Exiting Stamford Bridge twenty years ago on a wave of euphoria after Hapoel Tel Aviv had dumped Chelsea out of the UEFA Cup, who should I walk straight into . . . but TV celebrity David Baddiel. Though feeling more or less meh about Baddiel back then, it was too good an opportunity not to greet the proud Blue, but also fellow Jew, with a cheeky “Who were you rooting for, David?”
“Chelsea, of course,” came the scornful reply, Baddiel’s face contorted into the expression of sourness my late mum used to observe on certain folk when they spoke to or about Jews. (There is a great Yiddish word, which escapes me, that she always used to describe the look.)
I had been somewhat provocative. I kind of knew, even then, that Baddiel’s loyalties would not be as divided as mine would have been (and were, the following year, when Leeds United came up against Hapoel). But he supports a club that I dislike intensely — both as a Leeds fan and as a Jew (Chelsea supporters have always been notorious for their antisemitic chants at games) — which had just been humiliated by the minnows from the Jewish State (to which I had emigrated some five years earlier). It felt, however, like there was something more to his caustic retort.
No one has ever accused me of lacking humour when it comes to my Jewishness, but I never liked the way Baddiel played on his on telly, continually allowing his sidekick Frank Skinner to get a cheap laugh out of every silly, ignorant and often offensive Jewish stereotype in the book. In one 90s sketch (click here), Baddiel and Skinner manage to bring Tottenham Hotspur, insurance fraud, Volvos and hassidim into a nauseating pantomime featuring (“using” might be the more appropriate word) the late Avi Cohen, the first Israeli footballer to play in England. (Baddiel has also been widely criticised for his use of blackface to poke fun at a black footballer.)
Baddiel has since, of course, reinvented himself as the self-styled kick antisemitism out of football tsar, lecturing Spurs fans on how they can no longer identify — as they do quite harmlessly for every Jew (and there are quite a few) that I know — as “the Yids”.
Baddiel’s talent for self-publicity has made him the British media’s go-to Jew. And if the BBC and Guardian couldn’t give a hoot about his hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to anti-racism, they absolutely lap up his sellout stance on Israel. It is the perfect symbiotic relationship: Baddiel loves the spotlight and sound of his own voice — at the same time winning brownie points with fellow (if more ideologically sound, i.e., rabidly anti-Zionist, many would say self-loathing) ‘progressive’ left Jews, such as Miriam Margolyes and Alexei Sayle — and the anti-Israel British media cherish their useful, celebrity Jew who never fails to deliver, proudly regurgitating his “meh” attitude towards the Jewish State at the mere sight of a keyboard or microphone.
The appointed mouthpiece of British Jewry has been making lots of media appearances this past week to publicise his new book on antisemitism. (He can’t be suffering too badly when one of his main gripes is non-Jewish actors being chosen to play Jews.) And he has been at it again about the Jewish State: “My own position has always been kind of meh about Israel . . . obviously in the last twenty years — not for not good reason on many occasions in terms of the behaviour of the Israeli State — Israel has become a pariah.” (last Thursday’s Nihal Arthanayake show, BBC Radio 5 Live)
One would have to be a bit dim — one accusation that could never be levelled at Baddiel — not to understand the centrality of Israel to so many Diaspora Jews. Polls show that in excess of ninety percent of British Jews identify with the country, feeling that the very existence of a Jewish State protects and empowers them. And one would imagine that an intelligent bloke like Baddiel might see how his mother’s family (not to mention millions of others) may have been spared its calamity in 1939, having to flee Nazi Germany for its lives, had Israel existed then. But even if he doesn’t (or pretends that he doesn’t), to continually publicly denigrate it — especially at a time of increasing antisemitism (on left and right) — is selling out of the most distasteful kind.
Baddiel’s arrogance is matched only by the fragility of his ego — not a particularly attractive combo — as he insults and then blocks (on Twitter) anyone who dares challenge his self-promotional circus. Odd that, from someone who claims to champion free speech. A few years ago, he defended as “comedy” a YouTube video of someone repeating “gas the Jews” — “an artistic decision,” wrote Baddiel (full article) — to his girlfriend’s dog, which he had trained to give the Nazi salute.
I heard that Baddiel didn’t much care for my references to him in my blog post about his cousin, Rabbi Osher — a Baddiel anti-Zionist of the unprogressive Jewish right — who taught at my school. In a failed attempt to entice Osher into appearing in ‘his’ episode of the BBC geneology series Who Do You Think You Are?, Baddiel made some cringeworthy reference to his ultra-Orthodox cousin while standing outside a Golders Green bagel bakery. Osher recalled to me how the documentary’s producer had spent two and a half hours in his Stamford Hill home, over tea, trying to persuade him to participate. But even the very little Osher knew about David — including the “goyishe girlfriend” and partiality for seafood (“Even goyim don’t eat oysters!”) — was enough to convince him that a family reunion should not be on the menu.
Thankfully, neither Osher nor David Baddiel speak for British Jews. But Osher at least is a genuinely proud, practising one. David, on the other hand, knowingly and seemingly happily undermines the interests of the huge majority of them with his continual, selfish, entirely “meh”, entirely me, public pronouncements on Israel.
His self-serving arrogance and hypocrisy need to be called out at every opportunity.