BBC Panel Debate on Whether Jews Are an ‘Ethnic Minority’ Draws Outrage From British Jews
Outrage erupted on Tuesday among British Jews and Jewish organizations after one of the BBC’s top programs, “Politics Live,” held a panel discussion debating whether Jews are an “ethnic minority,” which many deemed offensive.
The only Jewish participant on the panel, Benjamin Cohen — CEO of the LGBT publication Pink News — tweeted afterwards, “I’ve just been on the BBC’s ‘Politics Live’ where the BBC literally just asked four non-Jews if they agreed with me that Jews are an ethnic minority.”
“Imagine if I was black and four white people were asked to judge if I was a member of an ethnic minority. It would be as offensive,” he said.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the other panelists were all non-Jews, consisting of Conservative party MP Lee Rowley, Labour party peer Lord Wood, the New Economics Foundation’s Miatta Fahnbulleh, and a columnist for the Spectator magazine, Kate Andrews.
Critics concentrated in particular on the panel’s host, Jo Coburn, who mused “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.”
Cohen tweeted afterwards that this claim was “bizarre.”
The panel was held because Labour party deputy leader Angela Rayner called the new head of the party’s Scottish branch, Anas Sarwar, “the first ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK.”
Referring to Jewish former Labour leader Ed Miliband, Cohen had responded, “I guess Jews don’t count Angela? You were first elected in a general election fought by a Jewish Labour leader.”
Several Jews have held prominent positions in British politics, including the famed 19th century prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Responding to the controversy, a BBC spokesman said, “The discussion reflected the fact that many official ethnic minority monitoring forms do not include a category for Jews.”
“We ensured that Mr. Cohen’s contributions were given appropriate prominence during this discussion,” he added. “Our presenter was not sharing her own view or saying whether this was the correct view, but her job is to explore why people see things the way they do.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews released a statement saying, “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 subjected to antisemitism every day — and have been subjected to mass murder, in living memory, on the basis of their ethnicity,” the statement continued.
“Our community should expect solidarity and support,” it concluded, “not questions about whether we deserve any.”
The Campaign Against Antisemitism started a petition calling on the BBC to apologize, saying that the network would “never presume to ask” such a question about “any other British minority community.”
A spokesperson called the entire segment “outrageous” and said, “These segments show why, according to our research, two thirds of British Jews view the BBC’s coverage of Jewish matters unfavorably.”
The Westminster Correspondent for LBC radio, Ben Kentish, tweeted of the government’s response, “Boris Johnson’s spokesman unable to say whether the government believes Jewish people are an ethnic minority. Answered the question by saying the PM is strongly opposed to antisemitism.”