David Baddiel talks to Stephen Fry, Rachel Riley, Sarah Silverman and more for Channel 4 Jews Don't Count documentary

Jewish comedian David Baddiel says there is one kind of racism that’s been left out of society’s earnest fight to eradicate hatred: antisemitism.

Often, he says, it’s seen as the case that Jews don’t count as a ‘real minority’, so while they still suffer serious discrimination they often aren’t afforded the same protections as other minority groups.

“Someone once tweeted me and said: ‘antisemitism is the racism that sneaks past you,’ which I thought was a really good way of putting it,” explains Baddiel, 58.

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“Other forms of racism have, sometimes, a more obvious character than antisemitism.”

David Baddiel and Rachel Riley. Picture: PA Photo/©Channel 4.David Baddiel and Rachel Riley. Picture: PA Photo/©Channel 4.
David Baddiel and Rachel Riley. Picture: PA Photo/©Channel 4.

In February 2021, Baddiel published his book Jews Don’t Count, which delves into “how identity politics failed one particular identity” – how Jewish people are often left out of the conversation when it comes to protecting and advocating for minorities.

Now a one-off Channel 4 documentary of the same name is exploring this on screen, and sees Baddiel joined by other famous Jews – David Schwimmer, Stephen Fry, Sarah Silverman, Miriam Margolyes and more – who share their experiences and thoughts.

“Being a Jew, trying to talk about the racism that you suffer, and Jewish inclusion, or whatever… you often get this slight sense of fury, that you don’t deserve it, it’s not something you need to have,” says Baddiel, who’s known for his work with Frank Skinner on 1990s comedy show Fantasy Football League and for creating the ubiquitous Three Lions football anthem.

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“One of the things that I talk about a lot in the book, and in the film, is this notion of Jewish power and Jewish privilege, which a lot of people don’t think that talking about – and Kanye West would be one of them – they don’t think it’s racist to talk about Jews being powerful and privileged.

David Baddiel. Picture: PA Photo/©Channel 4.David Baddiel. Picture: PA Photo/©Channel 4.
David Baddiel. Picture: PA Photo/©Channel 4.

“Because they just think it’s true, or they think it’s a kind of compliment of sorts, but obviously it’s not. It’s a stereotype, but historically it leads to immense violence against Jews.”

But this conversation is pertinent because violence against Jews is not just historic. Antisemitism did not start and end with the mass slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust – which, of course, is still in living memory.

“There’s a huge rise in attacks at the moment,” Baddiel says.

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“Eleven Jews killed in Pittsburgh, in 2018, by a far-right gunman who believed in something called the Great Replacement theory and believed that Jews were responsible for controlling multiculturalism in America,” he adds, referring to the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the US.

“They were trying,” he adds, his voice softened by tears, “they were trying to get Syrian refugees housed in America. And this bloke thought that meant that they were destabilising the area and white races.

“So he killed 11 Jews.”

The stereotype of Jews being powerful and moneyed and controlling is a harmful myth that Baddiel circles back to throughout his Channel 4 documentary, because it’s a stereotype that not only attracts antisemitic hatred but also leads progressive people to withhold their protection of Jewish people, as they’re seen to ‘not really need it’.

“What it comes down to is a weird logic thing, which is: if Jews are powerful, they aren’t vulnerable; and if they’re not vulnerable, if they get attacked it’s not that important. We don’t have to offer them the same protections that we offer to other minorities,” says Baddiel.

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“I have an issue with antisemitism and how it doesn’t track with other forms (of racism). I think if people are being cancelled, or there are consequences, however you want to put it, for racism or discrimination, for public forms of hate speech, then they have to track for Jews, otherwise Jews don’t count.

“And also, we are talking about a very, very ancient form of racism here. Antisemitism is very endless, I’m afraid. It keeps recurring.”

Kanye West, as Baddiel mentioned earlier, has brought antisemitism right back onto the discourse agenda in recent weeks. The rapper has, to put it mildly, had a fall from grace spanning the last few years which came to something of a head in October, with his collaborations with the likes of Adidas and Balenciaga cancelled and his net worth slashed following antisemitic hate speech in interviews and on social media.

But the damage was done. Neo-Nazi groups have taken West’s comments as a rallying cry, and his words worked to perpetuate the dangerous stereotypes of Jews as holding power over society.

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“It’s sort of a real double-edged sword, because it’s raised the issue in a really big way,” says Baddiel of West’s hate speech.

“I have seen quite a lot of pushback against it, a little bit different to maybe what I might have seen a couple of years ago.

"At the same time, there’s two problems with that. Number one is all the myths and ideas that Kanye is spouting, which a lot of his followers will just believe, are to do with what I’m talking about – stereotypes of Jews as powerful and privileged and controlling and blah, blah, blah.

"And the other problem is that there was a pushback against Kanye, and then within about two or three days, I saw people saying: ‘Oh, look at the Jews trying to cancel Kanye! The Jews with their power, they forced Adidas to do this’.

"So I thought, oh right, it’s gone wrong already.”

Jews Don’t Count will air on Channel 4 on Monday, November 21.