Truth about Phil and me

November 24, 2016 23:22

This was the year when many of us discovered that philosemitism wasn't a half-Jewish Irishman. This finding-out was mostly due to the publication of Julie Burchill's extended love letter to (some of) the Jewish people, Unchosen, and to the hostile reaction it elicited from some excellent Jews.

One of my favourite columnists - the Guardian's Hadley Freeman - was eloquent in her desire not to be admired semitically by the likes of Burchill or fellow Jew-lovers Martin Amis and Louise Mensch. "There is something," wrote Freeman, "about someone fetishising me as part of a homogenous mass of their own reductive fashioning that makes me come over a bit broigus."

Maybe Freeman took it a bit too far. There were passages in her elegant essay which savoured of a woman trying to repel an unwanted suitor using the weapon of pedantry. "Actually no part of my head looks like half a pomegranate," I hear her saying, "And if my upper lip is a scarlet ribbon, that is hardly true of the lower. Finally, both my breasts are not like fawns, browsing in lilies or anywhere else. So beat it."

If someone is trying to pay you a compliment, then it seems more generous to smile than to wince. After all, there are plenty of people who do not like Jews (or what they imagine to be Jews), so the occasional soppy liker can surely be tolerated. If Harry Styles (for heaven's sake, where have you been? He's a pop singer with floppy hair. You only go to Bach at the Wigmore Hall? Very Jewish.)

As I was saying, if Harry wants to wear a magen david, to tattoo his sister's name (Gemma) in Hebrew on his pomegranate or just under his left fawn, and to wander about telling Jewish jokes, then good luck to him. When I was mad in hospital three years ago I thought I was an Irish writer called David O'Ronovitch and I spoke with a rare brogue and it didn't do me any harm. Except nearly kill me.

I get a little concerned when un-Jews send me greetings

It's true that I do become a little concerned when unJews (who used it be called goyim by our own unreconstructed J-folk), send me elaborate greetings to celebrate obscure Jewish holidays which I have never celebrated and whose names I can barely pronounce. It seems a little officious, until I remember that their only mistake is to have got the wrong kind of Jew. Had they got the right kind of Jew then it would have been very nice of them to wish me a fabulous Shuchoch or whatever.

So they like Jewish humour? I like Jewish humour. They well up to a klezmer fiddle being played inside your own chest on your own heart strings? I well up. Only an Israeli wouldn't. They love Howard Jacobson? Only a moron doesn't love Howard Jacobson.

Even so, Hadley had one very good point. An awkward point. If we don't like generalisations about Jews by antis, why should we bask in them when they come from philos? It is a contradiction that bothers me.

When the millionaire owner of Wigan Football Club, Dave Whelan, last month expressed the view that "Jewish people chase money more than everybody else" the reaction in the community was not one of delighted self-recognition. But had he instead said that "Jewish people value education (or family, or community, or music) more than everybody else", we would have smiled and responded that maybe there was something in that, although he perhaps should meet our schlub of a cousin.

I suppose that, on balance, I am sufficiently fed up with being thought badly of on account of my name, to forgive being well thought of for the same bad reason. Come in Phil, and take a glass of wine to mark the end of Suchoch. Or whatever.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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