Book review: “Jews Don’t Count” by David Baddiel

Any reader of a centre left website like LDV will be well acquainted with the world of “whataboutery”. Any article on any injustice can be upended by a “whatabout” list of other injustices; sometimes with the snide implication that the author is a fake for even raising the original injustice.

In his book “Jews don’t count” David Baddiel is well aware of the risks of “whataboutery” but he is surely right to plough on with his argument that the British left does not take anti-semitism as seriously as other racism and prejudice.

Baddiel’s grandparents were robbed of everything and had close family murdered. They were ruined and bereaved and driven from all they knew by the racist state apparatus of their native land. And yet as Baddiel points out the left has a blindspot about his ethnicity as one that somehow doesn’t count and cannot feel vulnerable as all minority ethnicities sometimes do.

He is right to say that in Britain today this blind spot can take preposterous forms. It is ridiculous for example, that what Luciana Berger went through was often ignored by Corbynistas or labelled by them as misogyny rather than anti-semitism. Many women in public life experience serial misogyny but it doesn’t normally entail their tormentors signing themselves “the Nazi”.

Baddiel cites an exchange on twitter with Jenny Tonge (late of this parish). On seeing a film from a New Zealand woman: “Why I am a Zionist” (a film incidentally with which Baddiel disagrees) Tonge asks why Jews need somewhere to run. In a tweet on August 11 2019 she says: “We would all like a safe haven to run to when the going gets tough, but we stay on and ask why it is getting tough”. I imagine some of my family left Spain in the 18th century and Prussia in the 19th because they were poor. Perhaps they just fancied a change of scene! But as Baddiel points out another good reason not to “stay on when the going gets tough” might be to avoid “being herded naked at gunpoint with your children into a mass grave that you dug yourself”.

I would also add that a Labour MP who tweets that the “Jews are rallying” and should be transported en masse to America is swiftly rehabilitated when she shows sincere remorse but even after showing similar remorse, Baddiel continues to be pilloried for a blackface mistake from a quarter of a century ago.

As you would expect, Baddiel’s is not just a dour account. He is good on the absurdities and circularities of twitter. When writing a joke with a reference to golf he gets a bizarre non-sequitur reply: “What about Palestine?!!” An absurdity of anti-semitism is that even a non Zionist American-born British Jew with no links to Israel is “whatabouted” about Palestine.

Be glad that this book was written and sad that it had to be.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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  • Equating Zionism with Judiaism and vice versa is having a posionous effect on the body politic

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Feb '21 - 1:04am

    Unsurprisingly, as ever, common decency,and specific insight, make for a good level of comment from Ruth.

    David Baddiel made a terrific documentary a while ago on this, it must have led to this new book. I look forward to it.

    I regularly and enthusiastically read him on the subject. The irony of the brilliant point by Ruth, on Baddiels not being allowed youthful blackface routine, is that Lenny Henry was an early in his career member of the Black and White minstrels, and one of the originators of the popularity of that now obviously offensive risible entertainment, the late and very great Al Jolson, was Jewish, very actively involved as an anti racist, who performed it as a tribute to black people, who were, often amongst his greatest fans!

    I write on antisemitism and research it along with racism in general, it has been something I also do as a member, contributor, writer, of the Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum. Modern antisemitism, as our own, excellent, Layla Moran says, is linked in a very strange way, often, on the Left, to extreme ignoring of the sensitivity of Israel, as a homeland, and far left not only not getting that, not agreeing with the very existence of Israel even.

    The comments of Tonge are indicative of the sort of stuff Corbyn never got, any more than her. He never even once sat down with Luciana Berger. Unfathomable!”

  • Very much agree that Layla Moran is extremely insightful on anti-semitism.

  • Thanks for the comments and clarification Joe.

    There is no doubt that some old portrayals of characters from ethnic minorities by white actors were hurtful and make us wince now. David Baddiel however, raises the point that there is no debate whatsoever about non-Jews playing Jewish parts. He cites Mank (2020 Netflix) and Mrs Maisel (2017 Prime Video) as two of the more benign recent examples. He is not proscriptive about this in any way; he just notes that no-one talks about it.

  • Helen Dudden 24th Feb '21 - 10:39am

    I have found the poem written by Martin Niemoller, They Came for Me, to be very meaningful. Written by a German Lutheran Pastor. It highlights how hate can turn society.

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