My Hapless steps towards a fairer, funnier view of British Jews
My sitcom Hapless series two launched on Prime last Monday. It again stars Tim Downie as an overly truth-seeking obsessive journalist for a fictitious paper The Jewish Enquirer.
Early on in the post-production process I asked two critics, the lead (non-Jewish) TV reviewers at the Mail and Express, if they’d have a look and let me know if they thought it matched up to the first series.
Both got back to me and said they’d give it five stars. That gave me huge confidence that the series would work where it needed to work most – and I’m not sorry to say that is beyond the Jewish community.
There are approximately 250,000 Jewish people in the UK within a population of over 60 million. Clearly, if I want to address issues related to antisemitism it’s pointless if I only manage to reach the Jewish crowd.
In fact, davka, it’s more important than anything that I reach the non-Jewish population.
I completely understand why some of the community will be nervous about such an overtly Jewish series going out into the wider world. Every Jewish person I know (and from my Facebook feed it would appear that I know far too many Jewish people!) has an angle on their kind of Judaism.
It’s their kind of Judaism they want to see represented in the media. If you don’t send your kids to Jewish schools, you want to see Jews who don’t send their kids to Jewish schools. If you keep kosher at home but eat meat out, that’s the Judaism you want to see on your TV.
We are now represented in the media by one person. David Baddiel. Anything to do with antisemitism, and there he is.
As a community, we’ve had to watch while our creatives promote a specific kind of Jewishness. Taking the most obvious example, we are now represented in the media by one person. David Baddiel. Anything to do with antisemitism, and there he is. On Newsnight. On Breakfast TV. On Radio 4. On podcasts galore. Given free rein to speak on behalf of all of us – to a press all too willing; to nod as though he is the Chief Rabbi.
To say that I disagree with Baddiel is an understatement. His book Jews Don’t Count left me icy cold. Of course there is antisemitism on the far left. But what he failed to do is ask why?
We all know why. We know from every report produced that antisemitism online increases dramatically when there is trouble between Israel and the Palestinians.
Who can blame a population that for the past 40 years sees Israel as the aggressor in an uneven battle? Who can blame that same population for a rise in Islamophobia when a Muslimist suicide bomber attacks kids at a pop concert? My mother would say Use your gumption.
Asking why though is crucial to the debate within our society. Instead of asking why, Baddiel falls headlong into racist tropes himself. OK. I know I read it carefully, too carefully perhaps. But his book is chock full of petty examples of antisemitism. He wants parity with other minorities? I’ve never been stopped and searched for driving a nice car in Temple Fortune. There are other places where we could look before writing a polemic.
Meanwhile, he puts the words Jew and face together as one. A word that is 100% racist. How can there be such a thing as a Jewish Face? Let’s look at Paul Rudd, voted the sexiest man alive. Gal Gadot? Or let’s look at those who convert to Judaism. Do they have Jewish Faces? Do Sephardim looks like Ashkenazim. Or do they look more like Egyptians and Iranians?
Behind the words, there’s an inherent idea that having a big nose is ugly. Tell that to anyone with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern background. A small nose is apparently beautiful but a big nose is something to be embarrassed about. Let’s all have plastic surgery shall we? It’s beyond offensive to imply that only Nicole Kidman lookalikes are stunners.
Every Jewish person I know (and from my Facebook feed it would appear that I know far too many Jewish people!) has an angle on their kind of Judaism.
Baddiel even goes so far, in describing Israelis, to say that he doesn’t see them as very Jewish. They’re “too macho, too ripped and aggressive and confident”. If this isn’t antisemitism writ large I don’t know what is. Jews have to be effeminate, weedy, neurotic and lacking in confidence?? Yes this is the Woody Allen view of Jewishness but does it have to be the ONLY view?
The IHRA definition of antisemitism (which I think is pretty appalling but there you go) opens with ‘Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews.’ How has Baddiel not crossed that line?
We need to delve deeper into the why of how our community is represented this way. Baddiel propagates the idea that Jewishness is an ethnicity and it’s been lapped up. As he says, the Nazis wouldn’t have asked his grandparents if they kept kosher before killing them. He’s right.
But Deutschblütiger is the Nazi classification of someone who is only one eighth Jewish by blood, and in that case they qualified as German. What the Nazis did was identify Jews by their genetic line.
If you married out and your kids married out and your kids’ kids married out, you’re German and don’t get transported to the gas chambers. Baddiel is using the exact same basic principles used by the Nazis. Get far enough away from being Jewish by marriage to non-Jews and you’re not Jewish. Nothing whatsoever to do with the religion of Judaism.
Historically, before the Nazis, it’s Christianity that specifically murdered Jews UNLESS they converted. For centuries, it’s been entirely about religion. That is what the Inquisitions were about. That is why Jews were chucked out of the UK. It was a direct conflict between religions. If you ate pork and accepted Christ, you’d be allowed to live. It didn’t matter what your lineage was. What mattered is whether you changed faith. That is the ongoing danger.
It’s often said that the UK is a tolerant country. Well, to be tolerant, there must be those who are tolerated. We fit nicely into that category.
Baddiel is entitled to his views but where are the counter views in the mainstream media? At one point in Hapless I have a headline “Media Turns Down Chief Rabbi as Go To Jew. BBC, C4, ITV and Sky say not enough of a celebrity”.
And so we come to the thorny question of Israel. Which is not so thorny at all. If Israel had existed in the 1930s, there would have been no Holocaust. Come on, argue with me. Tell me I’m wrong. It’s the existence of the Jewish state that saves Jews from religious persecution, whether that be 80 years ago or now.
It’s Israel that takes in those escaping from north African countries or from the former USSR, or more latterly from Ethiopia and France. Look at Hungary today and see if there is a need for a Jewish state.
Yes, I address this in Hapless. Those who spout “From the River to the Sea” need to be called out and Hapless does so. It also has a man putting on tefillin, a succah, the Orthodox tradition of gemach whereby wedding dresses are loaned out to save un-necessary expense. Naomi (played brilliantly by a non-Jewish actress Jeany Spark), sends her boy to a Jewish school.
So how come non-Jewish critics are giving it five stars? Is it not too Jewish for them to understand? No. They get it because it’s funny and is closer to representing the Jewish community of the UK than any of the works put out by people who essentially live outside of the Jewish community. I have no problem with those who fall in love and marry outside. To each his or her own.
Luckily, in this country, we have a form of Christianity which doesn’t require us to convert or leave. It’s that Protestant reformed Christianity that King Charles swore to uphold at his coronation.
That is why, whichever political leader is in power, the Jews of the UK are safe. It’s often said that the UK is a tolerant country. Well, to be tolerant, there must be those who are tolerated. We fit nicely into that category. We don’t need to be on a par with the Protestant Church. In every synagogue we pray every Shabbat for the health and well-being of our King before we pray for the safety of Israel.
If you’re a confirmed atheist, you probably want rid of the Royal family and its trappings. But our religion, Judaism, says thanks for letting us be.
I want to fight for all Jews to live in peace here in the UK. Hapless is my way, through comedy, of reaching out to the non-Jewish population, the still-Christian backbone of this United Kingdom (whatever the numbers say) with a huge thank you.
And as for David. The end of episode six is my ripost.