The target audience for Jews Don’t Count is anyone but Jews

That’s one reason why my Channel 4 film was packed with famous names — if you’re trying to persuade people to start to care about something, it helps to have Ross from Friends

November 21, 2022 22:14

My book, Jews Don’t Count, is a personal polemic. It includes a lot of what is now called my “lived experience” — in simpler terms, stories from my life, examples of how this one minority doesn’t seem to be considered, by the people who care most about minorities, quite a proper one.

When it came to making a documentary on the same subject, which went out on Channel 4 on Monday, that meant an opportunity presented itself to bring on board other voices, and other stories. Which is why if you watched it, you will have heard David Schwimmer, Sarah Silverman, Stephen Fry, Miriam Margoyles, Rachel Riley, Neil Gaiman and others talk, in ways you might not usually hear, about Jews being, to quote the director Patrick Marber “an unprotected species”, and how vulnerable that makes them feel.

One criticism that I’ve heard is that the film spends a lot of time arguing that Jews are not the privileged, rich stereotype which seems to disqualify them from vulnerable minority status, and yet here I am on screen with a lot of privileged, rich Jews.

Well. First, it’s not just big TV and film stars. I also interview various Jewish writers and thinkers; the rabbi of New York Central synagogue; my bi-racial niece; plus I visit my old primary school to see how Jewish schoolchildren have to do security drills to protect themselves from terrorist attacks, and none of them are rich or privileged.

Second, as I have said before, yes, some Jews — like some people — are rich and privileged. That doesn’t mean they should have to suffer racism. My grandparents in Germany before the war were rich. They owned a brick factory in Konisgberg. That didn’t stop the racists stealing that from them, and then murdering most of their family.

But more generally, there has been in the whole process of drawing attention to this phenomenon, a duality. Which is that I’m writing something about Jews, that speaks to Jews, but is at some level not for Jews. For most Jews who have spoken to me about the book, the ones who like it — I’m fully aware there are some that don’t — it has provided a release, a formulation of something that many of them had felt but that no-one had quite articulated before. In the documentary, Sarah Silverman says that the idea of Jews not counting was like something in the air, that all Jews knew was there, but no-one had, as it were, bottled it.

And I’m glad for some that the book has provided that liberating sense of “At last someone has bloody said this!” But of course the people who I want to be changed by the book is not Jews. I’m trying to speak to non-Jews, particularly ones who see themselves, in the core of their beings, as anti-racist, but who nonetheless incorporate certain racist ideas about Jews within their — to use a phrase normally applied only to other minorities — unconscious bias.

Those are the people I want to make realise that — as, indeed, a non-Jewish progressive reader who wrote to me on Twitter put it — “antisemitism is the racism that sneaks past you.”

The problem can be — and this itself is a Jews don’t count issue — stuff about Jews in our culture is generally seen as niche: as just, really, something that will only be consumed by Jews. I like to hope that the book and its message has broken out of the — can I say the word ghetto? OK I just have — and shifted the dial a bit on the conversation in the world beyond, but the chance for that to happen on TV is better still. Which is why I went for big stars. It was a pragmatic decision. There are no doubt lots of not-very-well-known Jews out there I could have spoken to who would have said insightful and amazing things, but I’m not sure they would have brought in the ratings that Stephen Fry and Miriam Margolyes will. Or to put it another way: if you’ve made a documentary about what might seem to many people a subject that doesn’t concern them — when it actually does — it helps a bit in terms of getting that wider audience that Ross from Friends is in it. Then, hopefully, they will stay to hear he and I discuss how instructive it is that Friends is criticised — correctly — for its lack of diversity but how people don’t even notice, don’t even register, that that series did have a minority character in it: a Jew.

So. I know this being the Jewish Chronicle, I am now mainly talking to Jews, but — if you haven’t seen it go and check it out on All4. And more importantly, tell your non-Jewish friends to do the same.

David Baddiel's documentary, Jews Don't Count, is available now on All4

READ MORE: Jews Don't Count TV review: Five stars for this primer on antisemitism

November 21, 2022 22:14

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