A word about why you matter

By Julie Burchill, March 16, 2012

Whatever a broad's personal views on the bodacious President Barack Obama ­- not so much "yes, we can," as "yes, we so would" - his position on Israel makes him a source of suspicion to quite a few of my Zionist cohorts, who find his support for Israel to be about as enthusiastic as that displayed by a stoned sloth on its way to the dentist.

So imagine my delight recently on discovering that one David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine, had said this: "In fact, the president is a philosemite, whose earliest political supporters were Chicago Jews."

Whatever the lasting veracity of this, it did my hard little heart good to read it. That word - philosemite! It sounds like a combination of pastry and Jewishness - what's not to like? You know how when you have a pash on someone, you get a flicker of excitement when you even see their name, even if it's not them? I experienced this most poignantly when stuck in Israel two years ago without my husband, during the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcano kerfuffle, when it seemed that I was forever turning a corner of a road in Tel Aviv or Eilat to see the word "DAN" literally spelt out in lights, leering down lubriciously at me from one of the estimable hotels of that name. That's how I feel when I see the word "philosemite" written down. It's my tribe - my small, perfect, mad, sad and brilliant tribe.

I remember the first time I saw the phrase written down; like an adolescent gayer growing up in pre-Wolfenden Britain, I wasn't sure if there were any more out there like me and, if there were, what we should even call ourselves.

But then, at the age of 17, newly installed in my barbed-wire billet at the New Musical Express, I opened a copy of Rolling Stone magazine (don't hate me) to find a long think piece called "Confessions of a philosemite".

Pastry and Jewishness - what's not to like?

This was 35 years ago now, but I can see the last line as clearly as if it was in front of me: "My daughter is half-Jewish. The half that isn't is me." This line, so shimmering and sorrowful and resigned, still has the power to bring tears to my eyes a quarter of a century down the line.

Why do I feel this way? My fear and loathing of stupidity, and the catastrophic effect it can have on human dignity and progress, is a definite cause. The fact that Jews have won 22 per cent of all Nobel Prizes - despite being only 0.2 per cent of the world's population and two per cent of the US population - always makes me grin like a fool, like someone whose team is on a roll.

Occasionally, some Israel-hating half-wit will bleat: "Oh, but philosemitism is just the flipside of antisemitism." Really? All the many white people who admire and/or copy black culture, from African music to hip-hop moves - do they secretly hate blacks? All those people of non-Irish descent who will be celebrating St Patrick's Day this weekend, do they really, deep down, hate the Irish? Islam-lickers, from Prince Charles to Ken Livingstone - if you scratch them, will you find Islamophobes?

Anyhow, enough about them, more about me. I'll be delving further into my magnificent obsession in my putative book "Unchosen: a memoir of philosemitism", the proposal for which is right now out there with a dozen publishers. (If you don't have it, and you are a publisher, and you want a look, let me know.)

It's part memoir, part meditation. I'm looking to tell a personal story played out against the resurgent antisemitism of modern times. Hopefully it will be a bit like Lynn Barber's brilliant An Education - but with more sex, more violence and a lot more Jews.

Last updated: 11:14am, March 16 2012