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Stand together on Holocaust Memorial Day

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Nicky Gavron Nicky Gavron Labour

This month we will mark Holocaust Memorial Day. In light of the recent cases in London of an attack on a rabbi and anti-Jewish graffiti smeared across synagogues, will you join me in condemning those responsible and calling on all Londoners to stand in solidarity against racist and anti-semitic abuse?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The recent spate of anti‑Semitic crimes we have seen in London, New York and elsewhere have made me sick to my stomach and I condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Anti‑Semitism or hate crime of any kind has absolutely no place whatsoever in our city. I have been clear throughout my administration that we take a zero‑tolerance approach to anti‑Semitism and other hate crimes in London. I encourage those who witness or suffer hate crimes to report it immediately.

History warns us of the dangers of allowing anti‑Semitism to fester and it is clear that right now we need to be urgently redoubling our efforts to root it out of our society, no matter where it rears its ugly head. While the solidarity shown by London’s many communities in condemning the attacks on our Jewish neighbours is welcome, it is also incumbent on us to do everything we can to prevent those who wish to divide us from succeeding.

Earlier this week at Google’s London offices, I launched the Shared Endeavour Fund, which will provide grants for local projects designed to strengthen communities and encourage Londoners to stand up to hate, intolerance and extremism. I will continue to stand shoulder‑to‑shoulder with the Jewish community, which makes an invaluable contribution to London. Indeed, I was proud to stand with Jewish Londoners including Assembly Member Gavron to celebrate Hanukkah in the Square last month and I look forward to welcoming survivors and community members to the Holocaust commemoration at City Hall next week.

We must never forget the horrors of the past and, as we see anti‑Semitism and far‑right extremism on the rise again, it is more important than ever that we stand together against this hatred, uphold our values and celebrate our diversity. That is why yesterday I pledged £300,000 to the Auschwitz‑Birkenau Foundation in Poland to help preserve this hugely important site and I announced my attendance at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz‑Birkenau later this month.

Photo of Nicky Gavron Nicky Gavron Labour

Thank you so much, Mr Mayor, for that answer. It has great personal resonance for me. I know from my own personal family history how important it is to stand up against prejudice and persecution. Some of my family were rounded up and deported, first to the Łódź ghetto and then to Auschwitz. Not all survived. My grandparents, who were schoolteachers in Berlin when the roundups came, were tipped off by former pupils every time and went into hiding.

Now, we learn from the past how important it is to speak out and to be in solidarity with fellow citizens, but for those who witness on the streets or on their commutes racial abuse and anti‑Semitic abuse, it is not easy to intervene. It is important, but it is hard. I was very encouraged by the report in November [2019] of the very brave Muslim woman, Asma Shuweikh, who intervened on the Tube to challenge when racist abuse was being hurled at a Jewish family.

You have said some of this, but how are we going to help Londoners to know not just when they should intervene and that they should, but how they should intervene?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Firstly, thank you for sharing just a part of your family’s story, I know how difficult it is. I personally have learned so much and grown so much from talking to Holocaust survivors and their families. We can learn from the past. You mentioned examples of the solidarity shown by your grandparents’ pupils in relation to what happened in the 1930s. There were also many people, by the way, who stood by and did nothing. Some actively supported the actions of the Nazis and other extremists.

There are lessons to be learned today. There are some who are brave, like the woman you referred to. She is a Londoner. She is a Muslim, yes, and she is a Londoner who stood up to the anti‑Semite who was so abusive to those Jewish people on the Tube train, and who is also a Londoner, by the way, as well.

We also know that there are Londoners who stand in silence or actively support or encourage or condone or mainstream the actions of far‑right groups as well. We have to learn the lessons from the past and that is why it is really important to show solidarity with minorities. By the way, the Jewish community is a minority. We need to show solidarity with them.

My advice would be, obviously, not to put yourself in harm’s way, but we should show solidarity when we can, whether it is standing up to a bully, a racist, an anti‑Semite or an extremist.

One of things we have tried to do with this Shared Endeavour Fund is to realise that the communities know best sometimes what to do in relation to spotting a vulnerable person and giving them the resilience and support they need to divert them away from the wrong path, but also to give people the confidence and the tools to challenge some of these messages as well. That is why we have done this with the Shared Endeavour Fund. By the way, this is as a result of lots of research we did listening to and speaking to experts, both experts from the so‑called far right and also experts from the so‑called Islamist fanatics as well. It is really important that we learn lessons from the past and it is at our peril if we do not.

Photo of Nicky Gavron Nicky Gavron Labour

I want to say that your efforts and your initiatives this week, particularly that you have just announced to combat prejudice in society, are really welcome. The contribution to the Auschwitz‑Birkenau fund and also the fact that you are you are going there for the 75th anniversary of the liberation is very symbolic.

As for Shared Endeavour ‑ and I noticed that Google has also contributed to Shared Endeavour, which is good news ‑ when we think about it, those tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter all are implicated in spreading extremism online. Are you going to go on challenging them to take responsibility for the content they host?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

This is a 21st‑century challenge. When you talk about your grandparents’ experience, ask yourself how the messages of hate were spread and what the mediums were. Unmesh Desai [AM] sitting next to you fought against the National Front (NF) with many others in the 1970s and 1980s and then the British National Party (BNP). How were the messages of hate from those far‑right groups spread?

It is a million miles away from what can happen now. You can, in your bedroom, by typing some buttons, spread a message of hate that is seen around the world. Also, you have seen in real time terrorists filming some of their actions, which are shown in real time and terrorise the rest of us around the world across oceans and thousands of miles away.

Social media platforms have a massive responsibility. They can and should be doing much more. I have talked about how they need to be doing more. I have challenged them. I have criticised them. I even went to South by Southwest (SXSW) to speak to the giants in relation to the responsibilities they have. I gave credit, by the way, to the current Chancellor [of the Exchequer] when he was Home Secretary, [The Rt. Hon] Sajid Javid [MP], for the work he has done in this area as well. They can and should be doing more.

Google deserves credit. Google has stepped up to help us in relation to the issue of violent crime and how sometimes gangs can use social media to spread hate, provoke and retaliate, but also in relation to hate crime, whether it is investing in artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms or hiring staff. They have match-funded us in relation to the work we are doing. I support that.

We are speaking to other businesses about what more they can do, not just the tech giants, to take down the hateful messages. Also, the private sector should be contributing towards the fight against extremism, intolerance and prejudice as well.

Photo of Jennette Arnold Jennette Arnold Labour

Thank you very much. Assembly Member Gavron, we are humbled by the contribution that you have made here this morning. Thank you so much for the dignity that you displayed in raising a question that is so close and dear to you and for reminding us again about the challenges that our Londoners face every day. On Monday, as Members will know, but I just want to make that announcement, the Assembly and the Mayor will show our solidarity at our annual Holocaust service. I am sure it will be the usual very moving event here on Monday morning. Thank you so much for that.