When I was a 12-year-old, redneck kid growing up in the West Country, one of my most prized possessions was a slender paperback called Best Jewish Jokes. Though it's been almost 40 years, I can remember some of the gags till this day:
1. Mrs Cohen is in bed with her lover when Mr Cohen walks in. Mrs Cohen: "Oh no, there's Blabbermouth - now everyone will know!"
2. Mrs Cohen tells Mrs Steinberg: "Don't tell anyone, but I'm having an affair!" Mrs Steinberg: "Mazeltov! Who is doing the catering?"
3. Mr Cohen is in financial hot water. He confides in his wife who produces a vast jar of silver coins. He embraces her and cries: "We're saved! Where did all this money come from?" Mrs Cohen blushingly admits: "Well, every time you made love to me during our 30 years so far of marriage, I put a shilling in the jar." "Oy!" cries Mr Cohen, "why didn't you tell me? I would have given you all my business!"
Two things strike me about my memories of this book. One, what a very busy lady Mrs Cohen was. And, two, how very gentle even a book which might be broadly described as "racist" was back then. It was a genteel world full of gents, ladies, Sams and Sadies, who always wore hats in the street and cried when their grandchildren passed exams.
When I tried out these jokes on my fellow, gentile adolescents who, like me, had never met a Jew but who, unlike me, were uninterested in humour which did not involve base bodily functions, I was met with baffled expressions.
These days, no doubt, those same trainee thugs would say: "Yeah, effing Jews - picking on the poor Palestinians like that. Hitler was right!"
For, in brutal, modern antisemitic humour, which usually masquerades as anti-Zionism, the old-fashioned envy-turned-hatred that the ugliest and stupidest gentile has for the sexy and clever Jew has been souped up with a caring word for the Palestinians - the alleged underdog.
Interestingly (and paradoxically, to anyone with more than two brain cells) the vital importance of being seen to be anti-racist when it comes to colour has freed comedic cretins to be as nasty as they please.
There's an interesting parallel to this in a recent survey which showed that green consumers are more likely to lie and cheat than non-organic buyers. This is called "moral licensing", apparently. But you might know it better by its previous name: hypocrisy.
And nowhere is it more prevalent than in contemporary comedy, where men who would never dream of using the n-word nevertheless fling about the c-word with pathological, gynophobic frequency. And jokers who would never dare cross Muslims feel free to bully Jews.
In 2006, Jamie Glassman wrote in The Times of his visit to that year’s Edinburgh Festival during which he heard members of an audience yell: “Throw them in the oven!” Even choicer was the Australian conspiracy theorist Steve Hughes who, Glassman reported, said “I want to kill that f*****g Jew Richard Perle.”
And there are no moral barriers whatsoever; don’t expect Jewish children to get off scot-free. There was no state of Israel when Anne Frank was hunted down and murdered, but this didn’t stop Chris Evans from finding her death amusing in 1996 on Radio One, or David Mitchell from doing the same last year on Radio Four.
My childhood joke-book was then at the outer limits of laughing at Jews. But now, we have the self-righteous likes of Frankie Boyle, who went from picking on handicapped children to picking on Jews.
Hilarious, Frankie! Next time your hatred needs an outlet, why not just find a Jewish handicapped child to pick on. You big brave hero, you!