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Anti-Semitism and the far left

10 April 2021

9:00 AM

10 April 2021

9:00 AM

Jews Don’t Count David Baddiel

TLS Books, pp.144, 9.99

The comic David Baddiel has written a book which explains that much of the far left hates Jews. There are exceptions. They are OK with dead Jews (the Holocaust gets a sad face emoji if it isn’t ‘exploited’ by living Jews, in which case it gets an angry face emoji), and penitent Jews (the ones who hate Israel in any form). They will deny it and call me an anti-Semite and a Nazi writing for a Nazi magazine with my Nazi fingers because they don’t understand Nazism, anti-Semitism or themselves. They are not really progressives; they are religious maniacs — and that is sometimes funny.

These penitent Jews should include Baddiel, who is not a Zionist. ‘Stupid fucking Israel,’ he calls it, though he adds this is more of a comment on the tone of the Twitter debate (‘stupid fucking shouting match’) than any suggestion as to what should happen in Israel and Palestine. But he is exempt from this exemption because he is, as he says, ‘one of the UK’s very few famous Jews’. His biographical note on Twitter reads simply: ‘Jew.’

His central point is that the ‘anti-racist’ far left do not include Jews in their ‘sacred circle’ and that anti-Semitism is now — and this is a gruesome phrase— a ‘second- class racism’. It is expressed, in his words, as ‘a concern, a protectiveness, a championing, a cry for increased visibility, whatever it might be — not being applied to Jews’.

He is right about ‘the sacred circle’. Huge swathes of the far left believe that Jews do not, despite the Holocaust (or because of it, if you accept, as I do, Howard Jacobson’s theory that belief in the diabolical Jew absolves Europe for the Holocaust), suffer from racism nowadays, though they do believe we invent it. We have betrayed the proletariat by sometimes becoming middle class or even rich; there is the deicide myth too, but they believe that unconsciously, being leftists.

Baddiel has many examples of politicians and artists and activists leaving Jews off lists of the victims of racism. The stupidest is a review of a novel about a Jewish man being Jewish that forgets to mention he is Jewish. It calls him a ‘white-male-cis-het’, much like my husband. It just stops short of accusing him of growing up in Devizes, taking holy communion and being best friends with a dog.

The funniest involves David Cameron. Baddiel led a campaign to end the chanting of ‘Yid’ at football matches. Cameron said this word was OK, but he changed his mind after consulting his Jewish friend Lord Feldman. Even so, Cameron wears his anti-racism lightly: he approached Baddiel before they appeared on a TV show to ask: ‘Are we going to be talking about the Yid thing?’

Baddiel is particularly good on the representation of Jews by non-Jews in theatre and film, which he believes lapses into parody. He calls it Jewface: ‘JewVoice, JewExpression, JewStoopedandShruggingBody. It’s NebbishBeing.’ He is sensitive to this, because he treasures this stereotype as his own, and he is right again: watching even Simon Russell Beale doing a Jew Wobble is irritating, because there is nothing beneath it.

In an interview, Baddiel once gave me the best definition of the compulsion of the comedian I have heard:

Every single moment, every beat, you can judge it by the sound that the audience makes — laughter. Only comedy gives you that. You become very powerful as the stand-up who is controlling the audience, and at the same time very vulnerable as the stand-up who might be booed off. You are at the extremes of what you can be in a room — what your status can be in that room.

I wondered, reading it again, if he has swapped the jeopardy of comedy for the jeopardy of public Jewishness, and, if so, it is more courageous, and worthy. Jews Don’t Count is narrow in scope — it is largely set on Twitter, so it has to be — but it is clear, and furious: a book that people who would never consider buying a book on anti-Semitism might read. That is both welcome and dismal.

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