Laura Janner-Klausner

Sadiq is not just ‘a Muslim mayor’, as I’m not just ‘a female rabbi’

It was a Twitter abuse magnet for anti-Semites and Islamophobes alike.  We were asked to pose for a photo, the Senior Rabbi and the new Muslim Mayor. It set a positive example, but we still must look at what lies beneath the surface of many communities in Britain.

The recent jolt regarding antisemitism within politics has alarmed us all, and the perpetrators have righty been condemned. However, we need to cast our gaze wider. We need to consider how all of us in Britain view those from other communities about whom we know very little, but assume a lot.

Last week, I went to Bradford to learn more about Muslim communities in the Britain, what their views are of Jews, and how we might all improve our opinion of ‘the other’ – those we don’t see as the same as us.

My first meeting was with a group of 15 Muslim women. It looked like the usual ‘tea and samosas’ dialogue that we often engage in – It’s soft, it’s friendly, it’s basically good. But it doesn’t move us on or help us really tackle the prejudices within us.

I changed things by inviting these women to ask me any questions they liked. Bradford Muslims’ views of Jewish people have been formed through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a perspective likely to leave a bitter aftertaste. There were questions about Jewish power and wealth, and about Israel.

One of the women, Sobia, who asked questions most vociferously, invited me for dinner at her family home. Through difficult conversations, robust relationships are made. I believe that what happened during my stay in Bradford was a small shift both for me, and for those Muslims with whom I met.

I will return to Bradford and continue working with Sobia, her family, the Bradford Jewish community, local Christians, and all those who want to build better understanding between people in Britain. We need to talk about difficult subjects that divide us, such as Israel and religious extremism. I am partnering with other Jews and Muslims to start a practical initiative in Bradford that can be spread throughout the country. I invite others to join me in this.

I believe that Sadiq Kahn is a man with ideas and ideals. We should immediately see beyond his ethnicity. To see him as ‘the first Muslim mayor’ is to continue to see me as ‘a female religious leader’. When we see each other as ‘the mayor who happens to be Muslim’ and the ‘Senior rabbi who happens to be female’, we’ll have taken a step towards the bigger goal – building a Britain where we see ourselves first as human beings, and we then discuss the issues that divide us.


About the Author
Rabbi Janner-Klausner grew up in London; worked as an educator in Jerusalem for 15 years working with Jews and as dialogue facilitator trainer of Palestinians and Israelis. She is the former Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism in the UK and is now a qualified inclusion and development coach
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