As someone who lives in Britain and is a member of the Labour Party, the issue of anti-Semitism was one which my attention became particularly drawn to in 2020. Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel was consequently a book that I knew I had to read as soon as I heard it was being published.
Amid the uproar surrounding Corbyn’s suspension I couldn’t help but notice that the bulk of discussions taking place did not concern Jews. The focus centred on the ‘victims’ on the left who were being negatively portrayed as a result of the EHRC report and its findings.
I found myself reading more and more about anti-Semitism on the left and discovered that it really is an enormous problem. Moreover, I began questioning why so few people are outraged by this issue. So many of those who undoubtedly consider themselves to be progressive, make little attempt to approach the issue of anti-Semitism as they would other forms of racism.
Jews Don’t Count, articulates this problem brilliantly. The 123-page polemic provides a thorough explanation of how progressives –those who “stand against all –isms and phobias”– view anti-Semitism as a less important and worryingly less harmful form of racism.
A ‘hierarchy of racisms’?
I should point out now that I am not Jewish. But I do, like Baddiel, consider myself to be a ‘progressive’ person. This book, therefore, opened up my eyes to just how blatant it is that a ‘hierarchy of racisms’ among the progressive left definitely does exist. The fact that I am not Jewish automatically places me in a position of ignorance. Most progressives found themselves in this same position during the Black Lives Matter protests of last year, which caused many to consider their white privilege.
I would hope that by reading Jews Don’t Count, similar responses could be evoked from progressive audiences upon learning how prevalent anti-Semitism is in society. That being said, the whole point of the book is to argue that these kinds of responses are not occurring. More importantly, the progressive left generally overlooks the significance of anti-Semitism.
One of the most notable epiphanies I had whilst reading Jews Don’t Count concerned the film and television industry. Recently it has become pretty commonplace for people (progressives) to challenge straight actors playing gay characters, or white actors voicing black characters, for example.
Think about it now, is the same sentiment applied to non-Jews playing Jewish characters? No. And responding to this example with “it’s not really as bad though, is it?” is part of the problem that Jews Don’t Count aims to confront. Discrimination against Jews is frequently shrugged off as less important or less worthy of protection than other types of discrimination.
Jews Don’t Count: are Jews part of the BAME community?
Baddiel points out early on that Jews Don’t Count is not about active anti-Semitism, but rather the subtle ways in which anti-Semitism is dismissed or ignored.
Crucially, Jews fail to be recognised as an ethnic minority by many people. The Labour Party has previously failed to include Jews in large lists of minority groups for whom they are there to protect. Whilst Sajid Javid is often praised as the first BAME chancellor of the exchequer, despite Margret Thatcher’s chancellor being Jewish.
Baddiel asks the reader to consider whether or not they view Jews to be part of the BAME community. There are many examples in the book which allow the reader to form an answer to this. The conclusion I came to was that Jews suffer prejudice because of their ethnicity (more often than because of their religion). Consequently, Jewish people need protection. This constitutes them as being part of the BAME community.
Lots of Jews, Baddiel included, don’t practise Judaism but still identify as Jewish and are therefore targeted by racists. For example, Baddiel writes that “racists who don’t like Jews never ask the Jew they are abusing how often they go to the synagogue”. You can read Jews Don’t Count and consider this question yourself, though.
Failing to speak up – the mistakes I’ve made when it comes to anti-Semitism
Though Baddiel steers from talking too much about issues surrounding Corbyn, Labour and anti-Semitism, it was these events that drove my attention towards this topic. As a result, I can’t help but apply what I learnt from Jews Don’t Count to both mine and the rest of the left’s response to this particular situation.
One of Baddiel’s frustrations is that those who challenge attitudes towards anti-Semitism are usually Jews themselves. Progressives or non-Jews rarely speak up on their behalf. I’m guilty of this, and I’m glad this book has made me aware of it. I’ve written about my criticisms of Corbyn concerning anti-Semitism before, but didn’t feel that they would be received well if I shared the articles on social media.
Ironically I think the only thing I retweeted about this matter was one of David Baddiel’s tweets. Even then I felt as though lots of people would see that and disagree with me. However, having read Jews Don’t Count I understand now that thoughts like this are part of the reason anti-Semitism is treated differently. Jews need support just as anyone else suffering racism does, and I shouldn’t be afraid to challenge something if I see a problem.
I was disheartened to see so many fellow progressives arguing that there was no issue when it came to Corbyn. “It’s anti-Zionism, not anti-Semitism”, is a reflex response I kept hearing again and again.
As Baddiel points out, progressives can be quick to deflect attention away from issues they don’t see as important, or that don’t fit in with their views. Israel is often used as a way to deflect away from unrelated instances of anti-Semitism. You only have to look in the reply section of any tweet commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day as evidence of this (despite the fact Israel didn’t exist when the Holocaust was happening).
That isn’t to say that people can’t criticise the Israeli government. Although, Baddiel states that he doesn’t relate his Jewishness to Israel, nor does he hold any strong opinions on the subject. Therefore, he considers it to be racist in itself to assume that Israel is always going to be relevant when talking about Jews.
Jews Don’t Count finishes with an added section on the EHRC report, since this was published days after the final draft of the book was sent off. Baddiel argues that had Corbyn been accused of mishandling any other form of discrimination, people wouldn’t be going around saying, “I think he’s a good man, he’s just got a blind spot for these issues”.
I know Baddiel is probably right. But this did leave me thinking, what would it really take for Corbyn supporters to admit that maybe he isn’t a “thoroughly decent man”? I can’t think of any time when a Corbynite was able to admit that he’s made a mistake and is perhaps not as ‘decent’ as they once thought. The point is though: Corbyn’s brushing over anti-Semitism didn’t cause a shift, but it really should have done.
I can’t do this book justice in one article – you really just need to read it. It is short and succinct, yet manages to convey a detailed account of how Jews feel in society. Baddiel continually references the prejudices that Jews face, and the lack of attention this prejudice gets from the majority of people.
I urge everyone to read this thought-provoking book and challenge themselves to approach the issue with more awareness. Especially those who have ever doubted that anti-Semitism is a less significant form of racism, or have shrugged it off as an exaggeration when it appears in the news.