Thank goodness for ethnic minorities

Anas Sarwar after winning the Scottish Labour leadership contest. Picture date: Saturday February 27, 2021. Via Jewish News
Anas Sarwar after winning the Scottish Labour leadership contest. Picture date: Saturday February 27, 2021. Via Jewish News

Anas Sarwar has been made leader of the Labour party in Scotland. You wouldn’t think that would create another row, but the appallingly ignorant deputy leader of the Labour party, Angela Rayner, congratulated him on being the first member of an ethnic minority to reach that position. Forgetting Ed Miliband.

Then BBC2’s Politics Live programme discussed whether Jews should be listed as an ethnic minority because “of their political success” and everybody took to the barricades again.

In fact – but facts seem the last thing in which the protagonists are interested – Jews are about 3% of the House of Commons – at the most in the 1970s they were about 8% – and the Arabs in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, are over 10% and nobody is suggesting that they are not an ethnic minority. It is majorities that have the power in a democracy.

What, indeed, is an ethnic minority? It is a group of people who have cultural differences from the majority of their fellow citizens. (All the dictionaries are in agreement.) That would make the Catholics an ethnic minority and both Boris Johnson and Tony Blair are, or have been, Catholics. Boris Johnson’s baby has been baptised a Catholic, and Tony Blair regularly went to Mass as prime minister and converted to Catholicism.

Now it’s a free country and I will certainly return to the barricades and vote for anybody’s right to be anything they want. But you will be swamped if you try to identify all the people in this country who are originally from ethnic minorities. Start with the royal family, who are German and changed their name from Saxe Coburg to Windsor during the First World War to draw a veil over the fact. For hundreds of years Germany was our ally and the French were the enemy.

Other ethnic minorities started with the Celts in Scotland and Wales in the years before Jesus, the Normans with William the Conqueror, the Flemings in the 14th and 15th  century, the Huguenots in the 18th, the Jews after the Russian pogroms in her 19th and escaping from Nazism, in the 20th, the Poles after the Second World War, the West Indians in the 1960s the Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, the Hong Kong Chinese,  Hindus and Sikhs, and the Muslims more recently. There are lots of others too.

The country is built on ethnic minorities. Thank goodness for that. The British textile trade was brought to Britain by the Flemings, the Huguenots brought the silk industry, and Jews in the 18th century brought the Indian diamond industry. Churchill’s military adviser said we won the second World War because our German scientists were better than their German scientists.

Now people have to settle down in a new country. The native population has to adjust to a new wave of strangers. We could only absorb a million Poles after the war when the TUC agreed with the government that they wouldn’t work in the coal industry. The West Indians have suffered racial discrimination for years and legislation has been needed to make equal treatment compulsory.

We old-timers can remember when the Black community were often treated disgracefully, but there has been massive improvement over the years, though still not enough.

Ethnic minorities are good for there country and BBC2’s Politics Live was discussing something of no importance whatsoever. In this country there are, quite rightly, hardly any special benefits from being part of an ethnic minority. As they used to say, just don’t frighten the horses.

Sometimes, however, the government lends an ethnic community a helping hand. Making a criminal offence a refusal to give a wife Get is something for which the Beth Din have been asking for over a hundred years. That’s our latest good news.

There is, however, one disaster for which Rabbi Jeremy Conway of the Beth Din is quite rightly asking your urgent support. In the midst of the pandemic, the gravity of the catastrophe might otherwise pass unnoticed. Are you aware that Unilever is stopping making kosher Marmite! Now the need for additional taxation I can understand, the case for social distancing is entirely sensible, but depriving us of kosher Marmite is the straw that is likely to break the camel’s back, even if camels aren’t kosher either.

Let all ethnic minorities cooperate to persuade Unilever to restore our supply as soon as possible.  Some things are sacred.


About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book