Sir Alan, you’re hired as our rep

Alan Sugar is the most vis­i­ble Jew in this coun­try. And that’s no bad thing

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS - JONATHAN FREED­LAND

IWAS HOOKED even be­fore the chicken. Wed­nes­day nights have been ringfenced in the diary since the latest se­ries of The Ap­pren­tice be­gan, but my ad­dic­tion goes back even fur­ther. To me, Sir Alan Sugar and his would-be em­ploy­ees have be­come a har­bin­ger of sum­mer, like the sound of leather on wil­low: when they re-ap­pear, I know that win­ter is over at last.

But the chicken sealed it. Who could do any­thing but sit in open­mouthed, ex­cru­ci­at­ing de­light as ap­par­ently qual­i­fied, ed­u­cated adults grap­pled with a re­quest to pur­chase a hum­ble kosher chicken from a Mar­rakesh street mar­ket, as if they had been told to bring back the holy grail?

Cov­er­age of the af­fair has been am­ple, in this news­pa­per and be­yond. Suf­fice it to say, Sir Alan was surely right when he pre­dicted to the JC that this par­tic­u­lar episode is des­tined to be­come “cult” TV. The sight of Michael Sopho­cles, self-styled “good Jewish boy” ask­ing first for a mosque, and then re­quest­ing the butcher make an ex­tra in­can­ta­tion to Al­lah, all in or­der for a hap­less bird to be deemed kosher, is one that will be re­played again and again, into the in­fi­nite television fu­ture.

Be­sides the en­ter­tain­ment value, that mo­ment taught two rather use­ful lessons to Jewish view­ers. First, it’s time to ad­just our view of what oth­ers think of us. As in: maybe they don’t think of us, or know any­thing about us, at all. Sugar him­self was clearly dumb­founded that his oth­er­wise bright pupils gen­uinely seemed un­aware that the word kosher was, as he put it, “as­so­ci­ated with Jewish peo­ple”. He wasn’t ask­ing for a dis- ser­ta­tion on she­chi­tah, just a ba­sic aware­ness that kosher was con­nected to Jews. Yet most of his would-be ap­pren­tices could not demon­strate even that.

Per­haps some of the com­mu­nity’s highly-paid PR ad­vis­ers, es­pe­cially those en­gaged in ad­vo­cacy for Is­rael, should bear that in mind when they next plot a so­phis­ti­cated cam­paign. Hav­ing watched the Ap­pren­tice, a golden rule sug­gests it­self when it comes to the Bri­tish pub­lic and Jews: as­sume no knowl­edge. None what­so­ever.

Sec­ond, we learned that in the age of Sir Alan, some peo­ple at least be­lieve that be­ing Jewish is a good ca­reer move. Now I can imag­ine the odd me­dia stud­ies grad­u­ate try­ing to break into, say, the lib­eral New York mag­a­zine mar­ket, think­ing it might help if he were called Gold­berg rather than Gaskin. But Sopho­cles’s de­ci­sion to de­clare him­self a Jew in the first line of his job ap­pli­ca­tion — even though he couldn’t quite drop the habit of cross­ing him­self as he en­tered the sa­cred space that is the board­room — is surely a first. Could it mean that be­ing Jewish is now seen as a plus in Bri­tish busi­ness? Or is it sim­ply that Sopho­cles is, to use his own word, a “shmock”?

One doesn’t want to get car­ried away, but all this might mat­ter. Though it will bring heart fail­ure to our of­fi­cial com­mu­nal lead­er­ship to say so, the truth is that Alan Sugar is now the most vis­i­ble Jew in Bri­tain. He stands at the cen­tre of a pro­gramme get­ting larger by the week, the topic of wa­ter-cooler con­ver­sa­tion in the work­place and sat­u­ra­tion cov­er­age in the news­pa­pers. For many mil­lions of our fel­low Bri­tons, the television per­sona of Sir Alan may be the only Jew they ever meet.

Is this a good thing? Some will fear not, es­pe­cially given the ty­coon’s an­swers to the JC ear­lier this month. He con­fessed that he does not be­lieve in God and that he can’t stand shul be­cause it’s “bor­ing”. As for Is­rael, “I am English. I don’t have any loy­alty to Is­rael.” As one An­glo-Jewish vet­eran sighed to me last week, if both re­li­gion and Zion­ism are both off the ta­ble, what’s left?

Oth­ers will worry that if Sugar is the am­bas­sador for our com­mu­nity, he will con­firm one too many pre­con­cep­tions about us. Take the Sug­ars’ ruby wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions, which fea­tured en­ter­tain­ment by El­ton John and the en­tire, 58-strong cast of Jer­sey Boys, rack­ing up a bill of £4 mil­lion. Or chew on the sheer di­rect­ness of his re­mark about the Labour fundrais­ing con­tro­versy: “They need peo­ple to raise money. They know that Jews have got money.”

And yet I find my­self oddly com­fort­able with the no­tion of Sir Alan as our pub­lic face. On the Ap­pren­tice he comes over as ra­zor sharp, un­pre­ten­tious and an ex­cel­lent judge of char­ac­ter. In plain lan­guage he ze­roes in on the heart of any is­sue. He oozes sey­chel. He gives se­ri­ous money to char­ity, is a pa­triot and has an on­screen charisma most ac­tors would kill for.

If we were look­ing for a de facto rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Bri­tish Jewry, we could do a lot worse than gaz­ing across the board­room ta­ble, rais­ing a fin­ger — and telling Sir Alan Sugar, “You’re hired.”

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