London’s new mayor makes Holocaust memorial his first official function
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London’s new mayor makes Holocaust memorial his first official function

Sadiq Khan meets with survivors, chief rabbi, Israeli envoy to UK at ceremony in north London

Britain's new London Mayor Sadiq Khan (C) shakes hands with Holocaust survivor Harry Fleming as he attends the Yom HaShoah Commemoration, the UK Jewish community's Holocaust remembrance ceremony, in Barnet, north London, on May 8, 2016.(AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)
Britain's new London Mayor Sadiq Khan (C) shakes hands with Holocaust survivor Harry Fleming as he attends the Yom HaShoah Commemoration, the UK Jewish community's Holocaust remembrance ceremony, in Barnet, north London, on May 8, 2016.(AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)

Sadiq Khan, London’s newly elected mayor and the first Muslim to head a Western capital, on Sunday made attending British Jewry’s annual memorial to the millions of Jews slain in the Holocaust his first official function in office.

Khan’s appearance at the north London ceremony came days after the end of a racially charged election campaign, during which Conservative Party opponents sought to portray him as an apologist for Islamic extremism and highlighted cases of alleged anti-Semitism within the ranks of Khan’s Labour Party.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Khan said he was “honored that my first public engagement will be such a poignant one, where I will meet and hear from Jewish survivors and refugees who went through unimaginable horrors in the Holocaust,” the Guardian reported.

The event inside a rugby stadium brought together thousands from London’s Jewish community, including more than 150 Holocaust survivors and a combined choir from five Jewish elementary schools.

“I was really privileged and moved to meet survivors of the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust as well as their children, their great-grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren,” Khan said after being mobbed by well-wishers.

The mayor wrote on Twitter after the event, which was also attended by Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis and Israel’s ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, that it was “So important to reflect, remember and educate about the 6 million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust.”

Some said they had come specifically to meet London’s first Muslim political leader. Many said they had been offended by recent anti-Israeli comments attributed to other Labour politicians, but they applauded Khan’s attendance.

“Some people have said having a Muslim mayor will mean us Jews will all have to move to Israel, but I do not think so at all,” said Mariam Mendelsohn, 78. “I think he will be good to all people. He looks like a very, very kind man. He has kind eyes.”

“Preserving the memory of the Holocaust is more important than ever before to remind us where humanity’s oldest hatred can lead,” Regev wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan talks with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Congregations of the Commonwealth ahead of the Yom HaShoah Commemoration, the UK Jewish community's Holocaust remembrance ceremony, in Barnet, north London, on May 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan talks with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Congregations of the Commonwealth ahead of the Yom HaShoah Commemoration, the UK Jewish community’s Holocaust remembrance ceremony, in Barnet, north London, on May 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)

“Israel is assaulted with the same slurs and libels that have been leveled at the Jews since time immemorial. [The] antisemitic Hamas charter reads like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, accusing Jews of orchestrating both world wars.”

London’s previous Labour mayor, Ken Livingstone, was suspended last month from the party after he claimed that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist, as a slew of anti-Semitic posts by Labour Party members surfaced.

(L-R) Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Congregations of the Commonwealth attend the Yom HaShoah Commemoration, the British Jewish community's Holocaust remembrance ceremony, in Barnet, north London, on May 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/LEON NEAL)
(L-R) Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Congregations of the Commonwealth attend the Yom HaShoah Commemoration, the British Jewish community’s Holocaust remembrance ceremony, in Barnet, north London, on May 8, 2016. (AFP Photo/Leon Neal)

Khan, in contrast, has spoken out against anti-Semitism, condemning Livingstone’s remarks and saying he had changed his mind about his 2009 call for sanctions against Israel.

The event, organized by Yom HaShoah UK, was held at the Barnet Copthall Stadium, the same location as the year before when it hosted the UK’s largest Holocaust remembrance event attended by some 5,000 people.

“Some people have said having a Muslim mayor will mean us Jews will all have to move to Israel, but I do not think so at all,” said Mariam Mendelsohn, 78. “I think he will be good to all people. He looks like a very, very kind man. He has kind eyes.”

A self-described moderate Muslim, Khan — the son of a Pakistani-born bus driver — will be the city’s first Labour mayor in eight years, taking over for Tory Boris Johnson.

Khan, who campaigned hard in the Jewish community and has said he will be the “Muslim mayor who will be tough on extremism,” according to the Standard, has criticized his party for not doing enough to fight anti-Semitism.

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