by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2004-06-11
As London went to the ballot box on June 10 to vote for a new mayor for the capital, SomethingJewish invited all the candidates to respond to a series of questions about where they stand on general as well as specific issues. Find out what Lib Dems Simon Hughes said.
1. Why should Jewish Londoners vote for you?
For exactly the same reason that I would like all Londoners to vote for me. I am committed to working for a London United for all of its different communities. As mayor, I would actively support the community, in terms of its culture and the security of its members.
I am deeply concerned about the CST's report that showed a 15% rise in anti-semitic incidents in 2003. This situation cannot be tolerated.
As I say in my manifesto for London, all hate crimes, whether based on race or religion, are unacceptable. As mayor, one of my first priorities will be to meet with Mike Whine of the CST, along with senior police representatives, to find a rapid and permanent solution
to such appalling incidents. My commitment to more local policing, in the form of the creation of 'community police forces' for every neighbourhood will allow Officers to focus on the particular threats to the Jewish community, on a borough by borough basis. I am also
keenly aware of the community's sensitivity to the London-wide terror threat. I have laid out a 10 -point terror plan to counter the dangers which all residents of the capital face.
Clearly, the Jewish community, along with London's other communities would benefit from my policies on general issues: community policing, Tubes running until 2am on three nights a week, pedestrianising Oxford street and 1-number for all London government services. All are reforms that would improve life in the city.
2. How have you worked with Jewish Londoners (either personally or professionally)?
I know many Jewish Londoners, including many that I count as friends. Over the past twenty-five years I have worked with many Jewish Londoners, on a variety of issues, in particular in fighting anti-Semitism.
3. What do you understand about Jewish life and culture and the contribution Jews have made to London life?
London should surely be the first European city to acknowledge the contribution many peoples have made to our society over the centuries, and British Jews have been integral to this. 19 Princelet Street, in Spitalfields, is being turned into a museum celebrating the history/contribution of immigration to London, with the building having once housed Huguenot refugees and latterly been a synagogue. This will be Europe's only museum of immigration and diversity - a model for the city's new immigrant communities. I believe that it should receive the kind of Government support that it currently does not have.
It is wonderful to see the Jewish community extending its help and cooperation to other minorities, which have arrived more recently.
The Jewish Council for Racial Equality has carried out invaluable work to counter all kinds of racism, based on Jews' past experience.
The work of dialogue groups like the Council of Christians and Jews, Three Faiths Forum and the Maimonides Foundation (the latter two of which bring Jews and Muslims together), has also been inspiring. It comes as no surprise that the deputy mayor of Haifa in Israel
just came to Hackney to learn from London's Jewish and Muslim communities on how to get along, as we have much to be proud of in London.
4. If elected mayor what would you do to help promote Jewish culture in London?
I have worked closely with the Jewish community during my years as a London MP and deeply value its cultural achievements. I am committed to securing a fresh programme of cultural events for London, which would certainly promote Jewish events and initiatives. The museum in 19 Princelet Street would be one example of the kind of initiative, which would benefit.
5. What will you do to help facilitate better relations between ethnic and religious groups in London.
London's rich diversity of communities makes it the unique city that it is. I do however, recognise the potential differences that can arise between London's ethnic groups. There is no point underestimating the tensions that have arisen between the Jewish and Islamic communities as a result of ongoing problems in the Middle East.
As mentioned before, the Jewish Community has been instrumental in founding a number of inter-faith/community dialogue groups to try and foster understanding of different viewpoints. I would actively support these initiatives that already exist and create new opportunities for inter-faith dialogue, in the form of joint cultural events. The key is communication - which can lead to fuller understanding of differing viewpoints. The Jewish community would also have the opportunity to work with representatives of other religious groups together on the faith and beliefs Consultative Assembly I am proposing to set up.
6. What is your position on the conflict in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians and how do you think the situation can be resolved?
I am very concerned at the accelerating violence in the Middle East over the last couple of years. Societies on both sides are living in constant fear and without assurances for the future. I believe that the State of Israel has the right to exist in peace and security within recognised boundaries and that the Palestinians are entitled to peace, justice and a viable homeland. I would like to see the resolution of the conflict made a priority by the international community - with the USA particularly encouraging both sides to instigate the proposed Road Map to peace.
What I think is most important for a Mayor of London, is to focus on the needs and issues affecting Londoners everyday, rather than making pronouncements on international politics. So forgive me, if I leave the Middle East to those in Westminster and spend my time trying to solve housing, transport and education problems in the city.
7. There are calls by some to ban the practice of ritual slaughter of animals used for food. This practice is paramount to both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, what is your position on ritual slaughter of animals for food and do you support those who think it should be banned or those who do not want it banned.
I believe that everyone has a right to follow their personal religion without being persecuted for it, so I do not support the call to ban the ritual slaughter of animals. As I do believe that animals should suffer as little as possible during slaughter, I feel it would be useful to have a sensible dialogue between the various authorities to see if there is a way animal suffering can be minimised without compromising anyone's religious beliefs.
8. What steps will you take to ensure that the rising tide of anti-Semitism is curbed?
As Mayor I would not tolerate any hate crimes against Londoners, regardless of their race or religion. I will ensure that the police take such crimes seriously, and do all within their powers to bring the perpetrators of these appalling crimes to justice. I would also involve community leaders in more dialogue with police authorities to see if new solutions can be found to end this phenomena in our city.
9. Name some Jewish people you admire and respect and tell us why?
There are many Jewish people that I admire and respect. To name a couple, I have always admired Lord Lester of Herne Hill, particularly for his human rights campaigning and for piloting the Equality bill through the House of Lords. I have also, long admired Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks - in his commitment to bringing together the different elements of the Jewish community and initiating regular dialogue with other religious groups.
10. What is your favourite Jewish food and why?
Salt beef sandwiches would have to be one of my favourite. I remember enjoying an extremely good one earlier this year when I came to Blooms restaurant on Golders Green with some local Lib Dems and our London MEP, Sarah Ludford.