Saturday 6 March 2021

"Should Jews count as an ethnic minority?"


To recap: 

This week BBC Two's Politics Live discussed Angela Rayner's remarks about the new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar being the "first-ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK", even though that honour belongs to Benjamin Disraeli, with three other Jewish UK party leaders to follow. 

The issue was discussed by Jewish host Jo Coburn, four new-Jewish studio guests and, via video link, an increasing appalled Benjamin Cohen of Pink News. 

The programme provoked outrage by running a banner across the screen asking "Should Jews count as an ethnic minority?", and Jo herself added to the outrage by suggesting "Many Jews have succeed in reaching high political office and therefore don't need to be seen as a group needing recognition". 

You would think the answer to the 'big question' is obvious: Jews account for a mere 0.3% of the UK population and around 0.2% of the world population and have suffered a surge in antisemitism in recent years, having previously faced an industrial-scale attempt to exterminate them in their entirety as a race within living memory. 

But voices on the left and many identity politics practitioners, as summed up by Jo's point, increasing see Jews as a group with power - an old and deadly antisemitic trope - and some even see them as white and, therefore, not an ethnic minority needing protection.

The imbalance of the panel was another thing that provoked outrage. People asked: Would LGBT issues or BLM issues be discussed with one LGB or T person or one black person on the panel against 4 non-LGBT and 4 non-black people? 

Matters got worse when Rob Burley, the BBC's editor of live political programmes, sent out a ham-fisted, insensitive, three-tweet defence of the programme in Twitter: “According to the Government — not Politics Live! — Jews aren’t an ethnic group in the UK,” he wrote, misunderstanding government statistics and failing to grasp that there are good, historical reasons why Jews haven't been included in that list or spotting on the very page he linked to that the Government is considering adding them to the census this year.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews put out a statement in response:

We were disappointed by the lack of sensitivity shown by the BBC as regards this discussion. Jews, regardless of whether they are at all religious or not, are subject to antisemitism every day - and have been subjected to mass murder, in living memory, on the basis of their ethnicity. Our community should expect solidarity and support, not questions about whether we deserve any.

There are a lot of good article about this, and I'd recommend the following to begin with:

New Statesman: Debating whether Jews are an ethnic minority is a familiar mistake by BBC Politics Live. The programme’s handling of issues of race and diversity, as well as matters of simple fact, is consistently poor, writes Stephen Bush.

Spiked: Anti-Semitism has been mainstreamed. That’s why the BBC ended up running a debate about whether Jews count as an ethnic minority. Apparently, the relative success of *some* Jews makes this a valid question. How depressing, writes Rakib Ehsan.

Jewish Chronicle: The BBC's defence of Politics Live is almost worse than the show. Rob Burley, editor of Politics Live, has effectively told Jews he knows better than us who we are, writes Stephen Pollard.

Melanie Phillips: Are Jews an ethnic minority? Is the BBC a broadcaster? Another antisemitism row illuminates once again public ignorance about the Jewish people, writes Melanie Phillips.

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