Last week saw the publication of the report by the Committee on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Tony Sewell. Many of the more controversial conclusions were leaked and attacked in advance,  including downplaying the impact of institutional racism,  disagreeing with many of the concepts of critical race theory (“CRT”), and discouraging the use of the term BAME (black and minority ethnic). While Jews were not mentioned in the report, some of the fallout may well affect the Jewish community. How should we react?

Many Jews feel that any attempt to downplay the impact of racism will come back to haunt us in the end and that we should support the lived experience of those who claim that the UK is structurally biased against racial minorities. Jews suffered disproportionately from Covid, with fatality rates comparable with ethnic minorities. Within the lifetime even of our parents Jews have been excluded from professional firms and positions purely on account of religion, and even though overt anti-semitism is rare in the City and business world, we should stand in solidarity with those who still suffer discrimination. Tikkun olam (healing the world) requires us to fight for social justice, and to support the report could be compared with pulling up the ladder once we have (or at least think we have) reached the summit ourselves.

Others have welcomed the report, saying that the concept of BAME is unhelpful (does it include Jews, for example?), and that bunching together Vietnamese, Caribbean blacks and Bengalis simplistically suggests that the issues faced by their communities have a common solution. CRT has not done the Jewish community any favours, as it tends to treat Jews as beneficiaries of white privilege, such that attacks on the community are considered to be punching up, and so less serious than other forms of racism. Proponents of CRT, especially on campus, are often among the most vocal critics both of Israel and the Jewish community, and we should be pleased to see some opposition to its spread through academia and institutions such as the Church and trade unions.

Rightly or wrongly, I think the Jewish community likes to keep a low profile to avoid having to commit to one side or the other. Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities minister, is a good friend to the Jewish community, but lots of Jews cringed when she said that the high Covid rate among the ultra-orthodox was not down to anti-semitism. Few dispute she was right, but we often prefer to be kept out of the debates, possibly due to the fear that we will be held up as an example to other communities. But with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “Silence is violence” mantra, how long will we be able to sit on the fence?