David Baddiel is a comedian from the UK who I’ve become familiar with through my love of panel shows. He is also in his own words one of the UK’s most famous Jews, because he makes his Jewishness part of his public identity in a way he believes many other British Jews are uncomfortable doing.
The central premise of the book is that anti-Semitism isn’t taken as seriously as other forms of racism and discrimination, and in Baddiel’s opinion, it should be. A large part of the book is Baddiel providing examples where, he says, Jews didn’t count. For instance, he points out that no one ever makes a fuss when non-Jewish actors play Jewish characters in TV shows and movies, even when those characters are very stereotypically Jewish, like the Maisel family on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or J.K. Simmons’s Hollywood agent on BoJack Horseman. Baddiel isn’t necessarily offended by these performances, but he does think the lack of a discussion around them is telling.
Anti-Semitism has been a major point of contention in the UK for the last few years in light of repeated accusations against Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Baddiel says that he can’t authoritatively say whether or not Corbyn hates Jews, but it’s clear that he has a blind spot about it and gets defensive instead of listening when he is criticized. Baddiel points to a famously anti-Semitic mural that Corbyn defended in which Jewish banker stereotypes were depicted playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor and working class. Corbyn, according to Baddiel, sees the image as merely anti-Capitalist without seeming to notice the anti-Semitic imagery.
Baddiel’s thesis is really well-argued but the truly effective bit comes at the end when he allows his emotions to enter in. He describes the hurt he feels when, as a progressive himself, he is told by other progressives to stop bringing up anti-Semitism or told flat out that it’s not as important as other forms of racism. It makes him feel the same way he felt when his classmates spit on him, the same way he felt when he heard fans at a soccer match yell anti-Jewish slurs at opposing players.
I read Jews Don’t Count hoping to get a better understanding of the rift within the Labour Party, but Baddiel’s argument extends much further than that. It’s a well-written, passionately argued polemic that gives the reader plenty to think about.