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May 04th, 2021

Jews Don't Count: a book review

topic: Anti-Semitism
by: Ithamar Handelman-Smith

In 2019, a major production of a new musical based on the book by African-American author Alice Walker, The Color Purple, was about to be staged. About four weeks before opening night, it turned out that the actress Seyi Omooba, cast in the lead role of the protagonist Celie, had shared  a homophobic post on her Facebook page five years earlier. 

Oumooba came from an evangelical Christian background and her posts reflected Christian texts that see homosexuality as a sin. 

Omooba refused to apologise, claiming it was her religious belief, and she was sacked from the musical

Two years earlier, Alice Walker, the author of the book, film and the play in question, published a poem titled To Study the Talmud. In this poem, Walker writes the following: 

“Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only
That, but to enjoy it?
Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?
Are young boys fair game for rape?
Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?
Pause a moment and think what this could mean
Or already has meant
In our own lifetime.”

Omooba expressed her personal, if misguided, religious opinion on homosexuality, and Walker had argued that the Jewish religion believes in pedophilia, rape, slavery and the murder of non-Jews. And while Omooba’s post shared her opinion, Walker expressed her views as a fact: look at what Jews believe. 

Walker is a writer known for her anti-Semitic views and yet no one thought to criticise her or cancel the show based on her book. The musical finally took to the west London stage starring another actress.

This case is just one example out of many. 

"I'm going to give you some examples of a recurring phenomenon," In these words, David Baddiel opens his new book Jews Don't Count. And what is the phenomenon that Baddiel deals with throughout the book? The complete disregard of those who consider themselves on the "right side" of the political-historical map, namely liberal leftists, to the plight of Jews or any manifestation of hatred towards Jews. 

That is, those people for whom the politics and ideology of identity and diversity are paramount, who have fought against every expression of racism and discrimination from Islamophobia and anti-blackness to homophobia and transphobia, have forgotten only one type of racism and hatred of the other: anti-Semitism.  

Jews Don’t Count

David Lionel Baddiel is an American-born British TV presenter, comedian and writer. He has written several books before, but his new one seems to be the most angry and biting. 

He goes on to bring several examples, some of which are from his personal life, to a phenomenon so prevalent in the British left.

One example comes from the Labour conference in 2019, where Dawn Butler, the shadow minister for women's rights, said the following things:  “If you are in social housing, if you are LGBT+, if you are straight, if you are a traveller, if you struggle to pay rent, if you wear a hijab, turban, a cross, if you are black, white, Asian, if you are disabled, if you don’t have a trust fund, if you didn’t go to Oxbridge, if you are working class, if you are under 18, if you are aspirational, if you work, if you are a career, if you feel you won’t live beyond 25, if you have ever ticked the other box - you have a future and you are worthy, worthy of equality dignity and respect. And a Labour government will value you, just be your true authentic self.”

This list, Baddiel writes, is a little weird. It contains some identities that are already considered mainstream, such as "white" or "straight." Apparently, Butler did not want to hurt anyone or ignore any identities. But she did clearly ignore one identity: the Jewish one. 

Baddiel insists on not calling this phenomenon a new form of anti-Semitism or anything of the sort. On the other hand, he does believe that this phenomenon is related to anti-Semitism in the sense that the liberal left, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, does not really know how to deal with the problem of anti-Semitism, and so simply ignores it (at best). In other words, in contemporary identity politics, only one identity was omitted - the Jewish identity. Why? 

Baddiel tries to explain the phenomenon from different perspectives. Firstly, he tries to shed light on who exactly are the people "responsible" for this phenomenon. He calls them "progressives." That is, those members of the middle class with liberal (not necessarily left-wing) views who oppose any kind of discrimination and hatred of the other. Except for anti-Semitism. I mean, they are against anti-Semitism, only it is very hard for them to recognise it. 

Once again, the question arises as to why was Jewish identity, so historically vulnerable, suddenly omitted from identity politics? As mentioned above, Baddiel believes that there are several reasons. Today, the Jewish person is identified by the "progressives" as the privileged white man. As far as they are concerned, Jews have ceased to be an oppressed minority and became part of the repressive, privileged, wealthy minority. 

Speaking of money, the same  anti-Semitic trope  of the world's rich Jew preceded into the "progressive" discourse and simply became part of it. Ask Jeremy Corbyn (Baddiel ‘s analysis of the Corbyn case is brilliant).

This book made me reflect  a lot on things I have experienced - things I did not know how to explain at the time. For example, in 2011, the year before the London Olympics, I was approached by several bodies, including the IOC, to participate in an interesting project in which they attached a writer to a composer and together we were supposed to create a short musical based on sports. 

I wrote a short Libretto about a Jewish boxer in a fight with an Irish boxer. After the musical was staged (in Belfast, Northern Ireland) my Libretto was made into a comic book on behalf of the same bodies that ordered the project. The comic book was really quite beautiful, but one important detail was omitted from it: the fact that my boxer, Ike Eisen, was Jewish.

Image: catohansen

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