Review: Let’s hope that for progressive readers, this book counts
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Review: Let’s hope that for progressive readers, this book counts

David Baddiel's book looking at the left's blind spot on Jews gets a thumbs up from Jeremy Havardi, despite the comedian 'ducking the challenge' on Zionism.

Jeremy Havardi is a freelance journalist and author

In his new book, Jews Don't Count, David Baddiel examines how, in the fight against racism, antisemitism has been uniquely ignored
In his new book, Jews Don't Count, David Baddiel examines how, in the fight against racism, antisemitism has been uniquely ignored

David Baddiel’s new book Jews Don’t Count is about double standards, specifically those employed by anti-racists when dealing with antisemitism. In his words, ‘a sacred circle is drawn around those whom the progressive modern left are prepared to go into battle for, and it seems as if the Jews aren’t in it’. Much of the book consists of examples proving that these progressives have a blind spot when it comes to Jews and antisemitism.

One concerns food, specifically the complaint that minority foodstuffs have been culturally appropriated by white western chefs and restauranteurs to reap profit. Yet, if one puts Jews, food and cultural appropriation into a search engine, what comes up is an accusation that Israel is culturally appropriating Palestinian food.

The same is true of minority casting. In today’s censorious climate with its fervent support for identity politics, it is unthinkable for a white actor to play a black historical figure or a straight actor to take on a gay part. Yet this is not a problem with Jews. Few eyebrows were raised when Gary Oldman played the role of Herman Mankiewicz or Rachel Brosnahan was cast as Mrs Maisel. Baddiel does not argue that this should never happen, merely that there are different standards applied to Jews and other minorities.

Baddiel gives examples of the curious blind spot among progressives who fail to see, or care little about, antisemitism. He cites the BLM supporter who spray-paints a statue of Dickens because of the novelist’s colonialist prejudices but ignores the racist caricature of Fagin. He laments the free pass given to Alice Walker despite one of her poems containing a vicious blood libel. He asks why the BBC can air the poems of T S Eliot, despite some containing vicious anti-Jewish references, when an anti-black writer would be censored. Baddiel wants to know why progressives are silent, when they would (rightly) express outrage if other minorities were abused.

Jews Don’t Count

But herein lies the problem. As Baddiel observes, Jews aren’t treated as an ethnic minority because they are seen as white and thus, automatically on the side of the rich, powerful and privileged. The association is not new. From Marx onwards, left wing thinkers have seen Jews as the primary progenitors of capitalism and exploitation and thus the natural enemies of the working class. That is why those progressives who attack Jews claim to be rebels standing up to oppressors.

But Jews certainly don’t feel white when they are attacked in the street or have their synagogues firebombed or when they are subjected to incendiary abuse by the far right. As Baddiel says: ‘“This . . . is why Jews don’t feel white, if by white you mean safe’.

Today, some of those ‘progressives’, like the rap singer Wiley, have offered a racialised version of this ‘socialism of fools’, arguing that black entertainers are slaves in a Jewish dominated world. Yet such is the perceived hierarchy of racism that to accuse a black rapper of racism is to invite the charge of insensitivity, that Jews are trying to minimize others’ experience of racism. It is precisely this hierarchy of racism, this competitive victimhood, that Baddiel is rightly at pains to disavow.

On the vexed question of Israel, Baddiel is determined to show indifference. He claims not to care about the country more than any other (he even regards Israeli-ness as somehow un-Jewish) and dismisses suggestions that he should as implying dual loyalty. Baddiel thinks this will confuse the army of Corbynites who believe that any mention of antisemitism is an insidious device used to silence criticism of Israel.

But disavowing Zionism is problematic. After all, it is to submit to those who believe that Jews should have individual and not collective rights. Israel is part of Jewish religious civilisation and its flourishing is a central concern in modern Jewish life. No other minority that demands self-determination and which shows support for its ethnic co-patriots abroad would be smeared as egregiously as Jewish Zionists. Yet to state this double standard is to invite certain political death at the hands of intolerant ‘progressives’. That is the point that Baddiel should make, but he ducks the challenge.

Despite its own omissions,this book is an engaging polemic, providing a witty and intellectually nimble riposte to those with a blind spot about Jews. Let us hope that for its progressive readers, it very much does count.

 

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments