Antisemitism is back in vogue. Books, plays, exhibitions, academic studies and New Lines magazine essays alike are grappling with this age-old hatred and why it continues to morph and flare up in our present day.
As I write this piece in London, some of my fellow citizens are contemplating their evening plans to go see “The Doctor” at the Duke of York’s Theatre, an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play “Professor Bernhardi,” which follows a Jewish medical professional in pre-war Vienna experiencing an upswell of antisemitism. Today’s version, by Robert Icke, transposes this story onto the modern world of identity politics and Twitter storms. Some of these theatergoers might have seen last season’s production of “Jews” at the Royal Court, a piece of verbatim theater by Jonathan Freedland that concerns the contemporary Jewish experience of racism. That piece was commissioned in response to the use of casual antisemitic tropes in a previous production at the venue.
Those staying in might prefer to snuggle up on the sofa with a nice hot mug of chicken soup and watch author and sometime comedian David Baddiel’s “Jews Don’t Count,” a documentary on British television confronting antisemitism on the progressive left. The program is a spinoff of Baddiel’s enormously successful 2020 book of the same title, which grapples with antisemitism in the world of contemporary identity politics. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I provided some editorial consultation on this book in my role as an editor at the Times Literary Supplement.) As with Icke and Freedland, Baddiel is less interested in the outright haters (whose animus is a given) than those he perceives to be their enablers: people, particularly on the left, who are so quick to call out racism when it is directed at any number of other minority communities but seem to have a blind spot when it comes to Jews. “Jews Don’t Count” has so far sold over 125,000 copies worldwide — not quite the realm of John Grisham or Colleen Hoover but impressive for what is essentially a thoughtful and passionate polemic about a highly specific area of ethno-political discourse. Jews might not count for some, but plenty seem interested in why this is the case — and, one infers, not only Jews. [Continue reading…]