David Baddiel’s “Jews Don’t Count” – A commentary

JVL Introduction

David Baddiel’s “Jews Don’t Count” was published earlier this year to some acclaim.

Tony Booth and Miriam David are less enthusiastic, seeing the book as located within a sectarian bubble that counts some Jews and discounts others.

Avowedly polemical, it is less an argument than an assertion, not interested in statistics or contrary facts, preferring simply to “to give you some examples of a recurring phenomenon”.

The authors of this commentary tease out the paradox that a book, claiming that Jews don’t count, should appear after a sustained wave of allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party in which Jews, or anti-Jewish racism, have counted – to the virtual exclusion of others (Blacks and Muslims, to cast the net no wider) suffering from prevalent forms of racism and discrimination.


David Baddiel has written an essay rather than a conventional book. It is a riff on his experiences as a Twittering Jew, who sees himself as representing all Jews. There are no chapters and few sub-headings. It is avowedly a polemic, and literary rather than scholarly, published as it is by the Times Literary Supplement (TLS Books, 2021). There are no references or bibliography, and most allusions are to films, football, newspapers, plays, radio, show business and social media, Twitter especially. Indeed, almost all the examples or reactions are from the Twittersphere.

His central claim is that antisemitism is seen as unimportant in UK society, especially amongst those he calls “progressives”. He says that Jews are erased from public discourse and racism against them is not taken seriously because they are seen as part of the “white majority”, do not stand out from the crowd visually, and on the average are not economically or socially disadvantaged:

“despite the history of persecution, there is only one minority that, for privilege-checkers, stays firmly in the square of privilege…” (p.3)

The book is dedicated to his mother “who never failed to make herself count”. Baddiel is his mother’s son and expends considerable energy proving that he does count. His argument is narcissistic:

“I am, I would say, one of the UK’s very few famous Jews… What I mean is that I am one of the very few people in this country whose Jewishness is one of the principal things known about them”. (p.28)

The book title is paradoxical – Jews Don’t Count – and it is not clear whether it is deliberately ambiguous. Is Baddiel arguing the obverse; that Jews can count (in terms of the antisemitic trope about Jews’ obsession with money) and do count (as another ethnic group).  The sub-title is more telling about the theme of the book: How Identity Politics Failed One Particular Identity.  Baddiel wants to be part of “identity politics” in which he is not reviled as being, as he remarks, “white-male-cis-het” (p.1).

He sees Jews as excluded from the ‘Minority Ethnic’ collective, of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) designation because they are mistakenly seen as privileged and therefore ‘white’. He redefines ‘whiteness’ as ‘safe’ rather than ‘privileged’ or having a particular skin tone, and so thinks that he and other Jews are non-white, because of their deep insecurity, which is a recurring theme in the book:

“What was never understood by those in the Labour Party who became defensive around the issue of antisemitism between 2015 and 2019 is how scared, at base, Jews are.” (p.108)

Baddiel describes his method of argument in his first sentence: “I’m going to give you some examples of a recurring phenomenon” (p.1). So, he proceeds by citing case after case to demonstrate that Jews are not counted as one of “the most oppressed groups, the most persecuted minorities, in society” (p. 3). He does not “like statistics much” so shies away from any attempt to provide an overall picture of antisemitism in the UK and elsewhere but provides “a collection of specifics that might give that sense of unsafety more of a visceral reality…” (p.111)

Overall, the claim that “Jews Don’t Count” seems bizarre. The book was published, as Baddiel well knows and mentions, after the publication of an unprecedented mass of articles in the press about allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party which reached a crescendo in the years 2018-2019. It also appeared shortly after the publication of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party (October 2020). This investigation was set up to consider breaches of the Equalities Act in relation to Jews in the Labour Party.   No attention was given to any other form of racism or discrimination (whether on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender, or disability, class) in that Party or in any other political party. Given the upsurge in violence against women and girls during the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the exposure of widespread discrimination against Muslims in the Labour Party, and the EHRC decision not to investigate  Islamophobia among members of the Tory Party, this seems remarkably blinkered.

The EHRC report opened itself up to the observation that it had established a hierarchy of racism with antisemitism at the apex. The current leadership of the Labour Party responded with an action plan, that included instruction to all Labour Party members on “understanding antisemitism” from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) before addressing any other discrimination. Did it occur to Baddiel that this unprecedented focus on antisemitism might be irritating to members of other ethnic minorities and make them feel even more insecure and discounted?

Baddiel says that the EHRC report “was damning”. It was greeted with:

“a sense of relief among British Jews that perhaps now the wider public understand their fears and anxieties over the last five years” (p.16).

We wonder if he read it and it is unlikely that he read any forensic criticisms of it, since he sees critique of it as evidence that the views of Jews are not being taken seriously. The fact that such a flawed report was not universally applauded made Jewish pleasure in the report, he says, “short lived”.

It is unpleasant, as Jews that Baddiel discounts, for us to read the constant reference in the book to a singular Jewish community, an establishment Jewry whose judgement should be accepted without question. Early on in the book he tosses in the insult that Jews on the left, like us, are “ashamed of being Jewish”. We do not wish to enter a competition about whether we are prouder to be Jewish than he is. But if Jews really count for him then he should show more willingness to understand that there is a glorious diversity of Jews and to show greater openness to dialogue.

The book reinforces the idea that antisemitism has been fostered on the left because its leader had a “blind spot” about antisemitism. Ultimately, the book is an attack on the left in the Labour Party, who, he says, see the world using the prism of ‘unconscious attitudes’ about antisemitism. Through the book there is a cumulative list of those on the right and wrong side of the antisemitism furore about the Labour Party. He is with Luciana Berger, Hadley Freeman, Dave Rich and against Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Ken Loach, Ash Sarkar and of course, Jeremy Corbyn. He may or may not have noticed that there is a disproportionate number of people of colour in his negative list. He shares the opinions of his favoured group on the EHRC report and other matters. He mocks, as diminishing antisemitism, any stated opposition to “antisemitism and all forms of racism” (our italics). He wants antisemitism to stand alone and be taken out of the context of the nature of discrimination in the UK.

He categorises those who take an opposing view to him as “progressives” who see themselves as “on the right side of history” a term which may be familiar in his circle but is not in ours. We have not heard people self-describing in that way. Although at a couple of points he says that he is a “progressive” himself, he generally uses the word as a term of abuse. Progressives are like Mear One, the painter of an antisemitic mural in the East End of London: “Mear One, of course is a total progressive – he couldn’t be more woke. I mean he’s a street artist” (page 42). Mear One is a dedicated follower of David Icke, renowned for his antisemitic rants, claiming that the world is under the control of Jewish alien lizards. Perhaps David Baddiel does not know that, though that seems doubtful given the knowledge base in his Twitter bubble. He takes the opportunity to smear Jeremy Corbyn along with all “progressives”: “He is like Mear One, a rebel, a champion of the oppressed.” He is in no doubt that “Corbyn and the 2015 Labour Leadership team” were “actually antisemitic, or antisemitic by oversight” and that any departure by “progressives” from this verdict of British Jewry is itself antisemitic. He aligns himself with what we see as the big lie of British Politics over the last years which have severely damaged the UK, the Labour Party and establishment Jewish communal organisations.

There are some important issues raised in the book and David Baddiel makes many points worthy of discussion – such as how members of an ethnic or minority group should be represented in the theatre. He calls the playing of Jews by non-Jews “Jewface” in self-ironic reference to his own misdemeanour on one occasion in the past, in blacking up. We, too, have noted anomalies in the official treatment of our ethnicity which seem discriminatory. If you sign up to become a member of the Labour Party, you have to fill in a form which asks about your ethnic group. “Jewish” is not mentioned as a possible answer, so you feel pressured to put either “White British” which feels like a denial of your identity, or “other” which feels like a relegation. The same was true of the 2020 census, where you could only identify as Jewish through “religion”, and so not at all as a secular Jew. These examples may well have murky historical roots as Baddiel suggests, where the very uttering of the word Jew is seen as an insult and unpalatable to those designing such forms.

Yet, we cannot big up indications of discrimination in the face of all the survey evidence showing that the level of anti-Jewish attitudes is very low in the UK. It is far lower than the negative views held of Muslims and Gypsy, Roma, Travellers or Refugees and Asylum seekers. It is also far smaller than the recent brouhaha about women’s rights versus trans-rights. These comments might be dismissed by Baddiel as “whataboutery” a term used by him and his Twitter comrades to dismiss any attempt to shift attention to other forms of discrimination. To us, such manoeuvres seem like a form of “post-truthery”, whereby the truth, becomes whatever we want it to be or are able to convince enough others to state. Once a viewpoint has been carefully nurtured within a social media bubble, like that on which Baddiel bases his book, it comes to take on the solidity of incontrovertible fact.

He wants people to know that the perceived threat is ever present amongst Jews: “As I have often said, I’m an atheist and yet the Gestapo would shoot me tomorrow…Racists who don’t like Jews never ask the Jew they are abusing how often they go to synagogue” (p.41, our emphasis). He, and we, are writing in 2021 and the Gestapo were relieved of their posts in 1945. We recognise that “Gestapo-like” individuals and organisations still stalk the earth and the sense that they are literally still with us is an important element of the cultures in which many of us have been nurtured, particularly for those in an older age group than his, growing up during and just after the second world war. So, we stay vigilant and look around us watching for the next Gestapo outcrop.

Some, like many of Baddiel’s associates, have viewed it as rampant on the left of the Labour Party and in the former leadership of it despite the lack of real evidence. Others, like us, see the real threat as on the far right and in the Tory party’s “hostile environment” to migrants, refugees and in the persecution of Gypsy, Roma, Travellers and protesters in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We know it is not only Jews for whom these “Gestapo” come knocking, and there are times like this in the UK when Jews are not their first port of call. So, we are ready to defend anyone who comes under exploitative and discriminatory attack.

Why does Baddiel develop his determined focus when literature expressing many different points of view is readily available to us all? To assess it we have to be willing to leave our thought bubbles because from inside them we are constantly subjected to confirmation bias. Twitter especially is designed to stop us thinking. Imagine if instead of suggesting that users follow yet another echo of themselves, Twitter directed us to those who might challenge our opinions. However, Baddiel offers himself as a celebrity mouthpiece for his Twitter community, serving up the same allegations against Jeremy Corbyn without taking a look at counter examples showing he has always been committed to fighting antisemitism alongside other forms of discrimination and not just amongst the poor and the dispossessed. It is here that Baddiel appears to act in bad faith, never calling out those who readily abuse others from within his branch of the Twitterati and refusing to countenance disconfirming events and actions.

Despite this, the book can contribute to understanding how Jewish fears of antisemitism can arise, be stoked and become misdirected. David Baddiel gives “being a Jew” high priority in the interacting allegiances and roles of his identity but, he says, he has no interest in and so no allegiance to the state of Israel. It has become commonplace for people on the left, to see the emphasis on antisemitism in the Labour Party as related to their concern for the oppression of Palestinians. Had he chosen to do so, Baddiel would have had no difficulty in picking out examples from the tsunami of allegations of antisemitism in criticism of Israel and Zionism promoted by establishment Jewish organisations, Jewish pressure groups with a strong allegiance to Israel, and representatives of the Israeli government.

But in freeing himself from any claim that he is motivated by protection of Israel or Zionism he can suggest that he is able to use his antennae to detect antisemitism in its pure form. In taking this stance he has made himself particularly useful to those who promote the link between Zionism and antisemitism then deny that they or anyone else is part of a campaign to do that, including through the Israel-focussed examples of the IHRA antisemitism definition. For Baddiel, Jews have spoken on the IHRA definition and so their view should be accepted: this has nothing to do with the fact that a majority of them, but not him, self-describe as Zionists. Any opposition to their view discounts the Jewish voice. We think it is inevitable that there will be shift away from the IHRA definition towards the wiser and far better worded Jerusalem Definition, but it may be delayed by embarrassment felt by establishment Jewish organisations and their supporters over the fervour with which they embraced the IHRA mistake.

What should we say in conclusion? It seems some Jews genuinely came to see the left of the Labour Party as harbouring a potential resurgence of the Gestapo. We think this happened because there was a confluence of establishment interests determined to avoid a government of the left which would make radical economic and social changes at home but in international policy too, including in the Middle East affecting Israel/Palestine and other countries to whom we export arms such as Saudi Arabia. We also think that communal institutions such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbi’s office were utterly irresponsible, playing a crucial role in whipping up and amplifying fear rather than evaluating the threat that they perceived in sober fashion. We think David Baddiel was entrapped in what is ultimately a reactionary Twitter bubble. He is in sympathy with other Jews who, mistakenly, came to see a Tory victory in 2019 as saving them from having to pack their bags to escape Labour pogroms. This was and is delusional. It is, profoundly sad, tragic even, as under the Tory Government we hurtle on the misogynistic, racist and xenophobic, inequality train towards climate and biodiversity catastrophe.

Comments (18)

  • Sara says:

    Blackface Baddiel, ask the footballer Jason Lee who he publicly mercilessly bullied, mocked and trolled what real racism feels like.

  • Liberty says:

    Baddiel is a bottom feeder. When he pathetically said that Jeremy Corbyn prounounced the vile abuser Epstein’s name in a more Jewish way, whatever that means, Baddiel bloody lost the plot completely.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    I decided to have a look at Amazon comments on this book and found nearly all readers graded it five stars and some four. But a handful went for one, including Mark Elf and Deborah Maccoby who both produced corruscating reviews, dealing both with his lack of logic and his lack of fact-checking (or even being able to distinguish facts from fiction/opinion/twitterystuff/fantasy etc etc. Of course, both Elf and Maccoby are very well informed about antisemitism, Jewish practice, the Talmud, the Holocaust, Israel/Palestine etc etc and deal in facts rather than gossip and twitterchat. However, Baddiel has repeatedly said he is not an Israel supporter – which does make him a bit unusual in the ranks of the antisemitismerati. I think JVL should take him seriously and invite him to a webinar discussion with a skilled debater (perhaps one with psychotherapeutic skills!) to discuss the underlying premises of his book. He seems to have one thing right – that many (most) British Jews ARE constantly fearful. It is not enough for us to dismiss this point and say that the fear is manufactured by those opposing critics of Israel (tho’ much of it is) because that doesnt get to the roots of the fear and insecurity that Labour’s right wing has so successfully tapped into. It needs proper discussion – we should show we are willing to engage with Baddiel and set up that webinar!

  • Jack T says:

    I’ve not read the book but I have seen David Baddiel speak on this subject many times. I could be wrong but it appears to me that he wants to raise anti-Jewish racism above all other forms of racism. To do so he almost gloats in finding what he sees as examples and completely fails to differentiate between antiZionism and antiSemitism for fear that the public may become a little more educated.

  • I haven’t read Baddiel’s ‘Jews Don’t Count’ nor do I wish to. Someone who can Black up and engage in the prolonged racist sketches aimed at a Black player, Jason Lee, based on sticking a pineapple on his head, is not worth of serious consideration.

    Baddiel’s diatribe is another example of exceptionalising Jews and his attempt to portray Jews in Britain as oppressed or put upon is pathetic. Jews don’t suffer from any form of state racism. At most it is personal prejudice they experience.

    Jews are not only White but they are probably one of the most racist sections of the community today. The levels of anti-Muslim and Arab racism is far higher than the level of anti-Semitism in the Muslim community which certain Zionist groups like the CAA highlight. This is a direct consequences of the support of the majority of Jews for Israel and Zionism.

    It is also meaningless to describe Jews as an ethnic minority in Britain. What shared cultural traditions are there? Jews today know nothing about and care even less for the Jewish experience of racism and exploitation of the first half of the 20th century and the latter part of the 19th century.

    When Jews today compare ‘antisemitism’ under Corbyn to the level of anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s they merely demonstrate how the grip of Zionism and their own upward mobility in class terms has produced an almost complete dislocation from reality. It is myth as history.

    To quote Anshel Pffefer in Haaretz responding to one such finding in a survey by the CAA:

    https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-disturbing-trend-among-u-k-jews-1.5360394

    ‘Jews are represented in Britain in numbers that are many times their proportion of the population in both Houses of Parliament, on the Sunday Times Rich List, in media, academia, professions and just about every walk of public life. To compare today’s Britain, for all its faults, with the Jews’ situation in 1930s exhibits a disconnect from reality which borders on hysteria.’

  • steve mitchell says:

    I was born in July 1940. The RAF where engaged in a life or death struggle with the Luftwaffe. The Fascist enemy was at the gate. As I approach the end if my life the vanguard of the Fascist enemy is within the citadel. Commentators like Baddiel are assisting them to establish full control ,along with some Labour Party members . All this is part of a carefully planned and brutally executed assassination by those who hate Corbyn who is one of the few decent, trustworthy politicians in our country.

  • John W says:

    Badiel lost any credibility with me when he said that the way that Jeremy Corbyn pronounced the (alleged paedophile) Geffrey Epstein’s name the ‘German’ way (as in Einstein) rather than the American way (as in Epsteen). He is simply not worth listening to. If this is the level the debate has got to no wonder he sees the Gestapo everywhere.

  • Hazel Davies says:

    Tha conclusion to this piece is particularly pertinent. In addition to their accurate analysis of how a false narrative was built up, there is no mention of the evidence (the Al Jazeera documentary The Lobby) which indicates that the State of Israel was active in encouraging perceptions of the Labour left and Jeremy Corbyn in particular as antisemitic.

  • Steven Bliss says:

    I wasn’t prepared to waste money on Baddiel’s book but read the reviews and skimmed the book itself in a bookshop. It is too shallow and amateurish to take seriously, and I’m amazed that a reputable publisher published it. It is full of nonsense, e.g. when he claims that Jews had to change their names to succeed in Hollywood when EVERYONE had to do this.

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    Congratulations Miriam and Tony for enduring this book, when just the reviews were enough to turn my stomach. I was at a meeting in a parliamentary committee room with Baddiel in the early days of the antisemitism accusations. He spoke about being constantly called on Twitter to denounce Israeli human rights abuses. This he claimed was proof positive of antisemitism, since all the tweeters knew about him was that he was Jewish. He said ‘as a matter of fact I’m not very interested in Israel’. This is not the same as being non-zionist actually (though he may be). I have difficulty in accepting his position that asking someone of Jewish origin where they stand on Israel’s actions simply equals antisemitism. No other tweets were mentioned as examples of his persecution as a Jew.

  • Alexander Gavin says:

    His book should appear in “Pseud’s Corner” in Private Eye.

  • Ruya Sarfas says:

    Brilliant expose and I thoroughly agree with it !!!!!!

  • I haven’t read the book so I won’t comment directly. One or two of the issues raised by Tony and Miriam’s article deserve some thought. Whatever the reason for the exclusion of Jews from ethnicity surveys, polls, the census and the rest deserves some thought. People much more knowledgable than me about the history of this issue will know that it’s much complicated by the outcome of dialogue/consultation between government and the official spokespeople of Jews. Clearly, the implied definition of ‘Jew’ under the category of ‘religion’ is useless bar the single measurement of numbers of who is a religious Jew. Even so, the government with the approval of the official Jewish spokespeople ended up with the error that Jew = observant/religious/believing/practising Jew.

    The knock-on effect of this omission from the census is that when people in many walks of life – education, local government, employment – do their ethnicity censuses, Jewish is missing. I suspect that’s because these spheres are in part directed or guided in their work by the fact that the census has omitted it too.

  • Paul Wimpeney says:

    Anybody currently hoping to revive their Media standing, or intending to top up their Establishment-approved brownie-point tally, needs only to whisper the word “antisemitism” to be given an instant invitation to, at the very least, a radio interview. (I call on any BBC Radio 4 listeners in support.)

    Thus it was that I had the misfortune to hear a David Baddiel spot re his new book. It was clear that he felt that without his assertions or observations on the issue, the matter had not been properly considered. He did not need any particular references, examples, data – the sort of thing we used to call “evidence” – no! He was a street-wise, terraces-savvy football-anthem man; who could ask for anything more?

    He would cut through all that disagreement about what the category “Jewish” meant anyway, merely by insisting that Jewish people were an “ethnic” group who ought to be included in the have-nots and covered by BLM and that it was because of Corbyn and his crew that this hadn’t happened.

    The reviewers above note his lack of argument and supporting information, but that’s not the point, surely? He is a showbiz celebrity; his fame is his guarantee of legitimacy. Not so much “three lions on a shirt” but three blind mice, peddling a tale that Sir Keir is only too happy to run with.

  • Doug says:

    Those who make Vexatious claims of anti semitism should be challenged to a debate on either Channel 4 or Newsnight
    JC the anti semite v the AS Scam
    Be careful who you choose as referee

  • jools gloves says:

    This review is just another pathetic “all lives matter” response to antisemitism. Exactly the point Baddiel makes. Amazing, also, how many shmendriks posting comments here have an opinion about it but haven’t read it.

  • Those who allege that the Labour Party has any more antisemitism than the Britiah population as a whole is either a liar or a believer of lies! Those who allege that Corbyn has any antisemitism at all is either a liar or a believer of lies. Baddiel is just a liar like the rest of them.

  • Dave says:

    Michael Rosen – how good to see him here – raises an interesting point about Jewish ethnicity missing from official recognition. The problem I see is that if I – a Jew according to many Jews – continue to just select white British as my ethnicity, as I do (and happily so) am I wrong to do so if Jew pops up on the form? In other words, does an official ethnicity put me in a (tick)box?

    One can, by the way, select ‘Any other ethnic group’.

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