LONDON (JTA) — With half of the votes counted in London’s local election, Sadiq Khan of Labour maintained a strong lead over the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith.
The son of a British Jewish father, Goldsmith, who does not identify himself as a member of the Jewish community, was seen as having conducted a lethargic campaign but was nonetheless expected to give Khan, a Muslim from a Pakistani immigrant family, stiff competition because the election Thursday was held in the shadow of a spiraling scandal within Labour involving accusations of anti-Semitism.
But Khan was nonetheless seen as poised to become London’s first Muslim mayor on Friday afternoon, after half of the millions of votes cast were counted, London’s Evening Standard reported. The daily did not specify by how much Khan was leading Goldsmith.
Concerns about anti-Semitism in the Labour party surfaced last summer, when Jeremy Corbyn — a far-left politician who called Hezbollah and Hamas activists his “friends” in 2009 — was elected to head the party. The anti-Semitism scandal began in earnest early this year amid claims that Jews were targeted at its chapter at Oxford University. Since then, at least 19 Labour officials have been suspended from the party for making statements deemed offensive to Jews or vitriolic about Israel.
Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor for Labour who until recently represented the party in parliament, was suspended for saying that Hitler was a Zionist before he “went mad” and killed six million Jews. He made the remark – which he has refused to retract – in defense of another Labour politicians, a lawmaker, who was suspended for making a related argument.
The latest suspension, The Jewish Chronicle reported, was of David Watson, a fundraiser, over Facebook posts in which he said Zionism was racist and that Israel was comparable to the Islamic State terrorist group.
During his campaign, Khan condemned Livingstone’s remarks, and said he had changed his mind about his own 2009 call for sanctions against Israel.
Khan “could not have done more than he has to address the concerns of the Jewish community on anti-Semitism and engage with it — from attending a mock seder where he donned a kippah to meeting charities and kosher shoppers in north London,” Justin Cohen, news editor for London’s Jewish News, told JTA Friday.
The Jewish community will be looking to see whether Khan is “making good on his expressed interest to take a trade delegation to Israel,” as outgoing mayor Boris Johnson has done, Cohen said.
On Thursday morning, hundreds of voters, including Britain’s chief rabbi and his wife, were turned away from polling stations in a heavily Jewish borough of London. The disappointed voters in Barnet, which votes overwhelmingly for the Tory Party, were told their names did not appear on the lists of registered voters, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
The North London borough’s council later announced that the polling stations were provided with updated lists and those voters could return to the polls, but many said they would be unable to.