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Aging Liberal Confuses Self, Blames Left

A confused aging Jew with his "book"

A review of Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel

In the eyes of its author, Jews Don’t Count is an autobiographical dissertation on the reality of antisemitism as experienced by British Jews and a peculiar “progressive” strain of this ancient hatred found on the Left. Baddiel advances a grand analysis of the antisemitism he perceives on the Left and concludes with a rallying cry for the inclusion of antisemitism in evils we must collectively fight. In reality, Jews Don’t Count has two principal uses: as a detailed post-mortem of a brain rotted by Twitter and as an illustration of the intellectual dead-end championed by liberals still dreaming of a return to the good old days of 1997.

While this one book may not be of significant consequence, it is representative of a wider malaise in liberal political thinking. By analysing Jews Don’t Count in greater depth, we can illuminate the blunders and garden paths that befall much of what passes for centrist anti-oppression politics and hopefully sketch more fruitful alternatives.

Before diagnosing the deeper conceptual errors which animate Jews Don’t Count, it is worth getting a sense of what Baddiel is trying to say. In a nutshell, he is angered, upset, and bewildered by what he sees as the lesser status progressives, broadly defined, afford to complaints of antisemitism when compared to other bigotries. He grounds this argument in an autobiographical account of growing up Jewish in London in latter 20th Century and various musings on the Jewish condition.

To be fair to Baddiel, some of this content is interesting – his discussion of his own non-Zionist identity is refreshing and his meditation on the uncoolness of British Jews is funny, if deeply flawed. However, even when discussing topics tangential to his central argument, the glaring conceptual feebleness of his thinking is apparent – academic apathy towards the IHRA definition of antisemitism is taken as prima facie apathy towards Jews, antizionist Jews are nonchalantly accused of self-hatred (This will be news to the Satmar Chasidim, or in Baddiel’s parlance “Stupid Fucking Frummers”), “One’s Jewishness, just like one’s skin colour, is an accident of birth”, etc. The weakness of Baddiel’s reasoning is clearest when he attempts to define Whiteness:

But Jews are not white. Or not quite. Or, at least, they don’t always feel it. I don’t mean just that some Jews are of Middle Eastern descent, and their melanin can follow suit. (Although one of my first jokes on starting stand-up was: ‘I’ve been beaten up twice in my life, once for being Jewish, one for being a Pakistani.’) I mean that being white is not about skin colour, but security. It means you are protected because you are a member of the majority culture. Protected, that is, from prejudice, discrimination, second-class citizenship, dispossession and genocide. Which Jews – as, perhaps, you’ve guessed I was about to say – have not always been. (p43)

While it is correct that Whiteness, i.e. being white, is not just about skin colour, to define it as broad historical safety is logically incoherent. It amounts to defining white people as those who have never historically experienced prejudice and renders the concept of prejudice against a white ethnic group oxymoronic. By Baddiel’s account, Poles, Serbs and the Irish are not White and that, presumably, Joe Biden is BAME.

[This isn’t the only juncture where Baddiel seems to distance himself from his own conclusions. “Or, at least, they don’t always feel it” and many similar disclaimers pepper Jews Don’t Count. It feels like a buffer of subjectivity inserted afterwards to soften jarring corollaries.] Baddiel goes on to buttress his ahistorical understanding of race by the wholesale incorporation of Nazi Race Science:

And the racists say: Jews are not white. The Nazis said it all the time – the project of the Jews, as far as they were concerned, was to undermine the Aryan white races. And the exclusion of Jews from the category of whiteness is still key to present-day white supremacists. (p47)

Photo of Werner Goldberg, a half-Jewish Wehrmacht WW2 soldier.
Werner Goldberg was a half-Jewish soldier in the Wehrmacht. His photograph was used in recruitment posters as “The Ideal German Soldier”

Baddiel fails to consider that Nazis (and Neo-Nazis) are dumb as fuck and their racial categorisation is incoherent nonsense. The Third Reich considered Poles and Serbs non-Aryan and perpetrated large-scale ethnic cleansing against them, while simultaneously considered Croats and Albanians to be Aryan enough to recruit into the Waffen-SS. Does Baddiel want to claim that the BAME label should include Poles but not Albanians? Previous state racial categorisations, while important for understanding the development of race as a social form, are not the last word on how race functions.

Apartheid South Africa considered White Jews to be White and conferred the relevant legal privileges. Likewise, White Jews were on the White side of the colour line in Jim Crow USA. It would have been absurd for a White Jew in 80’s South Africa or 30’s Alabama, living in a White neighbourhood with full legal rights, to argue that they are not in fact White due to how they would have fared under the Nuremberg Laws. While racial inequality in Britain isn’t as de jure, Baddiel’s experience of many aspects of British society such as the police, local government, healthcare, the criminal justice system, financial institutions etc, will be far closer to that of his White goyish neighbours than of his Black neighbours, Jewish or otherwise. These arenas of racial discrimination are barely examined by Jew Don’t Count, which instead focusses primarily on Twitter.

Photo of Hessy Levinsons Taft, a Jewish baby who won a competition to find “the most beautiful Aryan baby” in 1935.
Hessy Levinsons Taft, a Jewish baby, won a competition to find “the most beautiful Aryan baby” in 1935.

How did Baddiel get this so wrong?

There are three overarching conceptual failures which weave throughout Jews Don’t Count and combine to form this deeply flawed analysis. Understanding these errors shines a light on not only Baddiel’s contribution to anti-racism, but also the worldview animating much of the liberal British commentariat.

Who are the Progressives, David?

Jews Don’t Count is about ‘progressives’ defined in extremely broad terms: “those who would define themselves as being on the right side of history” (p16). Baddiel casts a wide net and includes basically everyone who concedes that, in principle, racism is bad. He boils down this massive heterogenous spectrum of people, perspectives, and political traditions to present it as a single movement and then goes on to analyse its view on antisemitism – which turns out to be an incoherent mess. Baddiel ascribes this incoherence to the ‘progressives’ as a category rather than flowing from his own faulty categorisation.

To Baddiel’s eyes, ‘progressives’ seem to include the BBC, football club manages, his mates, Twitter user @potato_in_my_ass, Waterstones managers, David Cameron, the HR department of major corporations, the Observer, Twitter user @blue_tick_respecter69 and basically everyone to the Left of Nigel Farage (Are Huguenots White? Baddiel doesn’t say).

Photo of a CEO on stage under the McDonalds logo and a banner read, "A MODERN AND PROGRESSIVE BURGER COMPANY"

It is clear that Twitter has left an undeniable imprint on Baddiel’s understanding of the world. He seems to have confused the Social Media-Clickbait-Industrial Complex for some kind of organised movement. He seems to believe that people calling him a twat on Twitter can be understood as a coherent communication from the Progressive coalition.

Fundamentally, Baddiel is unable to say anything meaningful about the Left because he is unable to delimit it, let alone talk about it. This a conceptual error which underpins the entire book. (Compare it with That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic, 1984, by Steve Cohen)

If Baddiel’s description of an all-pervasive amorphous progressive movement seems familiar, that’s because it is a repackaged version of Tory ramblings about a “woke agenda”. At a time when the political Right control Parliament, the media, business and pretty much every powerful institution in Britain, the only way Tories can cast themselves as rebels is to imagine the belief that ‘racism and bigotry is bad” is some kind of hegemonic movement controlling society.

A significant consequence – and perhaps motivation – of presenting the weakest formulation of anti-oppression politics as the organising principle of the ‘Progressives’ is that it allows one to avoid engagement with any particular rigorous and coherent anti-racist tradition. It is notable that Baddiel, in his book on antisemitism on the Left, does not discuss any left-wing writing on antisemitism. He is content to shadowbox an ill-defined progressive movement with no coherent corpus of theory, hiding that movement’s history of militant anti-racism from view.

Liberal IDPOL is Dead. Long Live Liberal IDPOL!

Despite Jews Don’t Count ostensibly being about the political Left, much of what Baddiel rallies against can be understood as the liberal bastardisation of Identity Politics (IDPOL) and the toolkit associated with Diversity and Inclusion. Liberal IDPOL is a far cry from the original formulation of Identity Politics by the Combahee River Collective, grounded in the material struggles of Black Women in the 70’s. In Baddiel’s words:

Identity politics, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a politics whereby traditional things that the left and right fight about – basically economics – get surpassed by issues like racism and disablism and homophobia. The duty of the left becomes less about supporting the working man (although many left thinkers would say that economic injustice goes hand in hand with injustices perpetrated against minorities, which I agree with) and more about the championing of people of colour, and gays, and trans people… (p17)

Once again, Baddiel swallows a right-wing framing whole and presents it as fact. For the purposes of understanding Jews Don’t Count, the main thing to realise is that “championing” should not be understood in terms of emancipation or empowerment. Rather, as made clear by Baddiel’s choice of illustrative examples, it is closer to the anti-racism of a McKinsey corporate policy than a Black Feminist manifesto.

That Baddiel is focused on his own liberal milieu is apparent from the first page – Jews Don’t Count opens with analysis of a book review in the Observer by a journalist with no obvious Left political leanings. Baddiel’s own identification as a progressive and the frequent invocation of his mates as typical examples make clear that the thrust of his polemic is not aimed at Left anti-racism properly understood.

Part of what gives Jews Don’t Count some substance is that liberal anti-racism is deeply flawed and Baddiel does identify some genuine issues. For instance, an anti-racism that is focussed on ensuring representation of marginalised groups is toothless in the case of a marginalised group that is already well represented. Jews make up 0.5% of the UK but include 1.7% of MPs – quite clearly, representation in Parliament doesn’t prevent Jewish MPs from experiencing antisemitism. Jews were well represented in the Trump administration. Baddiel discusses antisemitism in Hollywood persisting despite the proliferation of Jews in all aspects of the film industry. Many examples of this can be found in the arts, academia, media, politics etc.

Put bluntly, the persistence of antisemitism despite Jewish inclusion and representation in British and American society shows the deep inadequacy of liberal IDPOL to fight antisemitism. What Baddiel utterly fails to consider is that this is also the case for racism, homophobia, sexism etc.

Instead of locating the failure of liberal IDPOL to challenge the structural causes of antisemitism in the its theoretical and practical shallowness, he postulates a specific and subtle apathy towards Jews. For example, when ‘progressives’ are outraged at Scarlett Johansson playing a trans character but not at Al Pacino playing a Jewish character, Baddiel concludes that antisemitism is being relegated on a hierarchy of racism. In actual fact, the limits of Jewish actor inclusion as a form of anti-racism have broadly been reached – whereas this is not the case for trans actor inclusion as a form of pro-trans advocacy.

An important feature of Baddiel’s analysis is that this apathy towards fighting antisemitism is logically inferred rather than directly observed. This allows him to assert with confidence that Jews are singled out for disregard in political discourse despite the significant airtime given to antisemitism in media coverage and political discussion. For example, antisemitism was the only racism elevated to an electoral issue in the coverage of the 2019 General Election despite the Windrush Scandal, anti-GRT policies in the Conservative manifesto and Boris Johnson’s longstanding record of every bigotry under the sun.

Another consequence of Baddiel’s conclusion is that it leaves liberal IDPOL intact. Despite touching on a fundamental flaw of a liberal anti-racism limited to diversity and inclusion, by ascribing its feebleness to a pervasive ‘progressive’ antisemitism, he is able salvage liberalism as an answer to the problem of oppression and save himself from further political introspection.

Feelings don’t care about your facts

The third fatal conceptual flaw of Jews Don’t Count is the vehement opposition to any material or historical analysis of antisemitism as an existing social phenomenon. This attitude is clearest when Baddiel discusses the following quotation from Ash Sarkar:

This is where we must think very seriously about what the work of anti-racism is. Antisemitism, at this point in history, is primarily experienced as prejudice and hostility towards Jews as Jews, largely without aspects of material dispossession (such as structural unemployment) that manifest in other forms of racism. (p25)

Baddiel’s response is immediate:

The suggestion here is that, because Jews are materially better off – I’m not sure what else ‘without aspects of material dispossession’ means – than other ethnic minorities, it is a lesser form of racism. It all comes down to money. (p26)

In addition to the grotesque misrepresentation of Sarkar’s words, Baddiel goes on to infer soft-core Holocaust denial:

The writer Deborah Lipstadt, when I interviewed her for a BBC 2 documentary about Holocaust denial, talked about something she calls softcore Holocaust denial, which would include, and I quote, ‘Yes, but look at you now.’ Meaning: come on Jews, you’re OK now. You’re rich, you’re powerful, you’ve got Israel. Basically, it’s non-Jews saying, enough already. I see it, very subtly, in Ash Sarkar saying ‘at this point in history’ in the sentence ‘Antisemitism, at this point in history, is primarily experienced as prejudice and hostility towards Jews as Jews, largely without aspects of material dispossession’. (p110)

This hostility to Sarkar is misplaced and ironic. Jews Don’t Count, taken as a whole, is entirely in agreement with Sarkar’s point – it is a 130-page explanation of how many Jews can experience antisemitism and fear for their future in the UK despite relative physical safety and material comfort.

Baddiel is making two significant claims here: Firstly, he is alleging that a material analysis that acknowledges relative Jewish affluence is accusing all Jews of being rich. Secondly, he is alleging that a historical analysis of antisemitism that acknowledges relative Jewish safety in contemporary Britain is downplaying the Holocaust. These are both obviously nonsense and it seems to be Baddiel’s own difficulty in articulating the structural nature of antisemitism that causes him unease. However, elsewhere he does admit that “racism against people of colour is different in kind to racism against Jews” (p40) but presumably any attempt to sketch these differences will cross his red lines.

These sections illustrate a central feature of his thoughts underpinning Jews Don’t Count. He believes that to deny that a particular prejudice is experienced in terms of material dispossession is to regard it as less important prejudice. This is why he sees Sarkar as invoking a hierarchy of racism with antisemitism at the bottom – because she identifies antisemitism as being primarily experienced as prejudice and hostility toward Jews, which he understands as meaning not real racism. Nowhere does Sarkar make Baddiel’s own inference that racism in forms other than material dispossession are somehow less important.

David Baddiel and the Liberal Tweet Factory

The end result of this combination of conceptual errors is the same liberal identity politics Baddiel rallies against, except now further untethered from any material analysis, anti-racist theory & practice or even liberal common-sense. Jews Don’t Count presents a parody of post-structuralism where all narratives must be given equal weight, all prejudices must be treated as manifesting identically and lived experience can not be interpreted in light of concrete contexts.

Antisemitism, as well as all other prejudice, is presented as an unchanging phenomenon outside of time and space. The actual history of antisemitism or the material situations where it occurs cannot be discussed. This is a fundamentally flat world where racism cannot actually be fought, it can only be complained about.

For instance, Baddiel talks about the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020 as an autonomous phenomenon existing in the sphere of liberal conversation, rather than as the result of a grassroots movement of people struggling against police brutality in continuity with previous hard-won civil rights struggles.

Meanwhile, I think it is the case that there are certain times in history – during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, for example – when the fight against racism and discrimination directed towards one particular minority has to be given prominence. (p79)

Baddiel’s principal concern seems to hinge on which struggles are given prominence in the media discussion, rather than the actual racism which makes these struggles necessary. In his account, the cardinal sin is not bigotry but inconsistency.

This is most apparent when Baddiel is bemoaning apparent anti-racist inconsistencies which he obviously does not even care about. For example:

If you Google ‘cultural appropriation food’ you’ll find much more on this subject, and if you want to dig into it, add to your search window, ‘Chinese’, or ‘Indian’, or ‘Caribbean’, for specific examples of concern and anger. As an experiment, I added the word ‘Jewish’. Despite the – not mythic, completely true – fact that Jews are obsessed with food, and despite the appropriation of bagels, chopped liver, schmaltz herring, chicken soup and salt beef by many, many non-Jewish outlets, particularly in America, I found not a single blogpost or newspaper article or tweet complaining about this [Editor’s note: he evidently didn’t look very hard], or even simply identifying it as a thing. I did find some search results, of course. They were articles angrily accusing Jews, Israelis to be specific, of appropriating Palestinian food. Jews, in other words, even in the left-field arena of recipe stealing, are identified as the stealers, not the stolen from: the oppressors, not the victims. (p19)

Baddiel is stuck at a crossroads – on the one hand, as a critic of IDPOL he clearly doesn’t care about the cultural appropriation of food. On the other, he is annoyed that the people who do care don’t seem to be bothered about the appropriation of Jewish food. He is furious at an inconsistency in the thinking of other people on a topic by which even he is not bothered. What he wants is for other people to do his kvetching for him. Likewise, in the discussion of ‘Jewface’, non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters, Baddiel doesn’t actually say whether it is antisemitic or not. He merely claims that this amorphous ‘progressive’ movement he sees on Twitter is inconsistent, from which he deduces wide-spread antisemitism. Commenting on the casting of non-Jewish actors in the musical Falsettos, he says:

But no one took it seriously. It got no – and this is important – social media traction. Without that, you can forget outrage. All the main progressive movements of the past few years have come about because of the deeper democratisation brought by social media. #MeToo, #OscarsSoWhite, #StopFundingHate, #BlackLivesMatter, #TakeAKnee – as demonstrated by the placement of the hashtag within their names – could not have happened without social media. All righting of wrongs happens online: no celebrity apologises, no political leader sacks an underling wrongdoer, no corporation comes clean about malfeasance, unless they are under pressure to do so by the viral calls of Twitter.

The campaign to raise awareness around the casting of non-Jews in Falsettos did not go viral. I did not see #Jewface or #FalsettoGate trend on Twitter. There was no outrage anywhere on the internet. If their attention is brought to it, progressives may not disapprove of the raising of the Falsettos case; but they won’t get behind it. They won’t step in, in the way they would if this was a play that had characters of colour, gay, trans, disabled, autistic, or any other minority, portrayed by the wrong actors. To shake up privilege, you need the privileged: you need them to feel ashamed. You need the privileged, white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied to feel shame and anger on behalf of the minority that’s being in some way traduced by them. And the privileged, white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied majority never feel these things when the minority being traduced is Jews; because they think that Jews are just … them. They don’t see enough difference. (p60-61)

Baddiel not only fails to consider how the practise of blackface is historically and materially different than ‘Jewface’ but goes on to argue against claims that blackface is a particularly more damaging practice.

The first comment, which is the angriest, brings us back to the hierarchy of racism. Blackface is more offensive than Jewface. In fact, it’s an insult to the importance of blackface to even invent the concept of Jewface. But is it?

The two racisms become confusingly conflated when The Stage prints the word ‘Jewface’. Anti-black racism is the motherlode. The racism suffered by black people is the one that shapes anti-racist discourse. Blackface therefore is the default offence, and all similar offences follow from it, and use the same construction: yellowface, brownface, redface – even drag has been described as womanface. All these bad faces are – to state the obvious – recognisable on the face. They involve make-up. Which brings us back to something about Jews: they aren’t necessarily instantly recognisable as Jews. So how can Jewface be a thing?  (p62-63)

Given that Baddiel’s main concern is the attention apportioned by Twitter rather than the actual casting of Jewish roles, it is clear that he is again asking for other people to complain on his behalf about something he isn’t actually worried about. He believes he is exposing an antisemitic inconsistency in the progressive movement but is in fact, revealing his own contempt for anti-racist organising.

The apparent inconsistencies are almost entirely explained by the differing contexts by which these various anti-racist arguments are being made, contexts completely stripped away in Baddiel’s retelling. For instance, the lack of trans representation in film acting partially explains why trans activists were more concerned about the casting of Scarlett Johannsson than Jews were concerned about Al Pacino. These different material contexts have no place in Baddiel’s flat understanding of oppression.

Additionally, the ‘Make Up theory of offence’ cobbled together in this passage will become important later when we discuss Baddiel’s own blackface portrayal of Jason Lee.

It’s always Y-Word this, Y-Word that, when will you ask Y-Would you write this schlock

I have no will to re-litigate every example in Jews Don’t Count but there are two topics which require specific analysis. The first is Baddiel’s discussion of the comparative taboos around racist slurs and the second is the discussion of his portrayal of Jason Lee. They both exemplify Baddiel’s broken liberal IDPOL as well as his tendency to be unable to discuss antisemitism without deeply flawed comparisons to anti-Black racism. In his discussion of short film about the word ‘Yid’, he explains:

But you’ll notice that in the last paragraph, I did just write the word ‘Yid’ in full. And I have already, in this book, written it out. I would not do that with the P-word, and certainly not the N-word. Which suggests a hierarchy of offence: a hierarchy that exists even now, even in this book that I’m writing. Yid is considered not as bad hate speech as the P-word or the N-word. The film led to much debate, and at one point Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in saying that he thought it was OK for Spurs fans to ‘call themselves Yids’. Forget the spurious argument about OK-ness. Consider the fact that he was just fine to say the word, to let it pass his lips. And how un-fine he would be to do so with the P-word or the N-word.* (p24)

Baddiel’s point is that because the Y-word, the P-word and the N-word are all slurs, they should be equally taboo – a crystal clear example of Baddiel’s flat world where everything had to be held equal and nothing has a history or material impact. To Baddiel, if you believe that the N-word is more offensive or racist than the Y-word is to believe that anti-Black racism is more horrible and important than antisemitism. From this, he concludes that there is a hierarchy of racism in operation and utterly fails to consider that the Y-word is not the equivalent of the N-word. To give a crude illustration, consider the slurs ‘hymie’, ‘kike’, ‘poofter’ and ‘faggot’. In Baddiel’s analysis, to consider ‘faggot’ a more hurtful slur than ‘hymie’ is to believe homophobia is higher on the hierarchy of bigotries than antisemitism. Conversely with ‘kike’ and ‘poofter’. Most people are able to understand that slurs, along with many other facets of bigotry, do exist in gradations and that ‘kike’ and ‘faggot’ are substantially more hurtful than Hymie and Poofter. By closing off any historical or material analysis of antisemitism, Baddiel has shut himself off from any hope of a coherent understanding of racism and prejudice.

David ‘Blackface’ Baddiel

Still of David Baddiel in blackface from a 90s TV sketch.
Just as racist as it looks!

Jews Don’t Count apexes with the discussion of Baddiel’s portrayal of the black footballer Jason Lee in a TV sketch show in the 90s. In the sketch, Baddiel blacked-up and wore a pineapple on his head to mock Lee’s dreadlocks and played Lee as a stupid and unskilled footballer. It was an incredibly racist and hurtful caricature of Black people and it was drawn on by racist football fans who regularly abused Lee while playing (chants of “He’s got a pineapple, on his head” to the tune of He’s Got The Whole World, In His Hands followed this sketch). Baddiel has never apologised to Jason Lee despite the impact of this racist performance. Baddiel invokes this episode, not to apologise, but because he is frustrated at it being frequently brought up on Twitter in response to his own tweets about racism.

So. As I have said before, the make-up and costume in that sketch were extremely ill-judged and a mistake. The sketch was about Jason Lee not scoring, and was making fun of him as a footballer. But, however much it might have felt OK to me and my co-host Frank Skinner at the time to depict Lee by comically exaggerating his look, as we did for many other footballers lampooned on the show, being made-up in that way has antecedents in a very bad racist tradition. We shouldn’t have done it, and I have apologised for it publicly on various occasions since. What the apologies make no difference to is the recurring presence of that photo on my Twitter timeline. Particularly since I started speaking out publicly about anti-Semitism, whether it be anti-Semitism in general or on the left. In fact, it can seem that what the people demanding apologies from me want is not apologies. What they seem to want, really, is silence. They want me to shut up, particularly about anti-Semitism. As far as they are concerned, the photo of me as Jason Lee is a trump card that means I cannot speak about racism, even the racism that threatens me personally. (p69-70)

Baddiel tries to locate the offensive nature of the sketch in the fact he wore make-up rather than the fact that the entire premise of the depiction of Lee was racist. He evades his wearing of a pineapple on his head to mock dreadlocks and the fact he has never apologised to Lee. It is also clear that Baddiel sees himself as the victim of the invocation of this racist sketch – he believes that, rather than people questioning his grasp of anti-racism, he is being silenced by progressive antisemites.

One feature of Jews Don’t Count is the constant comparison between antisemitism and anti-Black racism – a pattern that continues on Baddiel’s Twitter profile. He does not seem to understand that when he compares antisemitism with anti-Black racism that he is not merely discussing the former, he is also discussing the latter, and that his own anti-Black racism becomes entirely relevant.

He goes on to present the outrage over his Lee performance as evidence of a progressive hierarchy of racism:

It is suggestive, perhaps, of the hierarchy of racisms that because I was made-up as Jason Lee, I, a Jew, have no right to speak out about my experience of anti-Jewish racism. I have offended against the more important racism, and so I have no right to speak about my own – less important anyway – one. (p. 70)

Throughout this section of Jews Don’t Count, it is apparent that Baddiel is not primarily calling for action against antisemitism or racism in general, rather is calling for his right to express himself on Twitter without opposition. This is a consequence of his worldview – racism can’t actually be fought, it can only be discussed. He makes this explicit by comparing himself with Louis Farrakhan, who he even acknowledges is neither progressive nor part of the Left:

Yet no one says to Farrakhan, as they do, for example, to me because I wore blackface in a sketch once, that he now has no right to talk about the racism that affects his own community. In other words: progressives will criticise Farrakhan and Wiley and other black activists for anti-Semitism. But they will not tell Farrakhan and Wiley that because of their anti-Jewish racism they can’t now speak about anti-black racism. Only offending against one type of anti-racism can lead to cries for the cancellation of your ability to speak about racism at all. (p86)

This a weird but telling comparison. Why would Baddiel even want to be placed in the same boat as Farrakhan and Wiley, two individuals he has identified as bigots?

Solidarity or Baddielism

Taken as a whole, Jews Don’t Count is an expression of Baddiel’s deep-seated feelings of not being heard. While it is debatable whether Baddiel – who is currently appearing on national TV to discuss his book about his feelings – is right to feel this way, it is notable that this is a feeling common to all marginalised groups. Black, GRT, trans, disability and Muslim activists all report feeling completely and utterly ignored by the media and government.

The tragedy of this book is that instead of recognising this shared marginalisation by a racist, sexist, homophobic, classist (“all -isms and phobias” p16) society as a possible foundation of solidarity, Baddiel instead focusses on asking other marginalised people to campaign on his behalf. His fundamental request is to listen to him, which is bizarre to ask of someone already reading his book, and to be vicariously offended on behalf of Jews at instances of ‘Jewface’, cultural appropriation of beigels and many other things he isn’t worried about himself. This is completely antithetical to solidarity.

Sadly, this anti-solidarity mode of anti-racism – Baddielism, as it were – is pervasive in British political discourse. Recognising how insensitive comparisons and so-called ‘oppression Olympics’ drives a wedge through any anti-racist unity that is key to formulating productive ways of struggling against antisemitism.

Compare Baddiel’s vision of fighting antisemitism with that of Jewish Solidarity Action. JSA is a left Jewish group which grew out of a Jewish campaign to unseat Boris Johnson at the 2019 General Election following the principle of ‘Safety Through Solidarity’. Their organising strategy is to mobilise Jews in solidarity with other marginalised groups to build a broad anti-racist movement. During the 2019 General Election, they campaigned with Indians Against Tory Division to unseat the Islamophobic Bob Blackman MP. Currently, JSA is supporting carers in a Jewish care home as they strike for a Living wage and safer conditions. These activities will do more to fight antisemitism than any amount of liberal hectoring on Twitter.

To be cynical, Baddiel is not actual worried about the ineffectual nature of his contribution to anti-racism. Jews Don’t Count is the polemic of someone who has refused to apologise for racist caricatures on TV, refused to reckon with material reality of racism in 21st century Britain, refused to engage with the rich traditions of anti-racist theory and practice and yet still wants to be listened to as an authority of anti-racism. The result is 130 incoherent pages explaining why David Baddiel is not white. Its only use is as a warning of the brain-rotting capacities of Twitter and liberalism.

To be charitable, in a lot of ways Baddiel is actually just confused. He clearly trips up on the distinction between race and ethnicity, his understanding of Jewish identity is reductive, the changing nature of antisemitism through time causes him to lose his bearings. However, all these intellectual missteps are his own and he needs to take ownership of his own faulty reasoning. Until he does so, Jews Don’t Count would do well to be renamed as:

Aging liberal confuses self, blames Left

Yirmeyahu Wedgewood is a bochur at Yeshivat Gedolah Ma’oizm

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12 thoughts on “Aging Liberal Confuses Self, Blames Left”

  1. This is a very thorough review, fairer than Baddiel deserves in my opinion.

    You rightly illustrate his misrepresentation of Ash Sarkar, on one level this is fair game debating someone’s public writings but I think twitter psychology and general political nous are leading Baddiel to target Sarkar.

    Aside from twitter no marks and the other random examples you list, Baddiel needs to critique a ‘progressive’ that his readers might actually have heard of, one of the uppity younger generation perhaps, as the bulk of his readership is probably in the 40-70 bracket.

    From what i’ve seen Sarkar is one of the most reviled of the new left media types, second only to Owen Jones, and subject to huge amounts of abuse, racist and sexist with it.

    Baddiel doesnt approach this as an innocent, he is fully aware of his own potential to amplify criticism of Sarkar, the marketing advantage of creating controversies with people like her, the fact there is already an audience who revel in despising her.

    And he’s certainly not unaware of the damaging effect of misrepresenting someone’s position on antisemitism, and the pressure this can exert on Sarkar now and in the future

  2. Great review and you are way to kind. It feels like DB is trying to cash in on the drive to present anti racists as the real racist to fit into an establishment narrative. The fact he still can’t bring himself to apologise for his racist sketch that almost destroyed someone’s career is utterly damning. His causal sexism of course is another huge issue that many have forgotten with the passage of time. Unfortunately for DB all he will be remembered for is as the unfunny one in various comedy teams and a man who whined about no one listening to him.

  3. A very interesting analysis, though I confess I haven’t read the book and probably won’t.

    this sentence struck me: Throughout this section of Jews Don’t Count, it is apparent that Baddiel is not primarily calling for action against antisemitism or racism in general, rather is calling for his right to express himself on Twitter without opposition.

    It also sums up Gender Critical Feminists very well. They also argue from a position of moaning that trans people and activists get more airtime and sympathy than women and that their concerns are ‘silenced’ any time anyone disagrees with them on Twitter. they also do nothing proactive for women’s rights but choose to revert to biological determinism in a horrible distortion of feminism (where fighting for women’s rights has necessitated rejecting biological determinism). They are also quite capable of glossing over their own bigotry and deflecting criticism if it’s pointed out.

    I do think there is a bit of problem on the Left with understanding their relationship with antisemitism, but it appears Baddiel hasn’t been able to articulate it,

    thanks for a stimulating blog.

  4. “Jews Don’t Count is the polemic of someone who has refused to apologise for racist caricatures on TV”

    He has apologized several times. You literally quoted him talking about his apology.

    On what planet has he refused to apologize?

    This whole piece felt like a bad-faith hatchet job to me.

  5. Certainly DB is confused, but perhaps we all ought to be. The analysis here of IDPOL which underpins a lot of the book is spot on.

    In throwing “liberal anti-racism” under the bus the author does not go far enough. Calling it “toothless” is generous, “apathetic” would be more accurate. And that’s surely confusing- why does the moral impetus which drives the campaign for representation vanish once representation is achieved? Why does the fight against structural injustice not carry over into the fight against injustice once the structural issues have been addressed? Unless, of course, the fight was never (solely?) motivated by justice at all. We can replace confusion with dismay.

    Of course this article demolishes “liberal anti-racism” to pave the way for the Messianic “Left anti-racism” (note the redemptive capital L). Unfortunately, except for the slightly more marching and slightly less Tweeting, I fail to see the difference.

  6. A very thorough review.
    However, the offensiveness of merely inventing or culturally appropriating the term Jewface out of the Blackface experience, really deserves to be addressed.
    In the 18th C slave owners started dressing up their house slaves/servants in brightly coloured garb. This was part of the same culture that manifested as circus animals or animals in street performance similarly being dressed in uniform. In this manner the master was sending out a message ‘look I’ve tamed and domesticated the equivalent of a baboon or gorilla’. It also meant turning the Black slave/servant into a form of comodified human ornamentation.
    Minstrel Blackface is also linked to lynching – this involved torture not merely execution. The performed Blackface is a caricature of what a victim might do to demonstrate they were harmless and therefore not worthy of the prolonged lethal attack.
    Obviously it is deeply offensive to pretend that casting a white catholic in a white Jewish acting role is the equivalent to this brutal historic reality.
    Incidentally infamously, in a Guardian column Baddiel argued that he want to be free to comedically play around with the notion that Black people are ‘better dancers’ and ‘better athletes”. Here once again invoking a ‘natural sense of rhythm’ and the supposed ‘animality’ of Black people.

  7. I find it interesting that your title is completely ageist and you see nothing wrong with it. You lose your argument with that alone. Just saying. Talk about hypocrisy

  8. He’s never apologised to Jason Lee directly. I was a young Forest fan at the time and hated it. It was racist bullying and iirc went on for weeks and weeks.

  9. This is a long winded in depth review of a non-academic book. Some good, and some bad. He’s not a researcher or an academic and is limited by the absence of knowledge that those professions would allow in writing a treatise about antisemitism. Which this is not. It renders most of your points moot because he never claimed to be a subject matter expert.

  10. Has David Baddiel adduced any quantitative evidence, in a formal scholarly context, about the prevalence of the idea of “Jews don’t count” whether expressed by Jewish people or non-Jews?

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