Book Review: "Jews Don't Count" by David Baddiel

I have been reading David Baddiel's excellent and powerful book "Jews don't count." and was already wondering whether to post an online review.

That decision was made for me because today we had an egregious display on Twitter in particular and social media in general of the exact blind spot which the book points out.

Baddiel makes a convincing argument that on all sides of the political spectrum there is an extraordinary capacity even of people who are generally strongly and genuinely opposed to racism to fail to consider Jewish people, or to forget about, fail to notice, or downplay racism against Jews in a way that they would never do about almost any other form of racism.

In some ways it is more alarming that this blind spot applies not just to downright Anti-Semites but to people who had no intention of being racist. Individuals who will instantly apologise and make an effort to adjust their behavior if anyone calls them on it - which strongly suggests that nobody ever has.

Baddiel is a football fan and writes about the experiences he and his brother had of racism on the terraces. Not all that long ago racist chanting and abuse was completely endemic throughout football. The problem hasn't been completely stamped out but enormous efforts to reduce it have been made.

Except for Anti-Semitic abuse. There are only 24 hours in the day and nobody can do everything, so I've never paid enough attention to football to know first hand how widespread is Baddiel's experience that officials and fans tolerate abusive comments against Jews which they would never tolerate against any other race, But I know enough to take David Baddiel's points seriously, because I know there is at least some truth in what he writes about the club which one of my close relatives supports - Spurs (a.k.a. Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.) 

Spurs is based in a part of North London which has a significant Jewish population and has come to be seen by rival fans as a "Jewish" club, even though it isn't. That includes some people referring to the club and it's supporters by a word beginning with "Y" which is an insulting name for Jewish people - and which I would no more write or allow to be written on this blog than I would allow the equivalent insulting word for a black person beginning with "N."

Baddiel argues that there has been more tolerance of this - and indeed failure on the part of people who would not deliberately support any kind of racism to spot the problem - than there would be for other forms of racism. It may be an education issue; it may be that, because the word does not provoke the level of response that most other such words do; not everyone even knows that it is a racial slur.

The club itself is sufficiently bothered by this that quite recently - December 2020 to be precise - it adopted the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism to reinforce its commitment that "The Club has a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism as well as any other form of discrimination."

It is quite extraordinary that prejudice against the race who were the main victims of the worst act of genocide in history should be the very same prejudice that many people apparently forget to consider when talking about racism. Yet this does indeed appear to be the case.

The title of David Baddiel's book is a perfect description of what anyone who is defending a barrage of tweets today from Labour MPs and activists about their new Scottish leader would have to argue.

I congratulate Anas Sarwar on his election today as the new leader of the Scottish Labour party.

However, it is absolutely wrong for Labour MPs and activists from the party's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner to describe him as  

"the first ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK."


The first ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK took office a hundred and fifty three years ago when Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister.

I've seen some people argue that he doesn't count as a Jew because he converted to the Church of England. That is utterly silly. Disraeli didn't stop being the target of Anti-Semitism, didn't stop being proud of his Jewish heritage and didn't stop describing himself and being described by others as a Jew when he joined the Anglican church. 

Once he was on the receiving end of an insult in the House of Commons from the leader of the Irish nationalists which included mention of his Jewish ancestry, and he replied

"Yes, I am a Jew,"

and added that his ancestors "were priests in the temple of Solomon."

I can think of at least three other people from ethnic minorities who became leaders of UK political parties. After Disraeli the Conservatives had Michael Howard.

The Liberal party had their first leader from an ethnic minority nearly as long ago as the Conservatives: ninety years ago this year in Herbert Samuel.

And indeed, Anas Sarwar isn't even the first national leader of Angela Rayner's own political party for the UK or one of the four nations who was a member of an ethnic minority - Ed Miliband beat him to that distinction in 2010.

Disraeli, Samuel, Howard, Miliband, all ignored by Rayner and others. Now what do the four leaders these Labour members are leaving out today have in common?

Oh yes. It's as if Angela is going by the title of David Baddiel's book: "Jews don't count."


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