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

March 02, 2021 10:47

I'm not one of those who thinks the BBC is a den of antisemites, seizing every opportunity to do down Jews - and, thus, Israel. I was once booed at a shul meeting on BBC bias against Israel for disagreeing with a panellist on that - my view is that there is a left liberal default position in the BBC and it's that that needs tackling.

And I don't think BBC2's Politics Live yesterday was being deliberately antisemitic when it posed the question: are Jews an ethnic minority? I choose my words carefully, because while it may not have been deliberately so, my God was it actually so.

The programme is worth a watch. It starts at around 35 minutes, here.

If you had set out to find a worse, more prejudiced and more ignorant way to discuss issues around Judaism on TV, you would be hard pushed to beat Politics Live.

Prompted by a now infamous tweet on Saturday from Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, in which she hailed new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar as the first ever ethnic minority party leader - thus proving the central thesis of David Baddiel's new book, Jews Don't Count, by ignoring her own former leader, Ed Miliband - a panel of four non-Jews were asked for their thoughts. Are we real? Should we be allowed to be classified as an ethnicity?

The show had invited journalist Benjamin Cohen on to discuss the tweet, and you can see how shocked he was by the angle the programme had chosen to discuss. As he 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."

And all the while, as the discussion took place, a banner at the bottom of the screen asked, "Should Jews Count As An Ethnic Minority?". As Lee Kern, the writer whose latest Borat film has just won a Golden Globe for its puncturing of bigotry, wrote: "@BBCPolitics actually went to the trouble of creating a title card saying “Should Jews Count As An Ethnic Minority?” You absolute wankers. Please let us know how the trial went. We’ll check in along with all the other tests & prosecutions."

As if the basic question was not bad enough, at one point the host, Jo Coburn (who is herself Jewish) asked Mr Cohen a question I am still struggling to understand: "Many Jews have succeeded in reaching high political office therefore don't need to be seen as a group needing recognition in the same way as others." Yes, she really said that. Because a number of Jews have succeeded in politics, so the entire concept of ethnicity should simply be wiped away. 

The programme provoked genuine rage from across the spectrum of Judaism. Some have written about how the programme reflects the false notion that Jews are 'white' and so cannot be a proper ethnic minority - and thus antisemitism is not proper racism.

I'm sure that's right. But there is something else at work here - an arrogant ignorance that brooks no contradiction and refuses to bend.

After being the butt of criticism, the BBC's Editor of Live Political Programmes, Rob Burley, took to Twitter. His defence was, if anything, worse than the programme itself: "Today on #politicslive we covered the argument around Angela Rayner's tweet which congratulated Anas Sarwar for becoming the first ethnic minority leader of a major political party. Many pointed out that there had been Jewish leaders of political parties in the past.

"The discussion was about that tweet and moved onto the fact that according to the Government - not Politics Live! - Jews aren't an ethnic group in the UK. So, if you believe they should be, please tell Government as it's their policy."

Now, this is either a cynical lie, or reveals a cavalier ignorance so breathtaking as to call into question Mr Burley's fitness to edit anything.

He cited this document, the government's "List of Ethnic Groups".

It does not list Jews. But the document itself states: "In England and Wales, there are 18 ethnic groups recommended for use by the government when asking for someone’s ethnicity...These groups were used in the 2011 Census of England and Wales...It is recognised that these ethnic groups do not represent how all people identify."

The list only includes those ethnic groups listed in the Census. It leaves out any number of self-evidently ethnic minority groups. And as anyone with the least knowledge of this would know - or could find out in 2 minutes with Google - Jews have not been included on the Census in part because memories of the Holocaust have led to an instinctive fear of such official categorisation. There is a debate among demographers as to whether this is sensible. But it is real. And, more importantly, under equality law, Judaism is a protected ethnicity. That is pretty basic and, when wading in to an argument on this, it is astonishing Mr Burley chose not to do even cursory research beyond grabbing the first official document that seemed to back his case.

But Mr Burley's tweet is not merely false. It is vile. He and his programme made a monumental mistake with their broadcast. That has been pointed out by pretty much every Jew who has commented on it. His response, however, has not been to reflect on how they got this so wrong and apologise, saying he would learn lessons, but to say to every one who has pointed out their anger that we are all wrong - every single one of us - and he, Rob Burley, knows best.

Well, I have tried to restrain myself, but enough. Mr Burley: go to hell. 

March 02, 2021 10:47

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