London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has issued a plea to the Jewish community to report incidents of antisemitism. In conversation with Mill Hill Synagogue’s Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet on Tuesday, Mr Khan declared: “You mustn’t suffer in silence” — adding that as mayor he believed antisemitism to be everyone’s problem, not just London Jews.
In a discussion which covered all the promised subjects of “racism, Covid and congestion”, the rabbi and the Muslim mayor explored mutual aspects of their faiths. Mr Khan, who said he “cautiously welcomed” the latest aspects of easing the lockdown, was praised by Rabbi Schochet for taking a pay cut during the pandemic.
He said he had done it because “you have to lead by example, and I think you can’t disentangle life and livelihood, or health and wealth”. He said Britain was now looking at an unprecedented new level of unemployment and his ambition was to “skill up” people “looking for jobs that are no longer there”.
Asked about the changes in the capital’s congestion charge — up to £15 from £11.50 and lasting until 10pm and all weekend — Mr Khan said he had “reluctantly” accepted these conditions from the government as the price to pay for getting Transport for London up and running again. Ninety per cent of TfL’s income had dried up during lockdown, he said.
But he told Rabbi Schochet that he did not want “a car-led recovery” and emphasised that the changes, including discounts for older travellers on public transport, were “only temporary”. One battle he had won with the government, he said, was keeping free travel for under-18s on trains and buses, mindful of the knowledge that many school students, particularly those at faith schools, did not live within walking distance of their schools and relied on public transport.
Mr Khan, a Labour Party politician, spoke frankly about antisemitism and said he was “really pleased” to see the party’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, tackling the issue. He said it was as important to deal with antisemitism on social media as it was with physical incidents, and underlined that the Metropolitan Police, for which the Mayor of London is responsible, and its commissioner, Cressida Dick, had “zero tolerance” for antisemitic behaviour.
Asked by Rabbi Schochet if he believed there was systemic racism in the UK, Mr Khan said it was important to educate people that antisemitism was racism. But he added that it was necessary to show solidarity with the Black community in London, “and the fact that their problems affect all of us who care about living with each other here. We are not looking for Black people to be tolerated, but for equality of opportunity”.
Asked about his new commission to study statues in London, Mr Khan said that 15 independent advisers would be assessing not just statues, but also heritage plaques and street names, not only for racism but also for gender inequality. He was convinced that there was no place in London for memorials to slavery, he said, but said it ought to be possible, for example, “to celebrate fantastic Jewish artists or politicians”.
Rabbi Schochet asked the mayor about Middle East peace. Mr Khan used the conversation itself, which took place as part of a series of United Synagogue events, to illustrate how it was possible for people to live together in harmony. He, a Muslim, and the rabbi, together with thousands of Londoners of different faiths who had celebrated Ramadan and Chanukah together, were an example of “a beacon, to show that it is possible for us to get on. I know that there is a ripple effect of events in the Middle East on Britain, but we have demonstrated how we can join together. I do believe peace is possible.”
As the lockdown eases and Britain returns to “the new normal”, Mr Khan expressed the hope that the centuries-old experience of Islam and Judaism in dealing with disasters could offer Londoners some way of dealing with the post-Covid world. “It has cast a spotlight on the fragility of our society”, the mayor said, “and shows that we can’t afford to return to ‘business as usual’. We need to extend a helping hand to all Londoners”.
You can watch the full discussion on the Jewish News’ Facebook page:
Join Mill Hill United Synagogue and the United Synagogue for an interview with the Mayor of London on COVID-19, congestion and racism.
פורסם על ידי The Jewish News ב- יום שלישי, 23 ביוני 2020