Book – Jews Don’t Count
Author – David Baddiel
Year – 2021
Pages – 125
Genre – Non-fiction
(Book 4 of 2022)
I spend quite a lot of time reading and thinking about politics. Around election times in particular, I will absorb anything that I can, and whilst I am by no means one hundred percent knowledgeable about any particular topic, I do try and improve my understanding wherever possible. My absolute basis for anything political starts with the phrase that I see as truly self-evident – “all people should be seen as having an equal basic worth”. Many of the problems I see with the world come when this is not adhered to.
I also feel like this is a generally accepted axiom on the left. I cannot imagine anyone I know who leans politically towards the liberal side saying that they don’t agree with it. However, the problem comes in that it is not something that is always followed quite as well as it should be. And most famously for the left – and in particular the Labour party, of which I am a member – there is a big problem around anti-Semitism. Whenever debate rages around this – which is often – I feel somewhat unable to comment. I know very people people who are Jewish, and very little about the uniqueness of the anti-Semitism issue. Increasingly though, I feel that this isn’t a good enough excuse. And the best way to change that is to find out more.
And so I tried to approach David Baddiel’s book with the most open mind possible. Baddiel is a comedian, novelist and avid Twitter user who often uses his social media influence to call out those he sees anti-Semitic. This book makes the case for why there is a big problem with not just overt racism against Jews, but also in the way that they are not often seen as part of the racism problem in this, and many other countries.
The book has its ups and its downs. I feel having read it, that I have an improved, yet still wholly inadequate understanding of the whole situation. I will try and give an example of the good, the bad and the ugly from this book.
The good: by reading this I have a better understanding of why there is sometimes outcry at the use of anti-Semitic tropes by those on the left. The left – quite rightly in my eyes – spend a lot of their time trying to call out those at the top with money. The inadequate sharing of wealth is a huge problem in this country. However, years of suggestions that Jewish people are miserly or hoard wealth has made these tropes that lazy anti-Semites are capable of exploiting to score easy points. The left must make far more of an effort to not conflate the two.
The bad: when discussing the role of Jewish actors in Jewish parts, the idea of giving opportunities to Jewish performers is skated over. Baddiel acknowledges that casting – for example – gay actors in gay roles is largely about giving performers who have often been marginalised for their sexuality a chance to take leading roles. However, despite bringing this topic up, he does not counter the argument that there has long been a strong Jewish representation in the media. I bring this up not to counter his arguments, or even to suggest that I am right in the assumption I have just made here, but because it is exactly this kind of question that I hoped to gain some clarity on from this book. Baddiel instead misses this opportunity, which is a pity – and a pity that he repeats several times more in the book, not taking by the horns the bull that he has set loose.
The ugly: the only thing I would say he is specifically unsuccessful with in this book is when he brings in Twitter conversations from idiots. He takes to task certain journalists and politicians whose thoughts and opinions on the matter need further development, or who are in high profile enough situations to be analysed. This is excellent – and as an aside, his future interactions with several of these on Twitter has shown that David Baddiel is always happy to discuss and learn. But when he starts recounting his arguments with people whose opinion is hidden behind a lame Twitter handle and nondescript picture, there feels little point. There are always idiots out there. Engaging with this in what is an somewhat brief piece feels below Baddiel, whose credentials are established firmly from the start.
In conclusion, you probably should not expect the world from a comedian novelist writing about such a difficult subject, but to underestimate him would be a bigger crime. As an accessible introduction to this issue it is fantastic, and I am very glad I took the time to read it.
1 thought on “Book 297 – Jews Don’t Count”
Can’t help but feel you’ve been a bit harsh here. Given its length – it’s more a pamphlet than a book – the intention can only have been to get people giving more thought to the issues he raises, rather than be able to propose solutions.
In that respect, I thought it was excellent. I found it constantly thought-provoking, a lot funnier than you’d expect given the topic and, as someone who fits into the liberal bracket you describe, often uncomfortable reading. It prompted a lot of self-examination and questioning of things I do, both unconsciously and consciously.
I think the sections where he admits that he doesn’t have all the answers are among the most interesting. He admits that these are difficult things to talk about, and deal with.
I share the view that he can focus too much on idiot/irrelevant people on Twitter, but there does seem to be a thread between how the views spouted by celebrities/authoritative figures gain traction, trickle down and become more accepted by others, empowering those irrelevants.
The last aspect I’d mention is its topicality: in the last few weeks alone we’ve had the furore around Helen Mirren playing Golda Meir (he was obviously asked to write an article about it: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2022/jan/12/helen-mirren-golda-meir-maureen-lipman-david-baddiel-row-jews-bojack-horseman) and Tottenham Hotspur finally taking some serious steps to address their fans’ relationship with “the y word”, something Baddiel has been campaigning about for over a decade. Whatever else, particularly given its length, the breadth covered and insight given, is to his credit.