A civil servant who works in a Whitehall Department attended a talk last year delivered by the Head of Human Resources (HR) of their unit. During the talk, the speaker, who is themself from an ethnic minority, said that when they worked at a different Ministry, they were the only senior leader from an ethnic minority.
In the question and answer segment at the end of the presentation, the civil servant gently raised the point that the Permanent Secretary of that Ministry at the time was Jewish, but the Head of HR brushed away the civil servant’s comment, claiming that they had merely been talking about senior leadership in the HR department, which apparently was clearly not the case.
The civil servant, who has understandably requested anonymity, followed up the incident with an e-mail to the Head of HR who delivered the presentation and also wrote separately to the CEO of the Department. The civil servant, who is Jewish, was then told that they had acted in a “shocking” manner and that the query had “felt like an attack”. The civil servant later spoke again to the Head of HR who told them, in no uncertain terms, that they did not view Jews as an ethnic minority.
The civil servant felt that the incident caused them considerable distress and discomfort at their place of work, without recourse to the very department – human resources – that should be available in such circumstances. Moreover, they felt that their ethnic identity had been marginalised and belittled.
The civil servant occupied a relatively junior position in the civil service at the time and, notwithstanding the professional risks, spent some time trying to resolve this issue with senior management, to no avail. No apology was forthcoming and the senior management refused to acknowledge that any mistake had been made, even as certain leading figures in the unit were recognised across the larger organisation for their work on inclusion and diversity.
The civil servant was in contact with their union before turning to Campaign Against Antisemitism for additional support and guidance.
Having exhausted every avenue for resolving the issue informally, the civil servant proceeded to submit a formal complaint.
Almost a year after the original incident, the civil servant did finally receive an apology from the Chief Executive of the unit, but it only related to the distress that was caused and still did not address the original incident or the substance of the matter.
After a further delay of several months, the civil servant was told by the unit’s new Head of HR that antisemitism would be addressed better in future, including promotion of antisemitism training among senior leadership, and making efforts to ensure that Judaism is recognised as an ethnic minority.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism: “Whether it is overt racism towards Jewish people or more subtle aggressions that make Jews feel marginalised or belittled, no industry is immune to antisemitism.
“It is particularly alarming when these incidents arise in the context of HR or diversity and inclusion programming, as these resources are meant to protect all employees, especially those from minority backgrounds. Those tasked with providing these services should be more attuned than anyone to the sensitivities of inclusion and discrimination and to the support that vulnerable employees may require. Clearly those services failed in this case.
“This civil servant courageously pursued the matter to the end, and we are pleased to have provided them with support in doing so. It is regrettable that it took so long for lessons to appear to be learned by those in positions of authority, and time will tell if they have been. We hope that by publicising this incident, others with responsibility for the wellbeing of those in the civil service or any other industry will take heed.”
If you have been the victim of antisemitism and require assistance, please e-mail us in confidence at [email protected] or call +44 (0)330 822 0321.
Image credit: Can Pac Swire