Review of Jews Don’t Count

Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Following my quick review of The Housekeeping and the Professor, I felt obliged to offer a brief review of David Badiell’s Jews Don’t Count. This book is unabashedly determined to attempt to provoke – and provoke a variety of observations.
This short volume was the book club’s chosen read this month. The recommendation seemed to be primarily based on the glowing recommendation of Stephen Fry. The premise is that progressive thinking people on the left wing of western society don’t seem to include Jews in the ‘scared circle’ of minorities to be protected from racist attacks.
At the outset – and not being familiar with David Badiell previously, I read with an open mind. I was advised that Badiell is erudite, articulate, and a great whit. The claim was that this book would explore why anti-Semitism is treated differently than, say, Black Lives Matter – but principally why there seems to be a blind spot towards anti-semitism amongst progressives.
Now, the first aspect one has to question is all the convenient boxes. Implicitly, the author appears to hold that the right-wing are all anti-semitic anyway, so there is no need to go there. Then there is a question of definitions that seem to be somewhat amorphous and slippery. Ethnicity, race, identity, tribe … they all seem to apply, but not in a fixed fashion. What does it mean to be a Jew? Apparently, there is an inescapedness to it – and if you are circumcised, as a male, it’s a golden handcuff. Seriously, I think I was looking for some ground rules at the outset so the author and audience could establish some shared understanding. I didn’t get that, and I think this starts dangerously as we haven’t got a shared understanding based even on essential go-forward definitions. The book would definitely be improved with such a set of ground rules – they could be debatable, but at least one would be able to engage in a discussion. Although some aspects seem to get teased out throughout, this is accomplished more through implicit assertion. A rather roundabout way to go about things – and one that I fear harms accepting this as a logical and thoughtful discussion instead of what increasingly seems to feel like a rant.
Ultimately, the sweeping generalisations don’t seem to work for me. The Lived experience is a recurring theme, but this doesn’t seem to hold for all groups identified – only a select few. The hierarchy of racism is an interesting concept raised, but it appears to be rolled out simply as an existing fact from the perspective of the eluded without looking at broader evidence from multiple perspectives that it is so entrenched. It seems to exist outside of temporal circumstances – yet it is clear from much of the discourse that social mores change over time – especially with regard to acceptable practice, yet the use of the hierarchy seems to be fixed in time.
I suspect though, that to criticise much of what didn’t follow logically for me or lapses in my subjective appreciation may mark me as being latently anti-semitic or, worse still, lacking the intellectual capability to appreciate the depth of the author’s argument. However, while coming to this book looking for a fair and even treatment that would open my eyes to why anti-semitism is often allowed to be perpetuated, all I got was a windgy rant of what seemed to be another #metoo. Why am I not included in all measures of discrimination, oppression, and overt racism? Why are others included in this – I should be too. Why are we not ranked as high as other visible and persecuted minorities – not that the author wants to rank and goes to great lengths to say he isn’t ranking, but then in subtle ways, he seems to do just that. The discussion of ‘Jewface’, for example. The idea that when a non-Jewish performer such as Siobhan Brosnahan plays a Jew it anti-semitic and wrong. Likewise, Sasha Baron Cohen isn’t a real Jew as he is just ‘a little too Israeli’ apparently, which means brash, macho, and confident – not that we want to typify and create stereotypes. I may miss a lot of the subtlety here.
The author seems to expect inclusion in discussions but then dismisses the same to be applied when he dismisses his argument as having to address Palestinian self-determination as relevant to his opinion. I am not saying it is part of his argument, but merely that it is another struggle that in another silo could be included as a discriminated-against minority that may also feel excluded. There is a sense of exceptionalism in what is presented as an argument.
There just seems to be an inconsistency in the overall argument. This filters down to the individual incidents that do not seem to follow a logical argument but instead seem to spring up on their own and then assume a certain momentum as the rants start. As said, I was not familiar in advance with the author’s professional accomplishments. I sense that this book is more of a stand-up routine fun of fury, and maybe then it has lost something in translation to the written word – especially in the form of a short treatise.
One particular section of the book challenged me, but it seems to reflect the larger work in retrospect. The author starts his statistical exposition by claiming that stats don’t work. This is a simply silly statement – and he seems to question his audience’s intelligence with it. Obviously, well compiled and examined statistics can give us some understanding of the behaviour they seek to represent – if constructed appropriately and appreciated in the context of their collection. He has seized upon an old trope of how the ill-intentioned can manipulate stats – but transparency and critical appreciation are called for in any learned discussion. However, after criticising and saying how useless stats are, he uses them as part of his discussion – but in a flawed fashion. His presentation lacks units to provide context, and there is no link to where the stats came from, so a critical reader might examine them for themselves. This seems sloppy, and unfortunately, indicative of what is negligent about the broader presentation. One has to wonder if there was an editorial process in the first place or whether this was just an improvised routine performed, recorded, transcribed, and published.
I wish this were otherwise, and suppose I will have to look elsewhere for a measured discussion. The progressive left gets short (and possibly undeserved) shrift here – if anyone should be lumped into such a grouping. What does it mean to be progressive, white, disturbed, conscientious, measured, or otherwise, and how many different teams can we belong to or identify with?
Other than a long series of calling out individuals (some of who presumably the author thinks should feel otherwise), he implies motivations and intents to personal actions and ascribes these to the larger group.
I didn’t find the logic in the book consistent, the argument capable of being followed as presented and the personal attacks – often petty. But, that is me, and that is that. David Baddiel is welcome to hold whatever beliefs, thoughts, opinions he will and freely share them – and he doesn’t need my permission. I only wish a more persuasive presentation could help appreciate the nuances and conform to a more structured and informative presentation. I sense he has a lot to contribute to such a discussion.
I opened the book, willing to learn from and consider the author’s argument, evidence, and perspective. I just got increasingly angrier and disappointed as I read further with both the tact and presentation. Maybe my expectations were too high – so subjectively, it didn’t work for me, but maybe it will for you.

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