My comedy series The Jewish Enquirer is about a journalist who works for a low brow Jewish newspaper but has a passion for bigger issues. But actually it’s not really about that. It’s about fitting in Britain. It’s about whether Philip Green should be classed as BAME and whether a restaurant called Best Kebab has to prove it serves the best kebab. It’s about whether a circumcised man gets more or less pleasure from sex than a non-circumcised man.
When we shot it, and it’s all shot in North London, the antisemitism debate was well underway. But I needed locations. So with some trepidation I ventured into my local Turkish barber where I regularly get my ears singed with my haircut. Mr Trimmer was delighted to open up early to let us film. I approached Dicle, local Middle Eastern Grocer. A local florist, an organic butcher, the David Lloyd Centre. They all let us film while they were open. A local school even opened for us on a Sunday.
There wasn’t hint of antisemitism, and trust me, I wasn’t paying BBC prices. Rather what I experienced was an openness to be part of the creative process and a genuine desire to see humour with Jewish and non-Jewish characters depicted on screen.
But the biggest issue was always going to be the balloon. The script called for a helium balloon with Jew Hate graffiti mistakenly written on it to be given at a child’s birthday party. I took personal responsibility and went to a website that prints these things. My Production Manager has already got the photo of the daubed wall. I had actually suggested that she go to a nearby brick wall, paint on it, take the photo, clean the wall and scarper. Being smart, she used photoshop.
I uploaded the photo and submitted. And waited.
About a week later, I got an email. The email apologised but the company refused to print the balloon. I was delighted of course – proof that racists can’t print hatred – and rang them up. I thanked them for not printing it and told them that it was OK to go ahead and print it, I was making a comedy series. They still refused. But I’m Jewish! I said. This is for TV! Politely but firmly rebuffed.
This is my experience of the UK. I have never personally experienced antisemitic abuse. I’ve seen others get hate online. Not me. There was a time when I was unfairly ordered to leave Hampstead Heath (it’s a very long story) and I tried unsuccessfully to get an apology for weeks. Finally I resorted to asking if it was “my Middle Eastern appearance” that had caused my eviction. The formal apology arrived 2 days later. So in hindsight, that could have been antisemitic.
But the closest I’ve come to what I would call abuse has actually come at me from within the Jewish community. I was once compared in print in a Jewish paper to a child abuser and murderer for writing a Jewish themed play that a critic didn’t like. That really hurt. I wrote an article recently defending the BBC over what I thought was a mainly positive piece of journalism and was attacked. Apparently, some Jewish people think I am a “narcissistic prick”. I’m not the only film-maker who might have an element of narcissism. Since when has legitimate debate become so unwelcome?
So The Jewish Enquirer is likely to get flack from Jews because we like to disagree with each other. If the Jewish people aren’t portrayed on screen in a way that Jewish people identify with, we get annoyed. I suspect there is a deep insecurity about being Jewish in Britain. When I tried to make Leon the Pig Farmer many years ago, it was rejected time and time again by Jewish executives. It was too Jewish.
And you know what I called them? Jokingly. Antisemites. The same is true when I used to drive up to Manchester for Yom Kippur and got stuck in traffic on the M6. Who were these people clogging up the lanes and trying to stop me from getting back home before the start of the holiest day in the calendar? Antisemites. So, in The Jewish Enquirer, when Tim Downie who plays Paul gets kicked out of a speed awareness course for arguing that he should be able to drive faster than a bus, what does he call them – Antisemites.
We’ve recently been arguing over whether Yid is acceptable at a football match. Some think it is, some vehemently oppose. Do those who oppose think it’s antisemitic? And if so are thousands of Spurs fans antisemitic? Or is it the Chelsea fans? If Yid is banned, would it be OK to make hissing noises emulating the gas chambers but without actually using the word Yid? Do we ban the hissing noise too? At what point should we just go “You know what? You want to be a moron? Be a moron”
I don’t think the British are antisemitic, not in actions and this is born out by in depth research carried out by the Jewish Policy Research Group in conjunction with the CST. Yes some people have some elements of antisemitic tropes. And we should always address those head on. But Jewish characters feature in Eastenders and Coronation Street. Friday Night Dinner is soon to air its 6th season. Had Jeremy Corbyn got in and actually tried to put into action any laws that singled out Jews, the British would have marched like never before and hauled his backside out of Government in no time.
Because we live in the UK where Jews can and have thrived and assimilated, because we find it difficult to defend all aspects of Israel’s policies, because we are powerless actually to sort out the Palestinians’ plight, we have been afraid to represent the full spectrum of Jewish identity. We should have more confidence. I believe the UK will never turn en masse against its Jews, not because of who we are, but because of who they are. I can’t say the same for many other countries in Europe.
So in The Jewish Enquirer I have written characters who say things that could be construed as antisemitic. And racist, sexist, homophobic and even dwarfist. It’s an attempt to dial down on the invective and replace it with humour. And conversation. Dialogue and genuine engagement is the way out of hatred and stupidity.
So how did we get that racist balloon printed? The second company we tried did it for us, but only with a clear explanation on why we wanted it. That’s a sensible approach to words and how they get used.
In the process of filming that balloon got released into the skies above Finchley. It must have landed somewhere. Whoever found a deflated helium balloon with Jews Go Home written on it, it’s my fault. Sorry.
So The Jewish Enquirer. Now on Prime Video in the UK and the USA
If you don’t like it, I have one word for you. Antisemite.