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Time to tackle racism, not just the bad PR associated with it

If the community wants to eradicate racism from its midst, it has to address the substance of the issue and not just the aesthetics.

Last week an independent panel for the Board of Deputies’ constitution committee responded to complaints about racist tweets sent by a deputy.

Glamorous, I know. But hear me out; because its findings revealed a communal blind spot when it comes to tackling racism.

The individual in question is a man named Peter Baum, who has a panache for tweeting horrendous things. He brands Palestinians Nazis, their supporters’ human excrement, and called the late Anglican leader Desmond Tutu a ‘black coward’.

He was reported by former deputy, Gabriel Kanter-Webber, who listed 16 instances of racist tweets sent by Baum.

He also said that it wasn’t the first time he had made such a complaint, and last time it took six months to even have it acknowledged.

The committee, which issued its report before the Board’s executive will decide later this month, admits Baum’s repeated racism contained a “high degree of abuse about Palestinians and others”.

It said his “language runs directly counter to the Board’s moral positions” of respect towards other communities.

As I read through the detail, which you can read about here, I thought, this sounds like a clear-cut case.

He has brought the Board into disrepute and should be disciplined.
Calling Desmond Tutu a Black coward
But it’s clear, the panel was more concerned about protecting the reputation and image of the Board due to the bad press - than the racism itself.

The panel said, “none of the tweets posted by Mr Baum make any reference to his position as a Deputy”, and his views “would not have had such significant exposure or necessarily have been associated with the Board”, had it not been brought to public view, by GKW and JN.

It claims Kanter-Webber - in publicising Mr Baum’s tweets and sharing it with Jewish News - did the Board a “disservice”, because “without his [GKW] intervention there was little reason to believe that a connection between Mr Baum’s views and the Board would have come to light.”

When I included this in the news story, my sub editor actually asked if it was a typo. “Surely this should be service not disservice?”, because they couldn’t believe it.

The panel, in its final decision, apportions blame almost equally to the racist tweeter and whistle-blower.

“We recognise that he [Baum] and the Board have been damaged as a result of the combination of his views and Mr Kanter-Webber’s action.”

“It is likely that Mr Baum’s comments may have passed without significant public awareness were it not for Mr Kanter-Webber’s decision to share them with Jewish News – an act which guaranteed them publicity which itself has damaged the Board” and the reputational damage “cannot be laid exclusively at Mr Baum’s door”.

It goes without saying, this should not be the case.

Following the report, Baum was told to moderate his language “so that he is not the subject of further complaints”, because there is now “direct reputational risk” if he repeated it.

Yet, last week he took to Twitter, and called Palestinians ‘child abusers’ multiple times, and repeated his claim they’re Nazis.

So what’s changed? Nothing.

The elected representative who sent racist tweets should surely bear responsibility.

The whistle-blower should not be blamed or stigmatised for bringing racism to public attention.

Yet, when push comes to shove, this isn’t about the individual case.

There has been repeated instances of racism within the Board of Deputies in the last few months alone, and there seems to be a low threshold for tolerating it, and a high threshold, for dealing with it properly.

Earlier this year, The Jewish Representative Council of Manchester’s deputy questioned the racial motive of the George Floyd murder, for which he was ‘dismissed’.

Then JNF UK’s representative was exposed as having ‘liked’ far-right posts online. He quit his role under pressure, claiming he’d been “cancelled”. Heaven forbid you are held accountable, as an elected communal official.

The charity’s chair then brought shame on it, with a series of racist comments about Muslims - with the Board voting to censure JNF UK, after almost 50 other deputies called for him to resign.

It goes without saying, chair, Samuel Hayek is still in place.

This is just a few snippets. In the last seven years working at the JN, I’ve covered so many stories about racist remarks from deputies, each instance picked off like an isolated bad apple, on an otherwise fine and fruiting tree.

When this month, the Board’s executive meets to decide Peter Baum’s fate, they have a decision to make - and a precedent to set.

Is it more concerned with addressing a substantial issue of racism, or the fallout from that racism being exposed to the public.

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