Crouch End Cllr Natan Doron writes about his political highlight of 2016
2016 has been a testing year for the idea of open and tolerant societies. The growing popularity of far right politicians across the world and mindless violence by extremists have driven down the currency of openness and tolerance. Those of us who believe in open societies have to fight harder than ever to convince others of the merits of our ideas.
Among the many challenges of 2016 there was one political highlight that stands out for me. It was the election of Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim Mayor of a European Capital City. Sadiq’s first official act as Mayor of London was to attend a holocaust memorial event. I’ve been privileged enough to see firsthand the friendship between our first Muslim Mayor and the Jewish community in London.
I’ve also been lucky enough to have some personal involvement in Sadiq’s efforts to showcase the tolerance and openness of London. I want to share the story of my grandfather in Sadiq’s mission and tell of how it inspired me to do my bit with some amazing people in Haringey.
Willie Myers, known to me and my family as Poppa, was a young working class Jewish lad living in the old East End of London. As he approached his 15th birthday the economy was in deep decline and people sadly looked to find scapegoats. The level of antisemitic feeling in the City was rising. Oswald Moseley and his fascists were planning a march directly through Cable Street, the heart of the Jewish Community. Willie joined thousands of fellow Jews, socialists and anti-fascists that day to deliver one clear message: You shall not pass.
The Battle of Cable Street was won and the fascists were outnumbered and did not pass. The victory struck a chord of hope and togetherness that has reverberated through the ages.
This year, as my Poppa Willie celebrated his 95th birthday he had the same message for those who want to bring hatred and division back to the streets of London: You shall not pass. London is open and we know that there’s more that unites us than divides us.
Poppa was invited to a special commemoration event to mark the 80th anniversary of the battle of Cable Street. There he was greeted as a hero by the Chief Rabbi, the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, the General Secretary of the TUC and of course, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
I sat alongside Poppa with pride as Sadiq Khan read his speech and quoted my Poppa:
“When I hear of Muslims, or Polish people, being attacked today, I feel angry. I cannot fathom out why we can’t see each other as human beings. If we’re cut, we all bleed the same.”
Sadiq Khan told the packed room that the lesson of Cable Street was that solidarity between different communities would defeat fascism, racism and hatred.
As I sat listening to Sadiq talk I made a commitment that I would do what I could in my position as an elected representative in Haringey to help build solidarity between our diverse communities.
I think we have a special responsibility here in Haringey. The Labour Party in Haringey has been right to point out that inequality in the borough is a defining factor that we as politicians have a responsibility to address. But I believe the same holds for the diversity of our residents. In increasingly fraught political times we can have such an impact by building tolerance, understanding and cooperation between different communities here in Haringey. If one of the most diverse boroughs in the country can do this we deal a massive blow to extremists all over the world.
I think we also have a duty to capitalise on some of the incredible faith leaders we have in Haringey. In a quest to find out more about interfaith work I recently went for a beer with Rabbi David Mason. As a very secular Israeli Jew I found the idea a bit scary at first. But I found an amazing person who recognised the responsibility of Jews to foster peace and tolerance as well as advocating for human rights – regardless of gender, sexuality or faith.
David then introduced me to Bibi Khan of the Wightman Road Mosque. At beginning of December 2016 Bibi was my guest at the Mayor of London’s Chanukah Party.
Bibi was welcomed as a friend by the Jewish community and we had good discussions about interfaith links in Haringey with Sadiq, the Israeli ambassador and the president of the board of deputies.
I think we have a duty to make the most of these amazing community leaders. In 2016, people who are at best careless about tolerance and human rights have been in the ascendancy. The more we fight for tolerance and respect in Haringey the stronger we become in our efforts to safeguard democracy and pragmatism.
So I’m proud that my colleague Cllr Eugene Aayisi as cabinet member for communities, with support from council leader Cllr Claire Kober and other members of the council has agreed to provide support for an interfaith network in Haringey. Indeed, I sat with many fellow Harginey councillors in Muswell Hill Synagogue recently for their civic service. Bibi Khan was there along with the Imam from the Wightman Road Mosque and leaders from other faith groups. Rabbi Mason’s beautiful sermon talked about the need for political friendship and for respectful, tolerant dialogue between different faith groups.
After the Mayor of London’s Chanukah party I got an email from Rabbi Mason saying not only did he have a great time but that he felt incredible pride at being from Haringey. With support for leaders like him I believe we can capture and multiply that effect.
In 2017 I hope that our work can showcase Haringey as an inspiration for the forces of tolerance, understanding, respect and openness all over the world.
Some links to articles in the media featuring coverage of the Cable Street anniversary including interviews with Poppa Willie Myers: