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

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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.


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