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 on where they stand on general as well as specific issues. Find out what Christian Peoples Alliance candidate Ram Gidoomal said.
1. Why should Jewish Londoners vote for you?
I believe passionately that politics that ignore the spiritual cannot meet the needs of a society of human beings.
Also, in a secular age religious people must stand together. I often quote the words of Pastor Niemoller, imprisoned by the Nazi regime: âThey came for the Communists â¦ the Socialists â¦ the Union Leaders â¦ the Jews â¦ and I did not object because I was not [a Communist, a Socialist, a Union Leader, a Jew]. Then they came for me, and there was no-one left to object.â
So I am grateful that I have many supporters from Londonâs different faith communities.
Finally, I stand in the tradition of Christian Democracy, whose principles are shared by many people of many faiths. And I will fight for those principles, on behalf of everybody.
2. How have you worked with Jewish Londoners (either personally or professionally)?
I have many Jewish friends and colleagues, such as Gerry Acher CBE, and Michael Brandon who accorded me the privilege of being one of a handful of non-Jewish guests invited to the 300th anniversary of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City â a truly memorable experience, and the first time I ate a salt beef sandwich â very tasty!
In speaking to Jewish politicians, I have learned that we share many common interests. For example, I remember once sharing a taxi with Harry Cohen MP and the late Bernie Grant MP was also with us. We had a valuable discussion about ethnic issues.
3. What do you understand about Jewish life and culture and the contribution Jews have made to London life?
I appreciate the contribution, because I value the cultural diversity of London to which Jews have contributed so much. I am struck by the often remarkable similarities between the experiences of the London Jewish community and my own Sindhi community â something that I noticed first when watching Fiddler on the Roof.
I have many links with the Jewish community. When we arrived in Britain in 1967 my family ran a small corner shop in Shepherds Bush; our next door neighbour was a Jewish tailor who became a good friend. My wife was born, and grew up, in Golders Green, attended the Henrietta Barnet School, and is still in touch with many of her school friends.
And several of my relatives have businesses in Whitechapel Road and the East End, where they also have good relationships with Jewish neighbours and colleagues.
4. If elected mayor what would you do to help promote Jewish culture in London?
I will appoint Jewish trade ambassadors for London to bring investment into London from Jewish investors and their other Diaspora connections. This is part of a wider scheme drawing on all the ethnic communities.
I will make sure Jewish culture has its due proportional share in cultural and arts promotions that I will undertake, and that development of traditionally Jewish areas of London such as Mile End, Golders Green etc pays due respect to Jewish buildings, organizations and residents.
5. What will you do to help facilitate better relations between ethnic and religious groups in London?
I am guided by the emphasis in both Jewish and Christian Scriptures on the responsibility to love and care for aliens in oneâs country.
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 do not claim to be the first person to have discovered an easy answer to this. Let me say first that I oppose all trade boycotts and economic discrimination against the Jewish State; as Mayor I will find ways of strengthening trade relations between London and Israel.
Because I come from a bitterly divided country myself, South Asia, I deeply sympathise with the victims of this tragic conflict. I am deeply suspicious of the intentions of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, among other radical groups, and I suspect that in fact the West is turning a blind eye to their declared will to destroy Israel.
But there are no shortcuts; just the hard work of peace initiatives, reconciliation and so on. (I was particularly impressed by an Arab/Israeli youth polar expedition that was launched last year, an ideal opportunity for antagonists to work side by side on neutral territory and hopefully begin to understand each other.)
Also, one cannot hand down solutions from the top. Solutions must come from local communities through local accommodation, and that should influence government.
7. They 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.
There are many religions in London and each has its own observances. All who live in a nation state must obey the laws of that state, and consequently legal action is needed where a religion observes practices in ways which are against the law in Britain, though they be legal elsewhere.
Mutual accommodation and respect, where possible, are needed. Ritual slaughter has been carried out in Britain legally, and in strictly-monitored premises, for a long time. Religious liberty demands that such practices be respected and so I would oppose measures that threaten the legality of kosher food. However, this should not stop valid prosecutions (through, for example, EU hygiene directives) of practices carried out that inhumanly or outside of the highest standards observed for kosher and halal food.
8. What steps will you take to ensure that the rising tide of anti-Semitism is curbed?
This will be part of my policing plan for London. I will enforce a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and against violence of any kind. I will seek the same right to respect for all religions that I would expect for Christianity. I will also take steps to ensure that ethnic awareness and understanding is a major educational emphasis and is promoted in all possible other ways.
Anti-Semites need to know that they will never win, and that their actions can never change Londonâs record of tolerance. As Mayor I will declare my support for the liberty of all citizens in London, and will state that I will never support any action that compromises the security of Israel and Jewish citizens wherever they live, Terror and hatred must never be allowed to gain political objectives or change peopleâs attitudes towards the Jews.
9. Name some Jewish people you admire and respect and tell us why?
Thereâs a long list! Here are a few of them.
Ben Kingsley, of course, who played Gandhi in Attenboroughâs film and brought a consummate depth to the portrayal: as one whose family lived through the events of the film, I am grateful for so powerful an advocate for all who suffered.
Harold Abrahams, whose story told in Chariots of Fire, is another I admire.
While reading physics at Imperial College I developed a reverence for Einstein, and often wished I could rise to his achievements â fortunately, my career went in a different direction and I was never judged by those high standards!
In politics there are many Jews to admire, though I do not agree with every single on of their policies! Henry Kissinger, Michael Howard, and Malcolm Rifkind are three for a start.
From entertainment, I will just single out two: Ben Eltonâs stand-up comedy has always had that edge of angry moral outrage that marks true satire, and I admire his achievements in the West End particularly as I am a founder Board Member of a forthcoming West End fusion musical, âThe Far Pavilionsâ (where incidentally, Shimon Cohen has been helping with PR),. Maureen Lipmann brilliantly exploits all the clichÃ©s of Jewish comedy but somehow avoids making them clichÃ©s â maybe because, as with Woody Allen, there is a serious subtext to all her humour.
In the media, Melanie Phillips is an unfailingly acute observer with a moral perspective that is clear and rooted in absolute moral truth. I enjoy her as a writer and admire her uncompromising defence of positions that are often unpopular.
Finally, Abraham, Moses and the Patriarchs are names with which Jews and Christians are so familiar that itâs easy to forget the monumental scale of their faith, their courage and their vision. Itâs good to go back to the Scriptures once in a while and try to see these great men as if one had never read about them before.
10. What is your favourite Jewish food and why?
I do like salt beef. But another Jewish food I enjoy is falafel. It reminds me of favourite foods in my own culture!