The BBC’s online-only channel, BBC Three, has produced a new video in its series of “Things not to say” clips, this time focusing on things not to say to Jewish people. The video is part of a series which has dealt with a variety of issues including Brexit and gender, seeking to challenge and address stereotypes.
However, its video about Jews, which has been watched by almost a quarter of a million people on Facebook alone, is in parts patronising, cringe-worthy and a dire trivialisation of Jewish culture.
In the video, a number of British Jews were asked various questions about their Judaism, but some of them were rather ignorant about Judaism and some responses were the opposite of helpful. For example, when asked “You must be really stingy?”, one respondent answered “I think we like value for money, don’t we?”, to which another replied, “We love a deal.”
Though it seems that the video was well-intentioned, some of the answers were just confusing, with Jews shown playing down aspects of their religion, perhaps to appear more like non-Jews. For example when asked “So you hate bacon?” some of the respondents sounded apologetic or claimed that most Jews do eat bacon, with one of the respondents answering: “Some people might be kosher in front of their boyfriend but when they’re not with their boyfriend eat prawns.” That may well be the case for some, but it is hard to see how the BBC thought that such answers would help their audience to understand Judaism better, especially when the video’s producers don’t appear to have thought of asking many orthodox Jews to participate.
It seems that the video was commissioned with the intention of demystifying Judaism for a non-Jewish audience in a humorous and accessible way, but we question the editorial judgement behind the video which saw a selection of Jews, some of whom seemed incredibly ignorant of Judaism and apparently selected from a narrow part of the denominational spectrum, giving very confusing responses to questions that actually did not reflect many of the more common stereotypes about Jews.
Sadly, the comments beneath the video on BBC Three’s Facebook page highlight some of the very antisemitic tropes and misconceptions that the video is supposed to combat. One Facebook user commented: “I like jews [sic] people as long as they don’t [sic] religious” whilst another wrote: “How does it feel to know that your parents mutilated your penis without your informed consent?” Despite not mentioning Israel in the video at all, another Facebook user chimed in: “I wonder how they feel when Israel occupied Palestine?”
The irony of antisemitic comments following a video dealing with antisemitism was not lost on another user who observed that “the video about things not to say to Jews is filled with antisemitism in the comments”.
Whilst we do commend any efforts to counter antisemitism and explain Judaism to the public, we have to question whether the people involved in producing this publicly-funded video applied the level of respect and diligence deserved by the sensitive subject matter. We think that they did not.
With this video, the BBC had the opportunity to dispel stereotypes about Jewish people. Instead, they reinforced them.