A Jewish sociologist has raised concerns about the visual depiction of Jews in the British media, as a report warns that this can create an image of “otherness” showing Jews as “unapproachable”.
Keith Kahn-Harris made the points while contributing to a round-table discussion and subsequent report on faith and media by a London-based interfaith body, with support from the charitable foundation of Jewish philanthropist David Dangoor.
The 34-page Media, Faith and Belonging report from the Faith and Belief Forum, published last Thursday, warned that using the same stock images of Orthodox Jewish men from the back “creates an impression of shadowy figures which are not very human”.
Kahn-Harris said there are alternative versions of the image showing the same men but taken from the front to show them smiling, but it is not used.
“These images have two impacts on representation,” the report’s authors said. “They limit the diverse Jewish community to the most ‘visibly’ religious, and they create an otherness and distance, which emphasises a message that the Jewish community is somehow different and unapproachable.”
The report also highlights how hate crimes can follow political interventions. Hate crimes against Muslim women rose after Boris Johnson’s 2018 infamous “letterboxes” opinion piece, and hate crimes against Jews rose during the height of the Labour Party antisemitism scandal.
Alex Fenton, director of public affairs to Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, agreed that the press did not always get it right, explaining that the Movement for Reform Judaism had submitted official complaints about inaccurate media coverage of other faith groups.
Kahn-Harris also questioned the kind of media stories being told about Jews, with most focusing on antisemitism, Israel and questions about Jewish identity, while very few items discussed the culture and rituals
of Jewish life.