Campaign Against Antisemitism has launched a petition calling on the BBC to apologise after airing a segment on its Politics Live show titled “Should Jews count as an ethnic minority?”, a question that the BBC would never presume to ask about any other British minority community.
The segment featured four panellists and a guest, Ben Cohen, the (Jewish) Editor of Pink News, who rightly observed on air that “the notion of this debate is ridiculous”.
Host Jo Coburn suggested that “many Jews have succeeded in reaching high political office and therefore don’t need to be seen as a group needing recognition in the same way as others”, but Mr Cohen observed that Jews “face antisemitism and racism very clearly” and referenced the Labour Party’s institutional antisemitism.
Campaign Against Antisemitism has launched a petition calling on the BBC to apologise for the “ridiculous” and insensitive segment, and we have also submitted a complaint to the Corporation. The petition can be signed here.
Our Antisemitism Barometer 2020 showed that two thirds of British Jews view unfavourably the BBC’s coverage of matters of Jewish interest (including antisemitism). Given segments like these, this breathtaking finding is wholly reasonable.
The debate was stirred by the social media backlash against Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, who tweeted that Scottish Labour’s newly-elected leader is “the first ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK”.
As Campaign Against Antisemitism pointed out, historically at least four party leaders have had Jewish roots, namely Benjamin Disraeli (Conservatives), Herbert Samuel (Liberals), Michael Howard (Conservatives) and Ed Miliband (Labour). There have been minority leaders in minor parties as well, for example the controversial Salma Yaqoob of the now-defunct Respect Party (she has since joined the Labour Party).
Despite the social media criticism — which, as many have observed, Ms Rayner never hesitates to issue herself — Ms Rayner has not clarified, deleted or apologised for her tweet.
It was recently reported that Labour had opened and promptly closed an antisemitism investigation into Ms Rayner based on a complaint from Campaign Against Antisemitism. The complaint relates to Ms Rayner’s promotion of a book entitled The Holocaust Industry, in which the author claims that the American Jewish establishment exploits the Holocaust for political and financial gain. Despite the reports, we maintain our expectation of a full and transparent investigation once the independent disciplinary system, mandated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is in place later this year, and that therefore our complaint remains open.
During the 2019 General Election, the Labour Party released an advertisement stating that every minority is “worthy of equality”, but the advertisement failed to reference the Jewish community at all in what appeared to many viewers, in view of Labour’s problem with Jews, to be a deliberate exclusion.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “It is outrageous that the BBC has aired a segment on whether Jews count as an ethnic minority. The show’s own guest rightly considered the debate to be ‘ridiculous’. It is a question that the Corporation would never presume to ask of any other minority community in Britain, and it is telling that it does so in relation to the Jews. These segments show why, according to our research, two thirds of British Jews view the BBC’s coverage of Jewish matters unfavourably.
“We have submitted a complaint to the BBC and launched a petition calling on the Corporation to apologise for airing this appalling segment.
“The pretext for the debate was a tweet by Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner that airbrushed Jewish party leaders from history, despite the fact that she herself was first elected an MP while her Party was led by a Jewish person. This sort of omission does nothing to restore Ms Rayner’s reputation, which has been sullied by accusations of antisemitism. In this connection, our complaint against her remains outstanding and we await the Party’s independent disciplinary process later this year before action should be taken.”