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David Baddiel: Antisemitism is racism

Bill DeYoung



David Baddiel (right) and Florida Holocaust Museum board chair Michael Igel Thursday. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

Not content with his status as one of Great Britain’s best-known standup comedians, David Baddiel has written a play, four novels and six children’s books, and continues to be an integral part of British television as writer, featured performer and producer.

Baddiel is also passionate and outspoken about political and social issues, and in his 2021 book Jews Don’t Count, makes the argument that the “progressive left” doesn’t seem to think antisemitism is racism.

This was the subject of Baddiel’s talk Thursday at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. With Board Chair Michael Igel asking questions, Baddiel, 58, discussed his book and elaborated on its declarations and observations to the 150 attendees.

“Antisemitism is racism,” he said. “It’s not religious intolerance. If you talk about antisemitism, you will get people saying ‘Oh, you can change your religion.’ Here’s the thing: I’m an atheist, but the Gestapo would shoot me tomorrow. My great-uncle Arno died in the Warsaw ghetto. He was not an observant Jew.

“And never mind the Nazis – those people in Charlottesville, holding torches and shouting ‘The Jews will not replace us,’ they would not ask me if I kept kosher before they started to set fire to my house. They are only interested in blood, in the fact that I am Jewish by blood.”

The myths, he lamented, remain.

“So when Whoopi Goldberg said ‘The Holocaust is not about race,’ the reason that’s really, really wrong – and the reason it happens – is because there’s a notion, particularly in this country, that racism is ringfenced for Black and Brown people. And I kind of know why that is – but it’s historically wrong.”

Baddiel said that ignorance of the true nature of antisemitism goes over the heads of the progressive left.

“I come from that kind of background, politically,” he explained, “but I’ve become alienated from that background more and more by thinking ‘they don’t seem to care about Jews.’ And these are people who care about everything. That’s what they care about, minorities. Every kind of minority – but they don’t care about Jews.”

Between 2015 and 2019, he pointed out, Great Britain’s Labour Party nurtured troubling associations with antisemites. He reported that party leaders talked about protecting and helping minorities, but never specifically mentioned Jews.

“It doesn’t matter whether we, as Jews, are biologically or scientifically a race or a people … or a religion,” Baddiel said. “It doesn’t really matter. The point is, through our history we have been racialized. And the majority culture, whether that be Christians or Nazis or whatever, have defined Jews as a race, as an inferior one, and that can only be defined as racism.”

It would “bore him,” he explained, “to talk about people who just hate Jews. There’s nothing to say about them – they just hate Jews, they’re terrible people. More interesting is, what about those people who think they’re the good people?

He talked about a tweet he’d received from a reader: I get it now, the man said. Antisemitism is the racism that sneaks past you.

Baddiel told the story of his mother, who was born in Nazi Germany in 1939, and got out – with only a few members of her family – just in time.

“When I was a kid,” he said, “I remember asking my grandma whether she had any other brothers or sisters. And she said ‘You’ll have to ask Mr. Hitler what happened to them.’ I was 11. I didn’t really understand it.

“Now I understand what happened, and I also understand how soon that was. At the time, a year felt like an eternity. Now that I’m old, I realize that time goes by like (snap). I was born in 1964, and that was 19 years after the war ended. And nineteen years now, to me, really feels like yesterday.

“My grandparents, when their lives were destroyed, that felt like yesterday. It didn’t feel like a long time ago. And they lived with it the whole time.”

David Baddiel’s website.

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