Stephen Bush

Now bring on a frank and open exchange of views — this report should be the beginning of a story

This Commission is Mercury, not Apollo, says Stephen Bush


Black history month celebration of diversity and African culture pride as a multi cultural celebration.

April 22, 2021 11:57

This Commission is Mercury, not Apollo. The aim of NASA’s Apollo missions was to put a man on the moon, and preferably to do it before the Soviet Union managed it. But the aim of the Mercury missions in the late Fifties and early Sixties was simpler: to send a manned rocket into near-Earth orbit and get it back again safely. (And this time, without sending a luckless dog or chimpanzee to a lonely death in the upper atmosphere first.)

When the Board of Deputies asked me to chair the Commission on Racial Inclusivity within our community, they were doing something unprecedented. No ethnic minority community in the UK has ever looked within itself in this manner before, and nor, to our knowledge, has any community in the diaspora. That meant that we were in a sense having to build the rocket as we flew it: and my priority, always, has been to produce tangible, deliverable recommendations that we can do ourselves as a community, including by groups that are dependent on volunteers, rather than ones that required an extensive campaign to change British law.

But while it was a challenge, it was certainly the right thing to do, and the report’s release on this year’s Stephen Lawrence Day, and in the week that George Floyd’s murderer has been found guilty, feels particularly poignant.

And while there are a lot of recommendations – almost 120, in fact – and I don’t expect that anyone will or should necessarily agree with all of them, I do honestly believe that there is something for everyone in there.

At root, the lesson of the Commission is pretty simple: Jews don’t all look one way, and we should endeavour to make our community as welcoming and inclusive as possible.

This will not just benefit Black Jews, Jews of Colour or Sephardi, Mizrahi and Yemenite Jews, but the community as a whole. Furthermore, black and Jewish people are not distinct groups, but overlapping communities, which should further bolster mutual solidarity against anti-black racism and antisemitism.

Some proposals I hope will be near-universally popular – such as the recommendation that communal organisations do more to commemorate the Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd and the departure and expulsion of Jews from the Arab countries and Iran on 30 November, or the proposal for representative bodies to encourage Jews of Colour to put themselves forward for communal roles – while others may be more challenging. But my priority has been that the proposals should be deliverable and practicable.

That’s not to say that I shied away from controversial or difficult issues – but where I found them, I aimed to draw on the existing expertise. For example, as far as the delicate issue of security in our spaces is concerned, where many of our witnesses encountered some of their most uncomfortable experiences, I have drawn extensively from the wisdom and guidance of the Community Security Trust’s work.

This report is not a tablet of stone and should not be taken as such: where people feel individual proposals don’t go far or enough or go too far, it is important and right that they should say so, which is one reason why my final recommendation is that after my Commission’s second phase is completed, someone else should look over what worked and what didn’t in as much detail as the initial report took place. After all, NASA was beaten to it by Sputnik: it was only later than they managed to catch up and win the great Space Race.

My hope and belief is that this report can be a model, not only in the ambition the Board showed in setting it up, but in the way we discuss and debate its recommendations: in a tone of frank and open exchange in order to make sure that, however this report does, that like the Mercury missions, we will look back on this as the beginning and not the end of the story.

April 22, 2021 11:57

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