The Black, Asian, Jewish Alliance (BAJA)

JVL Introduction

We welcome the establishment of a new groupingthe Black, Asian, Jewish Alliance (BAJA).

Here is a description of the group’s origins, and two letters from it, published this month, in the Guardian and the Independent

Black Asian and Jewish Alliance demand unity and leadership

Simon Woolley, Operation Black Vote
7 September 2018

For nearly two decades, Black, Asian and Jewish activists, intellectuals, and faith leaders used to meet at the recently passed away June Jacob’s home in North London. Here we would discuss our plans and efforts to confront all forms of racism and prejudice. We called ourselves the Black Jewish Forum, later to be called the Black, Asian and Jewish forum. At its core it allowed us the safe space to talk not only about the variety of issues and challenges  different minority communities faced, for example, the rise of the BNP and the alarming deaths of Black men and women in police custody, but we also discussed tensions between our communities including, I remember, the desperate need to speak out about the plight of Palestinians whilst acknowledging Israel’s right to exist.

During those years we learnt a lot about each other, including the need to root ourselves in the universal space that ‘your struggle for equality is my struggle, and mine is yours’.

In the end though the group fell away, in part because we’d run our course.  We didn’t feel the necessity to remind each other that we were united, that was a given. Furthermore, in many ways we were all consolidating the establishment of our separate organisations, such as the Runnymede Trust,  JCORE, The 1990 Trust and Operation Black Vote.

And then in this last year or so, with the rise of anti-semitism and islamaphobia,  many of us such as Omar Khan, Radhika  Bynon, Francesca Klug, and Edie Friedman were reminded just how important leadership from different communities and faiths is, particularly at time when there are those who seem hell bent on seeing us tear each other apart.

After mooting the idea that we come together again as group, it was initially said that, ’there was no point: the climate is so toxic, that any reasonable intervention would be seen as pointless in such a polarised space’. Klug intervened and reminded us all, ‘that’s exactly why we should be there, to talk to and listen to a silent majority that is looking for true leadership.’ She is right of course.

Like any entity that is reborn we knew it needed new ideas and new blood, and so the involvement of individuals such as Michael Segalove, Rachel Shabi and the MP Clive Lewis has given this an energy and articulation that is both relevant and inspiring.  Our soft launch, by way of a letter in the Guardian [belpw] has been met with a chorus of approval. On seeing the deluge of positive comments on social media, the writer, broadcaster and signatory to the letter, Yasmin Alibhai Brown said, “For the first time in months, I feel optimistic and we can bring communities together”.

It’s early days for BAJA and we know there’ll be detractors consumed with breaking up any unity we seek to forge.  But we as a growing group, with a deluge of likeminded supporters, are convinced that with broad leadership we can build upon definitions of racism that bring people together, and in some small way be a beacon of hope for all our communities.

Simon Woolley

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour and the IHRA definition of antisemitism

Letter, the Guardian
6 September 2018

The Labour party’s adoption of the full IHRA definition of antisemitism (Report, 5 September) should not be the end but the start of renewed efforts to engage with British Jews and tackle antisemitism. It should also be a moment for every organisation in Britain to address antisemitism, and to link that work to tackling all forms of racism. While forms of racism differ, the two principles of directly engaging the communities affected, and of focusing on a definition that leads to action, are universal ones.

We advocate this approach as a new group of Black, Asian, Muslim and Jewish people (some of whom have roots in more than one of these communities). We are determined to remain united in the face of currently divisive debates over Islamophobia, antisemitism and racism of any kind. In the light of a growing threat from nationalist and xenophobic forces in many parts of the world, which threaten to undermine our relationships here, we are convinced that ignoring or pandering to racism in any form is a threat to us all. While we are alive to forces within wider society and our own communities who sometimes sow discord and division, we believe it imperative that we confront our differences through dialogue, empathy and solidarity with each other at all times.

Rachel Shabi Journalist, Professor Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Columnist and author, Professor Francesca Klug Human rights academic and activist, Dr Omar Khan Director, Runnymede Trust, Clive Lewis MP, Simon Woolley Director, Operation Black Vote, Radhika Bynon Director of Programmes, The Young Foundation, Michael Segalov Journalist, Dr Edie Friedman Director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality
Members of the Black, Asian, Jewish Alliance (BAJA)

We have formed a new group of black, Asian, Muslim and Jewish people to tackle racism within politics

Letter, the Independent
14 September 2018

The start of the party conference season is an apt time to remind all political parties of their ongoing responsibility to deal effectively with racism both within their own party and within society generally (Tories are backing far-right Viktor Orban to boost Theresa May’s Brexit plans, says Muslim Council of Britain, 13 September).

To this end, each political party should use their upcoming party conference to explain fully – not only to their own members and supporters, but also to the wider British public – precisely what measures they are going to put forward to tackle all racism and institutional discrimination within their party including anti-black racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia, and how these measures will be monitored and evaluated. This in turn, would set a good example to other institutions.

Such action needs to be accompanied by strong and unambiguous leadership to make it clear to politicians and party members that they will be held to account for unacceptable statements and behaviour.

It would also give confidence to different communities to work together to move beyond their own “isms”. In our current febrile political climate, such solidarity is vital.

To reinforce this solidarity, a new group of black, Asian, Muslim and Jewish people has been formed. It is more important than ever that we remain united in the face of current divisive debates over Islamophobia, antisemitism and racism of any kind. These differences between us must be dealt with through dialogue, empathy and solidarity with each other at all times.

Rachel Shabi, journalist
Professor Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist and author
Professor Francesca Klug, Human Rights academic and activist
Dr Omar Khan, director, Runnymede Trust
Clive Lewis MP
Simon Woolley, director, Operation Black Vote
Radhika Bynon, director of programmes, The Young Foundation
Michael Segalov, journalist
Dr Edie Friedman, director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality