A review of “Jews Don’t Count” by David Baddiel

I read this book because, in his own review of it, a good Jewish friend encouraged all his non-Jewish friends to do so. I’m glad that I did and I would endorse his recommendation. It is a short work (just 123 pages) but compelling and important.

Baddiel, who is a Jew best known for his comedy, writes with passion and fluency to present a case which, for me, is utterly convincing. The case can be simply stated: too many progressives who (rightly) are quick to condemn sexism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism and especially racism, have a blind spot when it comes to recognising and calling out ant-Semitism.

He provides example after example, many from the world of Twitter, which is not a forum on which I personally spend much time, and finishing (sadly for me as a lifelong member of the Labour Party) with the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission following its investigation of anti-Jewish discrimination in the party.

So, why do so many progressives fail to call out ant-Semitism?

For Baddiel, the basic answer is that, while other communities facing racism are seen as disadvantaged, “Jews are the only objects of racism who are imagined – by the racists – as both low and high status”. So while Jews are perceived as dirty and vile, they are also seen as privileged and powerful and – in the classic conspiracy theory – in control of the world.

Another factor which Baddiel identifies is that Jews are often seen as white and therefore privileged compared to other ethnic minorities. Yet, when it suits the racists as it often does, Jews are portrayed as non-white with swarthy skin and big noses. He writes: “being white is not about skin colour, but security”.

A third factor is what Baddiel calls a “hierarchy of racisms”: a view of some progressives that, while Jews might have problems, they are somehow less discriminated against and therefore less deserving than other ethnic minorities. Baddiel emphasises: “I am arguing not for another person’s experience of racism to be lessened in significance but for the awareness of something similar happening to Jews to be heightened”.

I was particularly struck by Baddiel’s reference to his lived experience: “the lived experience of a Jew who feels as most Jews do that the reaction of progressives, to ant-Semitism, is that it doesn’t matter very much” or – to use the title of his book – “Jews don’t count”.

We live in a challenging age in which offence is less about the intention of the offender and more about the feeling of the offended. As someone with what has been described as a white-male-cis-het perspective, I am aware of my privilege and of the need really to listen to Baddiel and my Jewish friends when they talk of their lived experience.


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