Gaby Wine

Eddie Nestor’s antisemitic trope needs an intervention

When good people start spouting bad things, we should treat it like a Special Educational Need


Eddie Nestor (BBC)

May 19, 2024 12:36

All antisemitic tropes are bad, but they feel even worse when they come out of the mouths of good people. When good eggs start spouting them, the man (and woman) on the street sits up and takes note.

So it has been with the much-loved BBC radio presenter Eddie Nestor, who has found himself in a predicament after suggesting that a mayoral hustings in April at JW3, which saw the first appearance by all four main candidates, was made possible due to the “powerful Jewish lobby”.

In conversation with the Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Blackie on his popular Radio London show, Nestor said: “The only time all four of you [mayoral candidates], apart from that debate last night, were together was for the Jewish lobby.

“Why is that lobby is so much more powerful than people with disabilities? Why is it so much more powerful than people who are worried about the safety of women and girls, the aged voter?”

Listening to the comments, there is no doubt about what Nestor is saying – or what he means.

Nestor’s radio persona is Mr Nice Guy. His warm, empathetic presenting style has acted as an emollient to Londoners as we have gone through the pain of Brexit, Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.

Is this the same Nestor who, as JW3’s Ray Simonson put it, has resorted to using “lazy, offensive stereotypes” about Jews?

When the story came up for discussion at the JC, two of my colleagues recoiled in disbelief. “But Eddie is so nice,” they said.

Hence the problem. When “nice” people start making antisemitic comments, not only is it disappointing, it is also dangerous. The listener – or rather all half a million of them – thinks: “If Eddie Nestor is saying things like that about Jews, then it must be true – and it must be okay for me to say these things out loud, too.” So antisemitic tropes – which may have previously been hidden away in the murky corners of people’s minds - rapidly pervade everyday chit-chat.

But there is nothing new here. When I was teaching some 20 years ago, a colleague mentioned that their partner worked in a bank. Another colleague, who was Jewish, asked (not entirely appropriately): “How much does he earn?”, to which a third piped up: “That’s such a Jewish thing to say!” The fourth colleague (me), at this point, should have stuck my oar in and called out the blatant antisemitism, but it was awkward. Colleague number three was my senior, and, anyway, she was so nice. Of course she wasn’t antisemitic.

Now I know better. The morning after the Eurovision result, when the public vote for Israel’s Eden Golan was the biggest and best “two fingers” I have seen in response to all the antisemitism since October 7, I received a text from a non-Jewish friend: “I guess the Jewish vote worked for Eurovision!”

While I will gladly admit that many of us Jews maxed out our 20 votes on Israel (and even picked up the landline for the first time in however many years to give another 20 votes), as I pointed out to her, there just aren’t enough Jewish people in the world to have made the difference. There are less than 2,000 Jews in Finland and only about 4,000 in Portugal – both of whose public awarded Israel the maximum 12 points.

So, no - “the Jewish vote” was not what worked. It was, I told her, that “the silent majority finally felt able to speak up”. (And possibly the fact that the Israeli entry was one of the few with a discernible tune.)

But are Nestor, my former colleague and my old friend antisemites? When does someone who slips antisemitic tropes into casual conversation cross the line to become a fully paid-up member of the antisemite brigade?

It reminds me of when I took my then small daughter to an educational psychologist since her back-to-front lettering rang alarm bells of dyslexia in my head. After a thorough assessment, the ed psych wrote on her report: “She is not dyslexic, but she displays traits of dyslexia.” With support from her school and help outside school, the handwriting problems were resolved.

Perhaps we need to treat antisemitism like a special educational need. As soon as someone – however nice they are the rest of the time - starts showing “traits” of the condition, early intervention is required. We need to call it out.

Perhaps the BBC ought to arrange for Nestor to undergo some antisemitism training. Otherwise, like a SEN, if left unchecked, the problem will quickly spiral out of control.

May 19, 2024 12:36

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