David Baddiel – Cambridge 2011 David Baddiel – Cambridge 2011 | Photo: Chris Boland | CC BY-SA 2.0 | cropped from original

David Baddiel’s Channel 4 film focusing on antisemitism and the progressive left promotes a hierarchy of racism that only benefits the right argues Leah Levane

David Baddiel’s Channel 4 documentary Jews Don’t Count outlines some examples of antisemitism. The examples are mostly from the far-right and include the infamous Charlottesville march when white supremacists loudly proclaimed ‘Jews shall not replace us.’ However, his main focus is not on the far-right, but the attitude of ‘progressives.’ 

Dawn Butler MP, for example, was shown listing many marginalised groups but failed to mention Jews, which Baddiel considered typical and significant. From this Baddiel disingenuously implies that the UK Labour Party does not take antisemitism as seriously as other forms of racism or discrimination.

I can only presume that Baddiel has been in hibernation since 2015! He has certainly not bothered to read the Forde Report or watched Al Jazeera’s Labour Files.  As well as taking antisemitism seriously Forde and Al Jazeera expose shocking facts about the treatment of Black and Brown Party members and show categorically that there is a hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party that has placed antisemitism at the top.  Every allegation of antisemitism was amplified countless times by the mainstream media, which has all but ignored the findings from these two in-depth studies.

There were, of course, some useful points in the documentary but these were one-sided and require further explanation.

Stereotypes

Baddiel is correct to say that antisemitism is real and those heinous stereotypes pointing to Jewish power, control and wealth persist. However, the belief in Jewish power and control is far more prevalent on the far right. Threats of violence and attacks on Jewish people and institutions have been carried out by the right.

It is true that some on the left engage with conspiracy theories that use embedded Jewish stereotypes and these have to be challenged. But antisemitism is overwhelmingly generated on the right.

Many Jewish people are genuinely afraid. This is especially true of those who lost family in the Nazi Holocaust, or whose families had to flee the quotas and pogroms of the Russian tsars. Baddiel’s family suffered too.

Jewish people are well aware of the centuries long Jewish experience of oppression, exile, enslavement, quotas, pogroms and Holocaust. Understandably many fear that it could happen again. However, as already stated, the threat of violence is not coming from “progressives” as Baddiel suggests. And, he has nothing to say about how fear was whipped up by the right who named Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, time after time, as posing an ‘existential threat’. to Jews.

The weaponising of antisemitism is irresponsible, reprehensible, cruel and wicked.

Antisemitism is racism

Baddiel rightly identifies antisemitism as a form of racism, despite Jews being seen as “white”. He evidences this line of thinking by showing two clips of Whoopi Goldberg arguing that the Holocaust was terrible but was not racism. Baddiel uses this to argue that ‘racism is ring-fenced to include only those of colour’.

However, when Baddiel interviews Stephen Bush, a Black British Jew and Baddiel’s own niece Dionna, a biracial woman from the US, he finds the fact that all Jews are not white to be of little significance. For example, Baddiel fails to tell us that Bush has led a study into the experiences of Black Jews, which found that most of them feel unwelcome in UK Jewish institutions. 

When Dionna explains to Baddiel that she worries about what would happen to her Black mother rather than her white Jewish father if either got stopped by the police, he responds by saying that he gets trolled online, as though this was some form of equivalence. 

There was no acknowledgement that Black parents are so fearful of police shootings that they teach even their very young children how to behave if police stop them. In seeking understanding for Jewish people in the face of antisemitism, where was Baddiel’s compassion or even curiosity about the reality of being Black in the United States? The comparison of their experience to that of white Jews in the UK simply isn’t valid.

 Baddiel talks about those who have hit back at him because of his racism towards footballer Jason Lee.  But, perhaps surprisingly, I can leave a response on this to the Telegraph, which noted that:

 “Things went awry when Baddiel attempted to head off critics who bring up his mockery of the former Nottingham Forest player Jason Lee on Fantasy Football League – a recurring “gag” which involved Baddiel in blackface and on every occasion involved playground-level bullying. The comic huffed that he had apologised countless times but it was only here, 25 years late and in service of his own documentary, that he bothered to apologise to Lee himself. The air is thin up there on the moral high ground.”  

Israel and Palestine

Baddiel is, of course, correct when he says that Diaspora Jews are not accountable for what Israel does and he made it clear that he does not identify with Israel.  He is right to object that when discussing antisemitism some people on the left, say ‘yes but what about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians’?  However, he did not examine why this happens and therefore implies that this is antisemitism too.

Baddiel says nothing about how anti-Zionism and antisemitism have been conflated to attack the left. Nor does he try to explain why the IHRA definition of antisemitism is being pushed so heavily, nor how allegations of antisemitism using that (non) definition, and most often relating to criticism of Israel, has led to people losing jobs and endless harassment.

And, of course since he is not responsible, he says nothing critical of Israel’s actions, nor does he criticise Israeli leaders for claiming that it acts on ‘behalf of the Jews of the World’. Israeli leaders of all Parties say this (even though it goes against the IHRA definition). The organisations of the Jewish Establishment support Israel largely without criticism. Whereas Jews who campaign for justice for Palestinians are unjustly labelled as ‘self-hating or even sham Jews’.

Why does this all matter? 

It matters because it reinforces the idea of a hierarchy of racism, and argues that Jews are at the bottom, despite all evidence to the contrary.  It matters because it is unbalanced, because it feeds into that real fear without offering any way out. It matters, above all, because it does not focus on working together to defeat racism. 

To argue that Jews should only concern themselves with their own culture and experiences is wrong. We benefit from knowing the story of other groups suffering racism. And Jews seeking to fight antisemitism need to stand with others fighting back if they are to be effective. It requires identifying the interests that racism serves and working together to defeat it. The vital fight against the Far Right and against racism needs everyone standing together. Baddiel has nothing to say about that.

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