The Board of Deputies’ Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community has been criticised for appearing to prioritise the experience of black Jews over other Jews of colour.
Dr Sanjoy Mukherjee-Richardson said its draft terms of reference seemed to be “downplaying” the racism experienced by Jews who were not Afro-Caribbean.
The commission was set up last month in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the world following the killing of George Floyd in the USA.
Dr Mukherjee-Richardson, 50, who is of mixed Indian heritage, attended the Calderwood Lodge Jewish Primary School in Glasgow and has been actively involved in the Jewish community. He is a former board member of South Hampstead United Synagogue.
He said the framework of the commission gave “precedence… to black Jews over Jews of colour such as myself. This is incredibly disturbing and runs counter to what this commission should be about: which is, as its title suggests ‘racial inclusivity’.”
Its approach, he said, appeared to “be downplaying the very real racism that Jews who are not black enough (or not Afro-Caribbean) have experienced over our lives.
“In other words, the assumption is that if you’re black and Jewish, you must have experienced far worse racism than those who are of colour – which personally I find deeply insulting and a bit racist in itself.”
He noted that of five planned sessions for gathering oral evidence, three were intended for black Jews, one for Mizrachi, Sephardi and Yemenite Jews and one for other Jews of colour.
Dr Mukherjee-Richardson said he was “sad” to have to make the criticism but it was important for the commission to come up with “realistic proposals based on an accurate picture”.
His comments came before the Board announced this week that it was inviting written evidence and running an online survey for people to offer their experiences.
In response to his critique, the commission’s chair, Stephen Bush, said its terms of reference had been designed “after listening to the perspectives of a wide range of people, including black Jews, non-black Jews of colour and Mizrachi Jews, and people who identify as all three.
“As in any Jewish space, there were naturally diverse opinions about how to get the balance right between foregrounding the black Jewish experience in light of the murder of George Floyd, which led to the creation of the Commission, and ensuring that we captured the experiences of a wider range of Jews of colour.”
He added, “Given the differing – and sometimes opposing – views on this, it was therefore always going to be impossible to satisfy everyone completely.
“Ultimately, it will be my challenge, which I take very seriously, to find a way of getting this balance right in the final report and in the meantime I would urge people who have a stake in this issue to share their perspectives via our channels for oral and written evidence, as it is the evidence that will shape the report and its conclusions.”