who enjoyed the rendition of ‘Oseh Shalom’ by a choir of five Jewish primary schools – said: “I’m not surprised but I hope others noticed the warmth and generosity with which I was received. I think people recognise I’ve worked extremely hard to engage, to listen. For me that’s what London is all about. I don’t tolerate you – we embrace, we celebrate.”

Khan won plaudits for the energy of his campaign within the Jewish community. He also repeatedly condemned cases of anti-Semitism within his party, describing it as a “badge of shame” and was one of the first to call for Ken Livingstone’s suspension.

Asked if he’d received abuse over his clear stance, he said he had been trolled online by “all sorts of people” but pledged to continue doing “what I‘ve done all my life which is to stand up against what I think is wrong, stand up to inequality, injustice. I’m hoping during the course of my mayoralty we can address the prejudices that exist. My family’s life story from my dad coming in the 1960s – no blacks no Irish no dogs – to the city he made home electing his son to be mayor of London shows the progress we’ve made. I’m optimistic.”

He also told Jewish News during the campaign of his hopes of following in Boris Johnson’s footsteps in leading a trade delegation to Israel. “It too him seven years to get there,” he joked of his predecessor when asked when he would make good on his promise.

“I’ve not even had my first Monday at work to be fair, I’ve had six hours sleep since Wednesday. But I’m keen to make sure I’m the most pro-business mayor we’ve ever had and that means going on trade missions including to Tel Aviv.”

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