5 March, 2011, The Telegraph
By David Baddiel
It was a great week, this week, for Pope Benedict XI to exonerate the Jews. It’s one of those twist of circumstances that can make even a fundamentalist atheist like myself believe in God – or, at least, the possibility of a great, overhanging Comic Logic to the Universe. Because in the week that anti-Semitism became really, properly zeitgeisty again – you can’t get more culturally now than John Galliano, Charlie Sheen and Julian Assange – thank Great Overhanging Comic Logic that the Pontiff/ex-member of the Hitler Youth decided to shut down that pesky old hatred once and for all in his new work, “Jesus of Nazareth – Part II” (I always said someone should write a sequel to that movie).
But the fact that the Vatican is still, in 2011, chasing its tail over the Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion (an event which, of course, was absolutely essential to Jesus’ divine mission, and thus the Jews should have been applauded for helping Him along the way to it, instead of reviled and persecuted for a couple of millennia) is just the Route One explanation for the persistence of anti-Semitism in our culture. In commissioning this piece, the brief was could I come up with the reason why many people still harbour negative ideas about this fairly tiny racial group, but of course there isn’t one single reason. The old blood libel – “His blood be on us and on our children”, shouted so loudly by the Jews to Pontius Pilate in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ – provides the historical context, but I’m really not sure if John Galliano even speaks Arameaic: and besides, he doesn’t seem to know much simpler historical things, such as the fact that Hitler really didn’t love gays.
The truth is complex. One way into it is to ask: how is anti-Semitism different from other types of racial hatred? The answer, I think, can be found in the language. To return to the high priest of drunken Jew-hatred, Mel G (I know this makes him sound like a Spice Girl: it’s intentional). Mel said, in his rant of 2008: “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” This is key: Jews are the only race whose negative image as projected by racists is high-status. It’s the same with Julian Assange’s (alleged) notion that a cabal of powerful Jewish journalists are behind the smearing of WikiLeaks; it’s even somewhere in Charlie Sheen’s renaming of the producer of his former sitcom Chuck Lorre as “Chaim Levine”, carrying with it as it does two suggestions: one, that Jews are the controlling forces behind the US media, and two, that they have disguised this fact about themselves and need to be outed.
Although they can also be called dirty, or cheating, or all the other unlovely adjectives that racists also apply to black people or Asians, it is only Jews who get this extra, subtle spin, that they are secretly in charge, secretly pulling the strings (of course it is only Jews who are not immediately recognisable as different, either – which is how we manage, I presume, to crawl under the wire and get weaving with all this secret stuff).
This is also what gives anti-Semitism a somewhat ambiguous status with the Left. Despite so many key Lefties being Jewish – Marx, Trotsky, y’know: that level of Leftie – many of them, some less consciously than others, harbour a sense that Jews don’t quite fit into that key Venn Diagram marked Oppressed/Worth Fighting For. Yes, there was the Holocaust, yes there was 2,000 years of persecution and pogroms and massacres, but a) quite a lot of them have got a fair wodge of cash, and b) Israel.
Because Israel has become, in recent years, an icon for the Left of everything that is bad – American imperialism, oil wars, suppression of human rights – and since Jews, even Jews who do not support the state or its policies, are (at least in the minds of, say, Hamas) associated with it, knocking Jews may just be a blow for the oppressed, rather than to them.
As a result, people talking the anti-Jew talk can do it not as racists, but, paradoxically, as if they are somehow sticking up for other races. Underneath one of the various web films of John Galliano looking weirdly cold and lonely at that café that I watched the other day, there were a slew of comments, an awful lot of them supportive of the designer. One of them, johntron67, began: “What is it with the Jews! They’re the only group you just can’t say anything negative about…” What’s amazing about that – the same poster went on, later, to say, sinisterly, that “the cauldron will boil over though, one day soon, and guess who’s gonna get scalded…” – is not so much that johntron67 thinks that saying generally-OK and not-to-be-remarked-upon things about the Jews would include the comment “I love Hitler – your forefathers would’ve been gassed”; but that he really thinks that other ethnic minorities are, in comparison, fair game. Two words: Michael Richards. Charlie, Mel, probably even Galliano – they’ll work again: Mel Gibson is, even as we speak, in a big Hollywood movie, The Beaver. Since his n-word-fuelled outburst onstage in 2006, Kramer is toast.
Similarly, I’ve made a short film recently, for Kick Racism Out of Football, called The Y-Word, which is about the chanting of the word Yid or Yiddo at games. For those of you who don’t know, Yiddo is an appellation that Spurs fans – Spurs has a slightly larger percentage of Jewish fans than most other clubs – call themselves. Because of this, opposing fans chant it back at them with menaces. I’ve sat through hundreds of games at Chelsea where fans – perfectly respectable, politically correct-looking fans – will suddenly, on the arrival of, say, of an ex-Tottenham player on the pitch now playing for another team, start chanting this word aggressively at the top of their lungs. The last time it happened, a man behind me ended up shouting: “F*** the Jews! F*** the f***ing Jews!” Despite not insisting on the banning of the chant – it is intended simply to raise debate over the issue – any public showing of the film, at the moment, is being blocked, by various bodies within football. The argument is that, in context, the Spurs chant is “affectionate”. OK. Just imagine for a second if the word we were talking about was the N-word. If a club with mainly white fans decided to chant, en-masse – y’know, affectionately, in context – the word n*****r: and then had the word thrown back at them, with menaces, by opposing, mainly white, fans. All the clubs involved would be shut down tomorrow.
There are various reasons for this, but the basic one is: anti-Semitism isn’t quite considered proper racism. Most of the reports accused Galliano of anti-Semitism and racism, as if the two were different. The point was made continually that the women in the café were not Jewish: as if somehow his comments might have some qualifying validity if they were. A man who tweeted “you Jewish prick” at me once was called a racist by some of my followers, and he tweeted back at them: “Course I’m not a racist – I’m Pakistani!”
For him – and he’s not the only one – racism is black and white, and black and white only. But sadly, racism has many shades of grey: what should not have those shades – what should simply always be an unqualified shutting of the door – is the reaction to it.
This article is online here.