Veteran Jewish comedian Jackie Mason has plunged the BBC’s Desert Island Discs into the centre of a race row by claiming that ‘Jewish and black people’ are no longer the victims of racial discrimination.
Mason, 75, who is regarded as one of the world’s greatest stand-up comedy stars, said some minority groups wrongly believe they are still being persecuted because of an inability to escape the past.
In an edition of the Radio 4 show to be broadcast today, the New York-born star says: ‘I wouldn’t say the Jews or the blacks today are suffering from racism.
‘I don’t think it’s such a terrible disadvantage to be black or Jewish today.’
He added: ‘But because they once were . . . they are still not comfortable enough with the new situation they’re in.
‘They still can’t accept the fact that they are completely accepted everywhere . . . it’s all in their minds.’
Mason, who is currently playing to packed houses in London’s West End, said he doubted whether Jewish people were even being persecuted when he started out as a comedian in the early Sixties.
He said their memories of the horrors unleashed by the Second World War had kept their fears alive.
He said: ‘Jews weren’t really suffering anywhere, but they were self-conscious because they have suffered in the past.
‘It was like they couldn’t believe the fact they were being accepted now and they were still nervous about something that hasn’t happened in the last 20 years.’
Mason, who was ordained as a rabbi before opting for a life as a comedian, said many other minority groups shared fears that were equally unwarranted.
He said: ‘It’s the same with black people today. They still talk about being persecuted when the white people don’t even feel that.’ Mason’s comments shocked Kirsty Young, the show’s host, who said it was up to the minority groups themselves to identify incidents of racism.
But the star said young people today simply did not care about issues of religion and race any more.
He said: ‘The younger the people are the less it matters to them what their identity is in terms of their religion or their colour.
‘Whites and blacks would never marry in those days. Jews and Gentiles would never marry. Today, that type of marriage is very common.’
He said some people who complained of racism were simply covering up for their inadequacies, and the election of President Barack Obama proved times had moved on.
He said: ‘I see this with all the minorities. You can’t get a job somewhere. He can’t admit to himself that he is inadequate—they’ll claim it’s anti-Semitism.
‘It’s more imagination. Everybody imagined that it’s impossible for a black person to get elected President of the United States. Whether they are Jewish or white or black, they never thought it was possible for a black person to become President.’
Mason said his distinct Jewish sense of humour often alienated members of that community. He said: ‘A lot of Jews are embarrassed by Jewishness because it reminds them of their parents and grandparents who were refugees and poverty stricken. They were always like an alienated minority. People who are raised that way still have a feeling of “I don’t belong if I’m Jewish so I’d rather you don’t mention it”.’
Mason’s choice of records included Susan Boyle’s rendition of I Dreamed A Dream, Perry Como’s Accentuate The Positive and Dinah Washington’s version of Love Is A Many-Splendoured Thing.
Desert Island Discs is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today at 11.15am.