Notes on Baddiel, Jews Don’t Count

Just the book cover, which is simple and has author’s name on the top, white on black; and the title below, black on white.

Systematically disadvantaged

Baddiel is at his best when exploring the main subject of his book: the features of the progressive mindset that lead to a minimizing or overlooking of antisemitism. A key mindset for him comes from a defining desire to champion the oppressed. I would explain this mindset differently, placing the driving emotion in a revulsion at injustice, particularly systematic injustices. The progressive focus tends towards systems of oppression more than interpersonal instances of bigotry (unless those can be tied to something systematic). Indeed, it is an element that separates progressive from conservative mindsets: progressives focus on systems; conservatives, on individuals. This interest in unjust systems interacts in unfortunate ways with antisemitic tropes.

The Eternal Capitalist

There is another antisemitic trope that interacts badly with progressivism: the association of jewishness with capitalism. Discussing Corbyn’s hesitation about the phrase: “Rothschild bankers control Israel and world governments,” he writes:

Jewish Space Laser 1/400 Scale Cat Toy
Jewish Space Laser 1/400 Scale Cat Toy

Right-Wing Philosemitism

There are obviously a non-zero number of right-wing Jews all over the world. What Baddiel alludes to are the non-jewish political conservatives who, aware of the troubles the left have with antisemitism, use it as a weapon against them. This weaponization fits into something I called elsewhere philosemitism (See this blog). Not everyone agrees with this usage or my analysis there. Yet most, I imagine, are aware of the way antisemitism and criticisms about Israeli policy have become entangled into the left-right polarization. This phenomenon appears frequently in the US, particularly because of various Christian Supersessionist ideas standing behind apparent pro-jewish statements. So, another useful insight is how political polarization can lead to diminished attention to antisemitism.

Whiteness

I have two main criticisms, a minor and a major. The minor comes from Baddiel’s use of the self-loathing Jew trope. I get the distinct impression that Baddiel deploys it against those Jews who take a critical view of Jewishness. The major criticism comes from a failure to understand and tackle the Whiteness issue. It is a fraught question for many Jews about how they fit into regimes of Whiteness. Baddiel is at some pains to show that Jews are not white. Now, in fact, some definitely are not. It bears repeating: Jews come from a diversity of backgrounds. But some are in fact white. It is a common usage, in fact, to use the phrase White Jews (as in this useful talk about the black power movement and white jews). One way that Baddiel tries to reject Whiteness is by claiming that he (and many other jews) do not self-identify as White. But Whiteness in not simply a chosen self-identity, but it is an imposed identity. In a society defined by White Supremacy, one cannot simply choose to be white or not. Bell hooks, in an excellent chapter on antisemitism from her book Killing Rage, writes about her white Jewish students as follows:

Conclusion

Baddiel has rightly drawn attention to how the pervasive atmosphere of antisemitism can lead progressive minded people to diminish systematically the question of antisemitism. And yet, the failure to address adequately the problem of Whiteness undermines his project of getting people to take antisemitism more seriously. In bell hooks’ chapter mentioned above, she argues convincingly that what is called “black antisemitism” is the eternal antisemitism of our world reflected through the black experience of white racism. In other words, there is no such thing as black antisemitism. She and Baddiel thus call attention to a similar dynamic: that ideological antisemitism continues to work within the worldview and experiences of many. Ignoring antisemitism is dangerous for all who want to see a better world. At the same time, it is my view that one cannot face antisemitism today without directly facing Whiteness and White Jews position within it. This is one reason why I get so upset when I see charges of antisemitism weaponized to attack or silence people fighting anti-black racism. Not that there is never antisemitism, but that its misuse in this context reinforces it, worsens it. I’ll give bell hooks the last word here.

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