#MeJew | British Jewish comedian Joe Jacobs on the rise of antisemitism


British Jewish comedian Joe Jacobs on the rise of antisemitism

I’m a non religious Jew. Proud of my heritage and what fellow Jews have achieved before me.  After surviving failed attempts to destroy us, we are all raised with an acute awareness of how important it is to preserve our culture and traditions.

I had a bar mitzvah, Jew friends and family, took a couple days off school a year and of course had a snipped penis, otherwise perfect in both size and girth. That was about the limitations of my Judaism and I was content with it.

But now, in 2019, I can’t remember a worse time to be a British Jew in my lifetime, religious or otherwise.

As a stand-up comedian, navigating the pokier village halls and city comedy clubs of the country, I have observed that the topic of antisemitism is not particularly palatable to audiences. It’s not a fashionable form of racism to unpack. 

Other types of bigotry such as the BNP, Islamophobia or the classic comic punchline of Nazis seem to find favour wherever they are discussed. But mention Jeremy Corbyn’s ropey past or the nuances of Reggie Yates’s questionable remarks and I can instantly feel audiences clam up. I know pretty much all the Jews on the circuit and have heard their similar horror stories from the road.

What’s the deal with contemporary antisemitism on the left?

Yates’ comments are a good starting point. A former BBC broadcaster who presents documentaries on racism dropped a casual and callous slur to a new generation. He said he was glad the rapper Skepta wasn’t managed by a ‘random fat Jewish guy from north west London’. Gluttony, greed and media control all in one trope-filled soundbite.

The worrying fallout to this featured numerous commentators speculating that the Jewish-led media organised Yates’s removal from Top Of The Pops and not his own fecklessness. This is a great example of how instances of antisemitism are dismissed with… additional antisemitism..

I can understand how Jew-bashing happens. I, too, find the world confusing and would love a small group to blame this on. I can see how conspiracy theories can be convenient. Perhaps it would be a relief to attribute my past social misfortune on The Hand of Monaco, for example?

Antisemitism is racism, but with its own curious complexities. For example, someone once said to me, ‘Jews are rich right? Buy me lunch’. I replied no, and he responded with ‘of course, you guys are tight!’ Over the years I’ve noticed that society at large has more of an obsession with me being Jewish than I do. 

When old colleagues worked it out, there was usually more questions. Yes, it’s cut. Yes, I eat bacon. No, we celebrate Christmas more than Christians. Non-religious Jews are often ‘discovered’ as a Jew. Which to some people, makes them a sneaky Jew. It can be hard to escape the stereotypes. 

Then there’s Israel. Growing up, I never really cared either way, with older Jews over the years angry at my apathy. These days, I’d like it to survive if at all possible. Some Brits are terrified of immigrants. It’s a strange irony that when things are kicking off, us Jews must be the few immigrants that actually want to fuck off to where we come from.

I think that’s what irony is, anyway. 

I’ve avoided the Z word till now. It never used to carry the same weight. When I was a kid we understood Zionism as ‘the right to Jewish self determination in our historic homeland’. These days, it’s often a slur and shorthand for ‘A western colonial project designed solely to expel helpless people from their rightful homes.’ 

I’m often reluctant to retweet comedians who support  the Jewish community, opting to admire them in secret and save myself some stress.  I see plenty of comedian peers who have more of an obsession with Jews and Israel, than Jews and Israel. I wish I could have the chutzpah for such heated online discussions, but the likelihood is I’ll be further ostracised publicly and privately. So I avoid it.

I’m noticing increased spiky chat, dodgy memes and outright aggression more than ever. It’s no exaggeration to say that Israel is basically a panic room for Jews, one that feels more important now in light of escalating situations. I shouldn’t have to qualify this, but I will. I’m not an ‘Israel fanatic’, but I do resent the rampant hypocrisy I’m seeing from people in this matter. Anybody should be able to express how they feel without fear of collective blame. An unhappy American may be stuck with Trump, but it’s not their fault. 

I don’t expect unequivocal support from the comedy industry either. However, the relative silence I’ve observed is a shame. It wouldn’t bother me so much if wokeness and increased empathy wasn’t such a prominent factor in being a modern comedian. It’s fine to not care! Just don’t pretend to.

I attended the antisemitism protest in March 2018. Despite a relatively small turnout, I was astonished to discover a protest to the protest. Why not attempt to acknowledge an issue, rather than shut it down? The scary part is that a lot of people there wear their anti-racism like a badge. If another minority expressed concern about an issue, I’d like to think I’d hear them out, rather than bother them with banners explaining why their opinion is incorrect.

Someone there said to me: ‘There’s no such things as antisemitism, Jews always play the victim.’ I was pretty shocked. Leave us alone, I told him hours later in my mind when I got home and thought of a witty response.

I find it sad that as a person born and raised in this country, I suddenly don’t feel fully welcome or understood. I can’t always express how I really feel about these issues, and unfortunately, I am sometimes shut down by people who won’t acknowledge it as even valid.

I want to count on my comedy peers to stick their head out of the parapet and stick up for Jews when they could use it. There’s a blind spot here that’s difficult to ignore. Despite this fact, I will always continue to condemn all racism and sexism I come across in this industry and beyond. This isn’t a grief competition.

I’ve been heckled with ‘Yid’ on stage a few times.. The audience actually once cheered in response to the heckle. When I mentioned this incident on Twitter, it caused barely a ripple. 

I would imagine a different outcome if, for example, a rape threat or racist remark was made to any act at any level in comedy. I would expect more outcry and concern were this to be shared online. As I have seen with countless acts over the years. In my case, the only response was from a Jewish comedian.

It doesn’t seem to carry the same weight. Not to suggest it’s a grief competition, but something to consider.

I’d love to have a platform to contribute more to comedy. Jews aren’t represented anywhere particularly. There’s the Muslim comedy season on the iPlayer, the Asian Network, BAME and working-class voices championed by the BBC, LGBTQ people promoted and pushed as they should be.

I don’t see a space for Jews to say their piece, despite shapeshifting Zionist lizards controlling the world’s media from the centre of the Earth’s core.

In an age of privilege, Jews are still seen as fair game, as they seem to have loads.

But this is a dangerous fallacy. We are a group of people that can be hardworking and financially successful, and then have it held against us. Where do you go from there?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, wouldn’t it be nice if Jewish comedians were bigged up a bit more? Also, come to my Edinburgh show in August or you’re a fucking racist. 

Joe Jacobs show Grimefulness is at at Just The Tonic’s Up The Road at 4pm daily during the Fringe.

Published: 24 Jun 2019

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