British Jewish comedian David Baddiel. Photo: Courtesy.
British Jewish comedian David Baddiel. Photo: Courtesy.
featureAntisemitism

Why Jew-hatred has become trendy

In his book "Jews Don't Count," British comedian David Baddiel explains the global disregard for manifestations of antisemitism.

In the mid-1990s, when he was a young, uninhibited comedian, David Baddiel did something that he would come to regret years later. In a skit on the soccer comedy show “Fantasy Football League,” which he co-authored, Baddiel played Jason Lee, a black footballer and former Nottingham Forest player.

The 59-year-old British Jewish comedian and screenwriter wore blackface to depict Lee in the show. The fact that he portrayed Lee with a pineapple on his head to ridicule the footballer’s hairstyle didn’t help either. Even today, after apologizing for the skit several times and admitting that it was a mistake and had racist tones, people still bring up the show whenever he dares to claim discrimination against his own people.

In other words, whenever Baddiel talks about antisemitism today, the golden age of identity politics, a time when every racial, ethnic or gender minority receives immediate protection, someone online will remind him of something he did 30 years ago.

Of course, no one complains about the imitation of Baddiel on the comedy sketch show “Bo’Selecta!” in the early 2000s, in which he was portrayed as a grotesque Chassidic Jew with a huge nose and frizzy black hair. Four years ago, during the Black Lives Matter protests by the African-American community in the United States, “Bo’Selecta!” series creator Lee Francis apologized to blacks he imitated, including singers such as Craig David or Spice Girl Melanie B, but he never apologized to Baddiel for the offensive imitation.

For the past few years, he has been arguing that there is a hierarchy in racism, and expressions of contempt or hatred towards Jews are at the bottom of the list.

While many Israelis have been left shocked by the hostile response and lack of empathy from the Western world in the face of the Oct. 7 atrocities, and still refuse to accept that their progressive views on gender, race and religion will never mark them as part of the international left-wing community, Baddiel surely feels as if he prophesied everything.

“I hear a lot of progressives saying, ‘Well, antisemitism exists only because of Israel,’ but I think that cheapens the meaning of that word, because antisemitism is a form of racism that has been around for generations and generations, long before the establishment of Israel,” he said in an interview from his London office.

“I refuse to accept that. It is truly perverse to think that Jews around the world are responsible for what is happening in the Middle East, that they are to blame for what happens. This isn’t the case for Britons of Chinese descent when China behaves unacceptably. It isn’t the case for British Indians when India does something, and it isn’t the case with any other minority. It’s just Israel’s actions that are blamed on all Jews, wherever they may be.”

Q: What’s your take on Roger Waters, who attacked U2 frontman Bono for condemning the murder of innocents?

“Roger Waters is a crazy believer in conspiracy theories, and he is obsessed with Israel. I checked it out, and all Bono did was sing a song in memory of those murdered by Hamas at the Nova Festival. He didn’t wave a flag in support of Benjamin Netanyahu or extremist settlers.”

One tweet can ruin a career

Baddiel was born in 1964 in New York City but grew up and was educated in London, where he still lives today. He is considered a well-known name in the United Kingdom thanks to the TV series he has written and the books and columns he has authored, as well as his stand-up comedy.

His most recent book, Jews Don’t Count, came out in 2021 and deals with antisemitism. In the book, Baddiel, a Jew who has never hidden his Jewishness but admits to not having any special connection to Israel, takes an intelligent and meticulous look at the lack of empathy for Jews and the convenient disregard for expressions of hatred or contempt for Jews.

This disregard for anti-Jewish racism comes at a time when “celebrities find themselves ‘canceled,’ reputations are tarnished and entire careers can be wiped out by one tweet that doesn’t meet the standards of morality dictated by a particular camp. Displays of condescension towards black people can totally shatter a person’s standing, ignorance of LGBTQ issues will cause an uproar, and Islamophobia will lead to death threats, even by people who aren’t members of that religion.”

But when it comes to antisemitism, then things become more complex, says Baddiel.

“Anti-Jewish racism isn’t considered racism by a lot of people,” he writes in his book, which was recently translated into Hebrew. In the foreword to the Hebrew edition, Baddiel explains that up to the Oct. 7 Hamas onslaught, he had never felt particularly connected to the State of Israel. He viewed himself as British. The pogrom, as he describes it, changed his feelings.

He wonders whether the fact that it took so long for a Hebrew edition to come out is because of his disconnect from Israel.

“I was always a little confused as to why a Hebrew edition hadn’t come out previously. After all, it is a book about Jews. Jews buy it and read it everywhere else in the world and there are of course lots of Jews in Israel and that seemed like a good marketing peg. I talk in the book about how I don’t have that kind of deep connection to Israel that Jews from other parts of the world are supposed to have, and I thought maybe that’s the reason.

“But an Israeli journalist pointed out to me that I talk about Jews as a minority and in Israel, Jews are a majority. It never crossed my mind to think about it in that way. I think that since October 7 there are Israelis who feel that they are a minority in the world and they have a lot more in common with Diaspora Jews than they had thought. Israelis received a terrible reminder that they are Jews.

“A lot of Jews who don’t live in Israel tell me that I should feel more connected to Israel. The reason they tell me that is that as Jews they will always be hated and if things go wrong, they will always have somewhere to go—Israel. I never really thought that was a useful way to think about antisemitism because I felt that Jews in the West don’t need to think about a shelter. They don’t need to think ‘We need a place to hide;’ they should be standing up to antisemitism in the places they live.

“The interesting thing is that Jews in Europe and America are obsessive about antisemitism. Perhaps you are right, perhaps Israelis until recently weren’t like that because they didn’t want to believe, and because they didn’t experience it in Israel. I don’t think Israelis are aware that antisemitism is a routine issue for Jews overseas.”

Q: You said that the events of Oct. 7 awakened within you a need to express solidarity with Israel that you had not felt previously.

“Yes, but the phrase ‘land of my forefathers’ hints that this a place where one wants to live, but most Jews who say that don’t actually want to live in Israel, they want to live in London and say Israel is my homeland. But I am a British Jew. By the way, I want to make it clear that I am not anti-Zionist; I am also not necessarily a Zionist. For a long time that quite simply wasn’t the issue. I refuse to succumb to the idea that all Jews, especially in progressive eyes, should be classified by what they think about Israel.

“Until recently, my thing was, I don’t think too much about Israel unless something or someone forces me to do so and that happens sometimes. That was my position on the matter. And then came Oct. 7 and everything was cast aside and replaced by an emotional reaction to what happened. So that might be a bad point to connect, but it is nevertheless a point that connects my family history to what happened to people there. It was a pogrom, right? That connected me.”

Is Hollywood really Jewish?

One of the most shocking things that has happened since the war is the ease with which people allow themselves to write pretty terrible things about Jews online. Replace the word ‘Jews’ with any other race, and they wouldn’t dare talk that way.

“Another thing I have noticed is that people are more willing now to talk about ‘Jewish power’ or whatever you want to call it, ‘Zionist power.’ The idea that Jews can have a fundamental influence on geopolitics, that they control America or whatever. Before, people were more aware that this was an antisemitic portrayal and they wouldn’t say it out loud. But now they say it all the time. It’s absolutely fine now to say that obviously the reason that America funds Israel is because the Jews fundamentally control the American administration.”

Q: In your book, you write about the fact that from the perspective of the progressive left, discrimination against Jews simply doesn’t exist. They argue that Jews are in positions of power in the economy, in Hollywood, in culture, literature, the universities, in politics. What’s your answer to that?

“I say that’s not true. It’s something that is said about Jews all the time, and people just believe it. For example, people in Germany in the 1920s, before World War II, and not just Nazis, thought that Jews controlled banks. However, the real numbers showed that Jews constituted about 2% of the banking industry in Germany at the time. Still, people believed that Jews were overrepresented in the banking industry.

“If you check how many Jewish agents there are in Hollywood, you’ll find that there are quite a lot, and that leads people to say that showbusiness is controlled by Jews. But I did a documentary version of the book, which was broadcast on Channel 4, and we struggled to find Jews who would work as directors, who would work in production, simply because there aren’t that many.”

Q: Some people would argue that there are a lot of Jewish producers in the movie business.

“In the beginning, a long time ago, some Jewish immigrants went to Hollywood and built the studios, because they were good at telling stories. But they didn’t tell mostly Jewish stories or hire Jewish actors or writers. But that’s not the case any longer.

“Even though people think Jews are all over show business, there aren’t that many of them in the industry, certainly not in Britain. And I know most of them. Jewishness certainly exists when we meet, but not all the time; none of us are religious. It has been more present since October 7. Some, like Stephen Fry, have become more Jewish, or at least think more about the fact that they are Jewish.

“People now use Israel as an excuse. Last week in London, a Star of David necklace on a statue of Amy Winehouse was covered with a sticker of the Palestinian flag. People are so stupid that when they see a Star of David, they automatically think it has something to do with Israel and the Palestinians. No, the statue has to do with the fact that she was Jewish and lived in Camden. That’s a long, long way from Tel Aviv and Gaza.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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