David Baddiel’s allegation of ‘anti-Semitism’ against Corbyn for pronouncing ‘Epshtein’ demonstrates why you can’t appease Zionists
Baddiel’s concern about ‘anti-Semitism’ is in stark contrast to his long record of cynical racist abuse of Black people and Blacking up
This is now the season of ‘antisemitism’ as the press, desperate to find any traces of the deadly disease all picked up on David Baddiel’s attack on Corbyn because he correctly pronounced Jeff Epstein’s surname as Epshtein.
Despite tweeting that ‘every Jew noticed’ Corbyn’s pronunciation I suspect that no Jews noticed because there was nothing to notice. Of course when you are desperate to invent fake ‘anti-Semitism’ then any nonsense will do.
It is unfortunate that Corbyn didn’t slap down the Zionists and their supporters in the Tory press four years ago rather than appeasing them and thus inviting their use of Jews as a stick to beat him with. Every time he has issued an apology they have used that to attack him. Every concession inviting another one.
The fact that the Sun, which employed Katie Hopkins, for whom refugees are ‘cockroaches’ is so concerned about Baddiel should tell you everything you need to know about the campaign. Likewise the Daily Mail, which also employed Hopkins is also concerned about how to pronounce Epstein.
Following on from Baddiel, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, all but instructs British Jews not to vote Labour. They are are all of course more than happy to support an Israeli state whose own Prime Minister declared that it is not a state of all its citizens, but its Jewish citizens.
Imagine that a British Prime Minister declared that the British state only represents its Christian not its Jewish inhabitants. Then they could cry ‘anti-Semitism’ yet these hypocrites say nothing. Because their sole purpose is the defence of Israel not anti-Semitism.Israel’s Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called Black people ‘monkeys’. This is what passes for normal discourse amongst religious Zionists in Israel
What makes Baddiel’s hypocrisy even worse is that he ‘Blacked up’ in his comedy show, pillorying a Black footballer Jason Lee as a ‘pineapple head’. The stench of hypocrisy is overpowering. As Private Eye used to say, ‘pass the sick bag Alice’.
Below is a guest post by Gavin Lewis. He refers to Labour activist Vicki Kirby’s use of the term ‘big noses’. What Lewish didn’t realise is that this term was from a Baddiel play ‘Infidel‘! This was the first example of fake anti-semitism. It would seem that Baddiel is, underneath, also an anti-Semite!
In its support for Israel, Britain’s Guardian newspaper has been claiming to fight antisemitism, so why provide a platform for a comedian who’s been discredited for his previous ‘Pineapple Heads’ racism? Asks Gavin Lewis
The UK’s neoliberal Guardian and Observer newspapers have been in the forefront of a campaign of pro-Israel moral panics peaking with attempts to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. In the run-up, this has led to accusations of antisemitism against a number of Black activist women who have been critical of Israeli apartheid, including former National Union of Students (NUS) President Malia Bouathia, Labour MP Naz Shah, Jewish-Jamaican-British Jackie Walker, formally of the political group Momentum. This intimidation resulted in a Jewish Labour event supporting Walker being subjected to a bomb threat.
At the 2017 peak phase of what so far as has been an annual cycle of Guardian pro-Israel McCarthyism, the paper took the unusual editorial step of gifting, in consecutive daily editions, both lead letters page and columnist status to the privileged Cambridge educated Jewish comedian David Baddiel, to write about the supposed offensive racism and antisemitism of comments by the historically anti-racist Labour Party politician Ken Livingstone.
This was contradictory on a number of fronts, for Livingstone’s historical critique had been exclusively about Zionism, the ideology that had for 16 years previously been defined by UN resolution 3379 as a form of racism, and specifically not about the broader western Jewish diaspora.
Despite this, Baddiel was allowed to transpose this theme into issues of antisemitism. But what is particularly astonishing about Baddiel’s privileged media placement is that the comic is almost totally disgraced and discredited on anti-racist multicultural issues. Yet, he is still a regular Guardian source on its largely unsubstantiated anti-semitism claims.
Baddiel and his comedy partner Frank Skinner, spent much of the 1996 ITV series of Fantasy Football insulting the ethnic appearance of the Black soccer player Jason Lee, who played at the time for Nottingham Forest, and inciting others to do so. Lee was singled out for a campaign of vilification simply because he had chosen to adopt the locks-and-cornrows style of his Afro-diasporic heritage.
A 2016 interview with the wife of the 1970s Black professional footballer Bob Hazel by the BBC’s Adrian Childs, illustrates the racist historical template upon which the Baddiel/Skinner campaign was constructed. In it, she suggests that the English Football Association actually prohibited her husband from having dreadlocks.
Baddiel invented the slur ‘Pineapple Heads’ for Black people with ‘Dredds & Cornrows’. Professor Ben Carrington details the strategic exploitative depths into which this campaign of the TV series Fantasy Football plunged and further extended its impact on other Black citizens. “David Baddiel ‘Blacked up’ (evoking the barely coded racist imagery of the minstrel shows) with a pineapple on his head out of which Jason Lee’s dreadlocks were growing – the ‘joke’ being that Jason Lee’s ‘dreads’ resemble a fruit on top of his head. This joke was then carried out with increasing frequency for the rest of the series, with young children sending in drawings of Jason Lee adorned with various fruit on his head. The pineapple joke was then taken up by football fans in the terraces who chanted songs about Jason Lee’s hair and significantly transcended the normally insular world of football fandom and entered into the public domain as both a descriptive term and a form of ridicule (‘Pineapple Head’) for any black person with dreads tied back”.
Inevitably, many of those subjected to the abusive copy-cat street ‘ridicule’, Carrington identifies were children.
To put this in perspective: if Baddiel’s racial slurs had been replicated in modern California – where abuses and discrimination based up-on ethnic appearances, including natural hair are now outlawed – he would be arrested and potentially legally sanctioned for his offences? Significantly, the majority of the condemnatory cultural criticisms of the Baddiel phenomenon originate predominantly in the era of the specific offences, and cannot simply be disregarded as some sort of latter sensitive 21st-century politically correct reading of 1990s events.
Concerns about the Baddiel/Skinner campaign were expressed even in the contemporary corporate media of the time. The poet and critic Tom Paulin said, “Jason Lee has been treated with great cruelty … the charge of racism is a very feasible one – the Sun (newspaper) had him portrayed as having bananas growing out of his head. It doesn’t take much to realise what that’s saying”. (Late Review, BBC2, 6 May 1996).
What we have in Baddiel is a privileged Cambridge graduate who has opportunistically exploited the minstrel tradition of mocking Black ethnic identity, set loose ancient tropes of so-called Black primitivism and fielded so-called ‘humour’ whose function was to suppress the articulation of ethnic difference and the right to challenge white aesthetic norms.
Significantly, Jason Lee was also ridiculed on Baddiel/Skinner’s Fantasy Football for “looking like an Ancient Egyptian”, which begs the question: Which continent’s citizens was he implicitly being told he should be aspiring to look like? Little wonder the Black community has historically had to fight light/dark racist hierarchies.
Sociologists Steve Greenfield and Guy Osborn explained in their 2001 book, Regulating Football: Commodification, Consumption and the Law, that, given this campaign was so solidly orientated on issues of ethnic identity, the joke was “not merely something that Lee could have laughed off, perhaps cut off his dreadlocks and ‘assimilated’.”
In fact, in a moment indicative of the racist forces that had been let loose, Prof. Ben Carrington describes how, the Independent newspaper’s Jim White who had been on the same Late Review show as Tom Paulin, and who was apparently jumping on the same ‘New Lad’ bandwagon as Baddiel and Skinner, “went on to say that if Jason Lee was so upset by the remarks that he should have his dreadlocks cut off, which would have then endeared him to the (white) audience”.
In recent years, when fans of Tottenham Hotspur football club – who’ve historically enjoyed significant local London Jewish support – attempted the debatable solidarity of proclaiming themselves to be ‘Yiddos,’ the Police and Crown Prosecution Service threatened to prosecute. Ironically, this is in part due to Baddiel – a prominent fan of rival club Chelsea, with a genuine history of sporadic overt anti-semitic chanting – having made privileged media platform demands that he be listened to on this issue.
Yet in an era of prosecutions for past historic abuse offences, Baddiel’s incitements have not been allowed to damage his Guardian media career, let alone provoke the legal indictment of potentially inciting racial hatred, that many genuine anti-racists and members of Britain’s Black communities would no doubt welcome. Given his history, perhaps some would even regard his uncritical promotion and prominence within a newspaper serving a multicultural society as in itself a manifestation of racism.
In 2016 as part of its pro-Israel moral panic, Guardian writer and editor of opinion Jonathan Freedland alleged that a Labour Party activist who had objected to the occupation of Palestine had used the phrase ‘big noses’ when referring to Jews. He concluded therefore that, “Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem”.
Given that Baddiel’s ‘Pineapple Head’ taunting and incitements are so comprehensively documented and, in going on for an entire television series, exceed this example by a country mile, if we were to equally apply Freedland’s criteria, shouldn’t we could similarly conclude the Guardian senior editorial team has a problem with Black people?
Certainly if you imagine an ethnic inversion of victim and aggressor, the Guardian would hardly be giving columnist privileges to a Black working-class comedian with a history of ridiculing white Jewish ethnicity. Yet, to sidestep accusations that it is racist in its support of the apartheid Pro-Israel lobby, Baddiel is the person the Guardian has at times resorted to, as a short-term promotional figurehead.
In the UK media, Muslims are frequently the object of ethnic global conspiracy theories: subjected to monolithic KKK-type abusive collective caricatures over sex abuse smears, resulting in lethal attacks on their mosques, and told in newspaper headlines to ‘get their house in order.’ So are other Black Britons when, for example, there have been race riots after police shoot-to-kill incidents.
By contrast to the monolithic indictments of Black minorities, no one is equivalently permitted to ask if members of a white ethnic group being socialised to believe that supporting white colonial conquest and apartheid dominance can be excused by Jewish fundamentalism, might potentially be opening the door to further racist practices?
For example, Baddiel’s offences are also mirrored by the Jewish entrepreneur Alan Sugar who, while similarly accusing Labour of antisemitism over scrutinising Israel in June 2018, made traditional British ‘all darkies look the same’ jokes – ie spivs and street vendors – about the African Senegalese football team. Demands by the African media for his resignation were ignored by the BBC.
Similarly, in 2016, Israel advocate UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis unashamedly suggested to the UK media, “In a nutshell minorities need to pass the Norman Tebbit test”. The Tebbit test is a prejudicial form of political labelling – often described as racist – which takes its name from the conservative politician Norman Tebbit, who suggested the Britishness of Black minority groups could be open to question if they simply had the ‘temerity’ to support a commonwealth sports team – such as the West Indian or Pakistan cricket teams. Many of the Black minority victims of that prejudice could justifiably ask, in an age of concerns about foreign interference in domestic politics, how it is that white media members and political elites can, by comparison to mere sports fandom, give their allegiance to Israel, a racist foreign government condemned by Desmond Tutu and other Nobel Prize winners for its apartheid, and no one outside of Al Jazeera’s exposés of Israel’s political interference, is permitted to ask if this has any relevance for British democracy?
While the Guardian has deliberately censored such ethnic colonialist racist hypocrisies from its coverage and has been practising variations of its ‘angel dancing on the head of a pin’ invocations of antisemitism in support of Israel, it would certainly be legitimate for Black Britons to wonder how they or Jason Lee would survive unharmed at Israel’s checkpoints or its exclusive white-American gated communities. Here alongside the victimisation of the Palestinians – as researcher David Sheen and many others have documented – the oppression of Black Jews and even, on occasion, indigenous middle-eastern Jews by the white settlers, is the norm.
You would hope that, regardless of their skin colour, UK citizens would get to enjoy greater advocacy and protection from their British political and media elites, than a racist apartheid foreign government? Black readers should certainly not have to put up with having their noses shoved in the ‘Pineapple Head’ and Minstrel tradition Blacked-up ethnic abuses of David Baddiel, for which, the Guardian editorial team is apparently prepared to provide the cover of impunity.
FOOTNOTE: Jason Lee said of his experience, “It was, looking back, a form of bullying”. He recalled the impact of the incitements on his family at sporting venues, “There would be racial stuff. In the end, I would tell them not to come. It can’t be nice, supporting your child or partner and seeing him get so much abuse.”
Courtesy of this Guardian public relations rehabilitation, Baddiel appeared on BBC TV shows in 2018, including Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, as an apparently respectable critical voice on antisemitism. He is also a regular on BBC Radio 4. The current editor of the Guardian pitching her editorial tent on these evident racial double standards is Katharine Viner.
Gavin Lewis is a freelance British writer and academic. He has published in Britain, Australia and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race and representation. He has taught critical theory, film and cultural studies at a number of British universities.
This article first appeared in Coldtype magazine #193