Black history month, a little modern history: Further Reflections on‘Jewface and Other David Baddiel Racisms’.
By Gavin Lewis
Jewface and Other David Baddiel Racisms (Labour Heartlands, republished JVL), responds to Jewish comic David Baddiel’s self-promoting claims that he and his white ethnic group are ‘uniquely oppressed’, that feature in his contentious monograph Jews Don’t Count, now controversially being made into a tv polemic by Channel 4. It does so by examining the history of Baddiel’s racist provocations against Black people, and the comparative historical Black experience, of white settler oppression.
As sourced in the original article, Baddiel’s career includes, his Guardian article Black men can jump, in which he describes Black men on the basis of natural-sense-of-rhythm and physical primitiveness stereotypes; picking out a Black soccer fan for public ridicule; mocking the ethnic appearance of the footballer Jason Lee using slurs like ‘Pineapplehead ‘and inciting thousands of others to do so – incitements that also resulted in countless copycat abuses of other Black youngsters. Baddiel has never compensated victims or apologised to Jason Lee.
Re-tweeting the article Jonathan Cook, noted that ‘Baddiel has gone from “Blackface to Jewface”, given that Baddiel is not only recorded practising Blackface in mocking Jason Lee, but has subsequently attempted to culturally appropriate the term, as ‘Jewface’. By comparison, comedian Sarah Silverman has – in light of Jewish participation in Blackface – advised her fans/followers, not to repeat this appropriation.
In fact, Jewish actors were also prominent among those chosen to pass as Native Americans in Hollywood productions. Among these Tony Curtis donned greasepaint to play Native American Marine, Iwo Jima flag raiser Ira Hayes in The Outsider (1961), Ann Bancroft as an Apache widow in Walk the Proud Land (1956), Janet Margolin as a Kiowa girl in Nevada Smith (1966).
In response to the ‘uniquely oppressed’ claim the article also cites the numerous white settler societies in which western Jews have prospered, that have simultaneously been hazardous and even most often off-limits to global Black citizens. It also cites the extent pro-Israel anti-Semitism claims have been used to obscure the colonial settler country’s 2014 killings of 2251+ people in Gaza including 551 children, all – as confirmed by the UN – via a bombardment consisting of many thousands of shells. Despite his racist past, Baddiel has been able to reinvigorate his career ridding on the back of this public relations campaign, even as Israel’s crimes against the middle-eastern indigenous innocent, worsen from year to year.
In light of the public response to the article, it is worth going on to explore just how poorly Baddiel and the Israel lobby’s self-serving, ethnic elitist, rhetorical victim strategies compare with a much finer tradition of selfless Jewish artists/activists, embracing equality movements and showing solidarity with the oppressed. Historical reflections also demonstrate the Baddiel/Israel-lobby claims don’t make even much sense in comparison to basic lived sociological reality.
International Cross-Community Jewish Solidarity
A much more substantial work than this could not adequately represent the extent of Jewish prominence in equality and anti-oppression movements. But it is worth mentioning Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, whose activism included support for the Anti-Apartheid Movement, for CND, participation in Stop the War events opposing Blair and Bush’s Wars, Patron of the Cuban Solidarity Movement, co-founder of Independent Jewish Voices (independent of Israel’s lobby)[iv]and as a signatory forJews for Justice for Palestinians.
Unlike the self-serving actions of Baddiel and the pro-Israel media industry, very little of this was advantageous to Pinter either collectively to his ethnic group, or as individual material gain or career advancement. Pinter’s campaign against the torture of writers in Turkey in which he pointedly confronted the American ambassador with “the reality … of electric current on your genitals” actually got him thrown out of the US embassy’s dinner, along with Playwright Arthur Miller.
Actor Miriam Margolyes is also a signatory of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. She began her career sharing the broader societal collectivist socialist sensibilities of Vanessa Redgrave and Frances de la Tour. She is a Jewish Labour member who defended the Party and Jeremy Corbyn against vexatious accusations of anti-Semitism that had been made, for rightwing pro-Israeli strategic political reasons. She told Middle East Eye “you have to be able to criticise Israel”. Once again, particularly in our rightwing McCarthyite media reality, these are not positions that are necessarily personally, career benefiting, or financially enhancing.
Jewish actor, the late Miriam Karlin was a much loved figure in British popular culture. As well as her stage work, she was a hit playing a shop steward in the tv sitcom The Rag Trade (1961-63 & 1977-78) and enjoyed character roles in prestige film productions including The Entertainer (1960) and Clockwork Orange (1971). Packing a lot into her life, Karlin was also a Trade Unionist off-camera, active in Equity and a member of the Labour Party. She was a committed anti-Fascist, a member of the Ant Nazi League [viii]and prominent in protests against Holocaust denier David Irving. She also targeted Austrian politician Jörg Haider over his Nazi sympathies. Karlin was Patron of the human rights group Burma Campaign UK.
Craig Murray recalls her politics and personal loyalty.
“David Aaronovitch had published an article calling me anti-semitic. Miriam was even more furious on my behalf than I was myself, and wrote a letter to the paper (it wasn’t published). But I won’t forget what she said; she said her own mother was an Aaronovich, and that many of their family had been killed in the holocaust, and that those who had suffered would be horrified to see their legacy perverted to a neo-conservative agenda.”
Like Pinter, Karlin protested the Iraq War, like both he and Margolyes she supported Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Her policy demands on behalf of Palestinians, still features on the ‘who-we-are’ section, of the organisation’s website.
It’s worth noting that a lot of this altruistic selfless solidarity by prominent British Jews occurred over the adult period of David Baddiel’s life. Equivalent public activism from Baddiel has been nowhere to be seen. The current pro-Israel ‘hierarchy of victimhood’ has allowed Baddiel the option of playing the social ‘commentator?’ despite his lack of scholarship, activist pedigree, and his reputation having been justifiably torpedoed by his previous racist incitements.
Jewish Black Civil-Rights – Anti-Racism
The inappropriateness of these ‘hierarchy of victimhood’ and ‘uniqueness’ claims are best exposed by the actions of those Jews who have actively combated racism against Black people or supported them in their struggle. Veteran Jewish Cockney actor Harry Landis joined Labour – like Denis Healy and Eric Heffer – after being with the Communist Party. He recalls warmly the times he spent with Paul Robeson, though reflects sadly on his “haunted look”. Doubtless, working-class Landis would not claim to have had things worse than the persecuted great African-American artist-activist.
Martin Luther King in his journals now held by Stanford University recalls fighting an African-American rent strike against exploitative Jewish Landlords in Chicago. However, he juxtaposes this reality with the experience of Jews as “partners in the civil rights struggle”. One such example was Rabbi Israel Seymour Dresner, dubbed America’s ‘most arrested Rabbi’ due to his activism on Freedom Rides (in other activisms he was also a critic of Israeli annexation, and Israel’s PM Netanyahu).
Voter registration activists African-American James Chaney plus Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – the latter two both from Jewish families – were murdered in events later fictionalised in the movie Mississippi Burning (1988).
Despite in that era some elite facilities – golf clubs and the New York Sporting Club (NYAC) – still excluding Jews along with, African-American members, clearly Schwerner and Goodman were not subject to routine segregation. They enjoyed comparatively enhanced economic opportunity and had the vote, yet put themselves at risk anyway. Nor could Jewish activists be accused of merely opposing racism, because of some conscious ‘thin-end-of–the-wedge’ self-interest.
Most of the studies of Nazis using Germany’s 1904 human-experimentation and genocide of the African Herero tribal people of Namibia as a policy model and/or copying segregationist countries, occurred after these activists’ era. And obviously, in opposing segregationist racism, these activists were not like Baddiel, manipulatively placing themselves at the apex of a ‘hierarchy of racism’.
More than stealing Blackface!
David Baddiel’s repeated historical practices demonstrate he is the antithesis of this Jewish anti-racist tradition; though any direct advocacy for Israel by him is yet to be established. However academic David Miller draws attention to the fact that Baddiel is a former pupil of the privileged Haberdashers fee paying school, whose other alumni have also been guilty of Blackface and ethnic bullying. This Miller attributes to an overt Zionist ideology at the institution.
Whatever the relevancy of the school, the more telling evidence of a shared pro-Israel agenda is the fact that against every tradition of Jewish cross-community anti-racist solidarity, represented in this article, Baddiel’s Blackface to Jewface ethnic exclusive, racist cultural theft, is a public relations tactic, repeated by the lobby.
Jeremy Newmark the disgraced former leader of the pro-Israel Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) is alleged to have taken Malcolm X’s expressions house slave and house n*gg*r and rebranded them as ‘court Jew’ in reference to Jewish pro-Palestinian activist Jackie Walker. He also took the ancient uppity n*gg*r slur and changed it into pushy Jew. The sentiment expressed as variants on “only Black people know what racism feels like”– was changed, for the purposes of advocating for Israel in a Guardian column by Howard Jacobson, into “Jews know what anti-Semitism is and what it isn’t.” Items selected for the follow-up letters page material were framed by this misappropriation.
Zionist Guardian writer and former opinion editor Jonathan Freedland took an expression so old it changed from
“I’m not racist some of my best friends are colored,”
“I’m not racist some of my best friends are Negro,”
which evolved over time to
“I’m not racist some of my best friends are Black,”
and now finally in the United States
“I’m not racist some of my best friends are African American”, and spun it as a uniquely a Jewish experience and phrase.
This strategy is not restricted to stealing the Black experience. Put ‘ethnic child-stealing’ into any search engine and a list of sites will be provided, documenting a racist smear historically directed at Gypsy Roma people. The Daily Beast and New Europe returned to this topic a few years ago, followed more recently by Travellers Times. At the height of the 1960s tv western craze, the Barbara Stanwyck series The Big Valley critiqued the racist slur against Gypsy Roma in a double-episode entitled ‘Hide the Children’.
Yet in an era of increased secularisation, if challenged over Israel’s history of killing and imprisoning Palestinian children, Israel supporters as policy, accuse critics of repeating a supposedly unique ethnic blood libel of Jewish threat to children, dating back to the middle-ages.
The same strategy is initiated, if mention is made of the eugenics policy known as the Yemenite Children Affair. Israel’s settlers subjected middle-eastern Yemeni Jewish children to human experimentation. Yemeni-Jewish newborn babies were also stolen to be given to childless settler couples, with the birth mothers told the infants were stillborn. In pro-Israel PR, the Gypsy Roma experience gets sidelined-appropriated in favour of a narrative suggesting western critics who mostly can’t even name the 12 Apostles, have 12th C anti-Jewish blood libels, committed to memory.
Such blatant cultural thefts do have their unintentional amusing sides. When Baddiel was condemned for his Blackface racist incitements he responded by culturally appropriating the term into Jewface. When then condemned for his cultural appropriation, he again simply copied this term and used it to attack a Twitter critic who’d used Yiddish derived idiom – the critic turned out to be Jewish.
Given the original term – schtum – was assimilated from the German stumm meaning silent, Baddiel in stealing other people’s anti-racism demonstrates he can’t differentiate between cultural appropriation and cultural hybridity. Imagine Baddiel having to debate with intellectuals like Paul Gilroy or the late Stuart Hall – this is why Baddiels work is not sent out to academics for review.
Racism and Jewish/Black interracial marriage
The one group of people who know Baddiel’s awful ethnic elitist notion of victimhood to be rubbish are Jewish women that historically have married Black men. When African-American entertainer Sammy Davis Jr converted to Judaism he understandably wasn’t anticipating it making his status any worse – segregation already meant Davis often could not stay at the hotels where he entertained. However, plans for his interracial marriage to blonde May Britt who’d also converted, generated “threats against the synagogue” that had offered to perform the wedding.
Jewish girl Mary Jacobs married her Caribbean husband Jake, in 1948. Jake had come over from Trinidad, for Air Force training to serve during WWII. After announcing her marital intentions her father threw her out of the parental home. She recalled “People would point at us in the street”. And Mary also couldn’t get a roof over her head. By having a Black husband, Mary found that the post-war British landlord prohibition ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs’ now applied to her.
“In effect, mere proximity to Black ethnicity had acted as a sort of taint against the synagogue marrying Sammy Davis and May Britt. For Mary Jacobs having a Black husband actually dropped her social status.
Over the years white women – many of whom are Jewish – who chose to be wives and mothers in Black mixed-race families have had to heroically contend with an entire vocabulary of racist sexualised abuse that would be vilely inappropriate, even if applied to modern sex-workers. Another form of heroism often forced upon these mothers occurs in instances where they find themselves in public transport, social spaces etc, where racists are spouting their nonsense. In these situations, mothers would often try to protect their children from the fact hatred exists in the world against them, by using their very bodies as a physical shield. Would white Jewish mothers subscribe to a ‘hierarchy of victimhood’ that excluded their own mixed-race children?
As the landlord housing prohibition demonstrates in post war Britain arguably the most oppressed white ethnic group was actually Irish Catholics. Just as there is no UK phenomenon of Jewish BLM-type deaths at the hands of the police, also nothing like the practice of Irish suspects dying from state collusion and loyalist death squads, has been replicated in the Jewish community. Nor have the beatings and fit-ups exampled in the Birmingham Six, and Guildford Four injustices been repeated among UK Jews. One reason the Baddiel/Israel-lobby narrative is media-pushed, in comparison to Black and Irish experiences, is because it would require confronting, state, police, foreign-policy, institutional societal and capitalist participation in oppression. Instead this narrative supports the continued manifestation of western power, in the expansionist, colonial example, of Israel.
Conclusion Baddiel’s Straw-man racism
Words like bias, prejudice, and bigotry have long existed. Superseding these, the term Racism was subsequently invented to describe the societal structural condition of people-of-colour who in various combinations, were once owned and colonized; whose original lands, culture, languages, and more were taken by force; and who, in modern society, have little or no collective institutional or financial power to combat their ghettoization in, predominantly, the lower reaches of Western class systems. The term’s specificity makes it difficult for Baddiel to repeat his Blackface-to-Jewface-type cultural theft of this experience, so he has created a straw man argument about this just being about ‘Jews having money’.
The easiest way to rebut this is straight comparison. If Baddiel as a boy had exchanged racist and anti-Semitic slurs in an argument with a Black child in a local play area, any adult intervening would most likely have blamed the Black child. On their way to their respective homes, the Black child has the greater risk of stop-&-search. When Baddiel goes on to his fee paying school, the Black child goes to a state school. Here unless blind marking is practised, the child will likely never be given the benefit of the doubt in coursework. Getting strip-searched at some point in the Black child’s school career is not out of the question, nor is the possibility of having to fight school racists.
Baddiel will go to Cambridge. The Black youth will likely be failed by the education system or if lucky enough to make it to university, it will be a former Polytechnic. As Baddiel gets into his career, the Black individual will experience lesser employment opportunities, less likelihood of getting pay increases or promotions. The Black individual is more likely to be failed by the health services and treated as a scrounger by the welfare authorities and media. Periodic police stop-&-searches and potentially even death at their hands, will be the Black adult experience.
Historically there were also certain forms of segregation that uniquely applied to Black Britons. From boxing’s earliest 20th C legalisation, working-class Jewish fighters like Jack ‘kid’ Berg enjoyed success. By comparison for many decades Rule #24 would demand that a boxer must have two white parents. Writing in the Empire News, Hugh Cecil Lowther (Lord Lonsdale) of the National Sporting Club, explained the legality of boxing was made conditional on having no ‘inter-coloured contests’, following talks with Winston Churchill at the Home Office. Dick Turpin – older brother of future world Champion Randolph Turpin – finally became the first Black British champion in 1946 after the prohibition on Black title participation was lifted.
Martin Luther King mentioned exploitative Jewish Chicago landlords in his journals. Jackie Walker mentioned Jewish participation in the slave trade – easily evidenced by the Jewish Museum in the former slave economy of Jamaica, and by the mirror-cracked copy of the religious mythology of the Jewish colonial class that is Rastafarianism (one section of Rastafarianism is the 12 Tribes of Israel). The opportunist neoliberal right will suggest repeating this is some sort of slur. All it means is that at certain historical times, when presented with racial, class and economic privilege some Jews will opt to commit the same offences as other white ethnic groups.
Given this reality, only makes the fact that Jews have continuously punched so far above their weight as human rights activists, all the more praiseworthy.
Sadly instead of these numerous Jewish anti-racists Ch4 and our corrupted media market Baddiel.
For complaints, Ch4 Commissioning Editor is Shaminder Nahal
& Complaints/Contact Ch4 https://www.channel4.com/4viewers/contact-us
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gavin Lewis is a freelance Black British mixed-race writer and academic. He has published in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race, and representation. He has taught critical theory and film and cultural studies at a number of British universities. He is a member of the British trade union Bectu.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Labour Heartlands or its editors Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company, individual or anyone or anything.