Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER
David Baddiel says that among typical progressives whose hearts bleed for every oppressed minority, Jews don’t count.
Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count is intended to “shine a light on the ways in which the progressive consensus has failed, in a time of deep intensification of concern about discrimination faced by minorities in general, to apply that concern to Jews.”
Baddiel, a successful British comic whose Jewishness is part of his public persona, says: “It is absolutely at the heart of this book that antisemitism is racism.” (More on that later.)
Why? “Lots of answers, but the basic one … is that Jews are the only objects of racism who are imagined — by the racists — as both low and high status,” he says. That means “lying, thieving, dirty, vile, stinking — but also moneyed, privileged, powerful and secretly in control of the world.”
If you believe the “high status” version, “you can’t put them into the sacred circle of the oppressed. Some might say they belong in the damned circle of the oppressors.”
And underlying all of that, he says, is the centuries-old — if now little spoken — “Jews killed Christ” slander, an “unmistakable message” that Jews are “murderers of all that is good and innocent and sacred.” Baddiel points out that Jesus was an observant Jew killed by the Romans.
In the United Kingdom, he says antiracists acknowledge that antisemitism is a form of racism, but “there is an underlying sense that it is not real racism or that it is a lesser form.”
He also tackles how anti-Zionism cloaks antisemitism: when criticism of Israel includes criticism of Jews, and when Jews outside of Israel are criticized for things done by Israel.
Jews Don’t Count, recently tweaked for Americans, is an easy read, with sizeable type generously spaced between lines, but reproduced Twitter messages nearly require a magnifying glass. While witty, it’s serious, with some outrage.
Baddiel says he’s an atheist, so for those who’d “suggest that Jewish should not be considered a race or an ethnicity [but a religion],” he is not a Jew.
Classifying Jews as an ethnicity “doesn’t hold up because we live in a time — luckily — when ethnicity is something to be celebrated, not hidden,” he says.
“To fight antisemitism, you have to be aware of how the antisemites see Jewishness, which is as a thing in your blood, not your spiritual soul.”
That’s the Nazi view, which is why I think Baddiel is a bit off with “race.” Jews do share a common history and tradition, but not genetically transmitted physical characteristics (skin color, eye shape) or genealogical line.
Jews are a people; anyone can join. My congregation includes Jews who are Black, Asian, and white but not born Jewish — some of whom have become congregation presidents.
But Ashknazic Jews like me, with Romanian and Russian grandparents, can’t possibly become Black or Asian.
Progressives tend to think Jews are white, not deserving of the protections offered to non-whites facing racism, Baddiel says, but racists say Jews aren’t white; “the Nazis said it all the time.” (And for a long time in America, white Jews weren’t considered fully white.)
Thankfully, Jews aren’t oppressed the way we were for centuries, leading to the industrialized slaughter of one third of us by 1945. Some people even admire us.
But racists and thugs attack Jews on the street. Synagogues now employ armed guards. And the nation of Jews — of various colors — is bordered by hostile movements and within missile range of a nuclear-threshold nation, all sworn to its destruction.
Jew hatred often is downgraded from racism to antisemitism, but “antisemitism has very little to do with racism,” Baddiel says.
“Racists who don’t like Jews never ask the Jew they’re abusing how often they go to synagogue,” he says. “They just see the Jewish name and they know. Which is why it’s racist.” Jewishness, like skin color, is an accident of birth, and for racists, “you can never lose either.”
Neal Gendler is a Minneapolis writer and editor.
(American Jewish World, March 2022)