When it comes to social justice and inclusive marketing, Jews don't count

Matthew Waksman, a planning partner at Ogilvy UK, says it's time to speak up.

When it comes to social justice and inclusive marketing, Jews don't count

Jews around the country have recently been celebrating the annual festival of Hanukkah, eating way too many doughnuts, lighting Menorah candles and celebrating one of many stories in their history of managing to not be wiped out.

Like most Jewish festivals, the Hannukah story is something along the lines of, "they tried to kill us, we survived, so let's eat."

Along with all of the expected festivities, we've also seen the expected rise in hatred and anti-Semitic violence, spiking around the world in timely fashion. In Ukraine, a Jewish religious site was desecrated, in New York, Jewish children were physically attacked on the streets of Brooklyn, and right in the centre of London, a group of Jews were surrounded and spat at, chased onto a bus, from where they had to watch their attackers bang on the windows, and raise Nazi salutes to them.

This was a group, with children, on their way to celebrate in central London, a place where they should have felt entirely safe.

You probably won't have heard about all of this. It wasn't a trending hashtag, and it certainly wasn't responded to with an anti-hate or anti-racism campaign by any of the brands or influencers that usually take a stand when it comes to social issues. In the realm of inclusive marketing and social justice marketing, to use David Baddiel's words, Jews don't count.

Why is this the case? I guess there could be two potentially defensible reasons for such a strange lack of support in our apparently purpose-led world. Firstly, perhaps there are not enough Jews to make taking a stand for them a commercial priority. Or secondly, perhaps anti-Semitism is not seen as a major enough issue to put it on the radar of social justice advocates.

Let's take the first one. Is it because there are so few of us that it doesn't make commercial sense? It is true that Jews make up less than 1% of the UK population, however, brands that seek to include and take a stand for marginalised voices don't do this based on a particular group's market size, they do it based on their brand values and social purpose. And when it comes to marginalised voices, they are inherently likely to be a minority group – i.e a small market.

What about the second argument - that anti-Semitism is not a major issue and so it doesn't deserve a high level of attention, or effort, to combat it from all the usual players. Setting aside the attacks this week, the quantitative data makes it very clear this is not the case. This last year has seen the largest rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes across the UK. In the first half of 2021, the Community Security Trust reported a 49% increase in anti-Jewish hate incidents in Britain. That's a staggering increase for a group of people that have remained a flat minority of less than 1% of the make-up of this country.

Furthermore, this tidal wave of anti-Semitism isn't a collection of isolated incidents by crazy people. It is also institutional. What could be more institutional than the Equality and Human Rights Commission being called to investigate one of the two leading political parties, the one that is meant to stand for social justice, and concluding that it had committed unlawful acts of anti-Semitism, to the extent that it was legally bound to tackle the unlawful findings of the independent inquiry?

I can easily tell you from my own experience living as a Jew in this country that anti-Semitism is a major issue. But the data above also makes it categorically clear. Something that makes it even more painful, is the lack of interest it is met with by the big voices in social justice, from influencers to social-justice-centred brands that are usually quick to challenge hate with loud and creative voices.

Why is it so invisible? Why is this probably the first Hannukah/anti-Semitism article you have read in our industry press? My personal experience of anti-Semitism leads me to believe that there is still a pervasive unconscious bias when it comes to the age-old racist stereotype of "powerful Jews". Despite all the contemporary evidence above, and despite the systematic murder of Jews every 50 or so years in history around the world, people still see Jews as some "powerful other" that therefore don't face the challenges required to be included in the social justice movement.

The irony is that the creative industries have always attracted Jewish talent, and this is still the case. Although Jewish people in advertising are a tiny minority when it comes to hard numbers, we still make up a significant 2%, according to the All In Census. The challenge is not that our voices do not exist; it's in raising them.

This issue is deeply ingrained in our cultural experience of being Jewish in Britain. Go back just a couple of generations and we were immigrants escaping from places that forced us out for who we were. When we arrived in this country, many of us changed our names to sound more British, and we tried to keep our heads down at work, and keep our visible Jewishness at home, as much as possible.

Calling out a lack of Jewish representation, calling out anti-Semitism, and talking openly about our experience doesn't come naturally. But it becomes an especially tall order against a backdrop of silence.

So, following this year's Hanukkah, where we told the story of age-old Jewish resilience alongside news of rising Jewish hate crimes, I've decided that I'm no longer going to be a silent Jew. Because the longer we are silent about anti-Semitism, the more we let it go unchallenged.

Matthew Waksman is a planning partner at Ogilvy UK

This article first appeared in Campaign

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