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Stephen Fry and the rise of woke anti-Semitism

The response to Fry’s Christmas message confirms that Jew hate has returned with a vengeance.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Culture Politics World

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The great irony of the tidal wave of anti-Jew invective that has come Stephen Fry’s way over the past 48 hours is that it has perfectly proved his point. He goes on TV to say we are witnessing a ‘rise in anti-Jewish racism’ and right away there’s a spike in anti-Jewish racism. Even before he’d finished his touching fireside homily on Jew hate, the Jew haters were out in force to ask: ‘Who the fuck does he think he is?’ A Jew on TV? At Christmas? Wanging on about the victimisation of Jews? Vomit emoji. That was literally the response of the army of arseholes that passes for the left these days, every one of them too dim to realise they were making Fry’s case for him.

Fry made his remarks on The Alternative Christmas Message on Channel 4. That’s the non-royal Christmas Day TV sermon, a little witty, a little right-on, in which a celeb is invited to hold forth on a hot issue the monarch is likely to overlook. Normally middle-class radicals lap it up, but not this time, because… oh you know why. The last thing they needed while tucking into their pigs in blankets was a lecture from one of those people who don’t even eat pigs. I swear they were more rattled by Fry than they were when Channel 4 invited then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to give the alternative message in 2008. A literal Holocaust denier? What fun. A Jew concerned about anti-Semitism? Pass the remote.

Fry’s message was fair and benign. You’d have to be a frothing loon to object to it. He ‘came out’ as a Jew. He offered cold, hard facts. Since the Hamas pogrom of 7 October there have been 50 anti-Semitic incidents a day in London, he said. That’s an eye-watering 1,350 per cent rise in Jew-hate incidents. It’s the greatest rise in anti-Jewish racism in the UK since modern records began. He slammed the ‘venomous slurs’ heaped on Britain’s Jews in recent weeks. He made a plea for a return to the ‘decency’ our nation is famed for. And he ended on a note of Kumbaya. The ‘simple truth’, he said, is that ‘we are all brothers and sisters’: ‘It’s naive, but it’s as good a message as any other.’

Imagine hearing that and feeling enraged. Imagine seeing a famously genteel ‘national treasure’ express concern about anti-Jewish racism and shaking with fury. The Fryphobes protest too much. ‘We are not anti-Semites!’, they essentially screamed, in unison, all over the web. How interesting that you assumed Fry was talking about you…

The bile flowed. Lefty X users called Fry a cunt. They accused him of self-pity. One posted a photo of him in an expensive suit sipping tea juxtaposed with an image of an injured Palestinian child, damning the ‘very wealthy… son of a Jew’ for daring to speak about ‘vulnerability’ while Gaza is being bombed. Shorter version: pipe down, Jew.

They misrepresented him, too. This was a sly effort to ‘[smear] opponents of Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza as being motivated by racism’, said rapper Lowkey. What are you on about? Fry expressed remorse over the deaths on both sides of the war. He didn’t say a word about Israel’s critics. Does Lowkey think the daubing of swastikas on Jewish buildings and the smashing of windows in Jewish shops are acts of opposition to Israel? Because those were the incidents Fry specifically mentioned. That Lowkey hears someone condemn literal fascistic acts and thinks ‘Hey, why are you smearing us critics of Israel?’ is more revealing than he’ll ever know.

Another Fryphobe said, ‘We don’t have a problem with Jews, Stephen Fry, we have a problem with genocide and you know it’. Again, who’s this ‘we’? If you see a TV thing about racist attacks on Jewish people and Jewish property and you think it’s a reference to you, you’re telling on yourself, surely? ‘We don’t have a problem with Jews…’ is the new ‘I’m not an anti-Semite, but…’. ‘I’m not an anti-Semite, but the Jews are a tad greedy and controlling, aren’t they?’, said England’s tweed racists of old. ‘I don’t have a problem with Jews, but the Jewish State is a uniquely evil and barbarous entity, isn’t it?’, say their right-on grandsons and granddaughters. Same shit, different century.

Fry was slammed for ‘conflat[ing] anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism’. He didn’t do that. However, the spitting reaction to him rather suggested that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have merged. How else do we explain so-called anti-Zionists completely losing the plot over a critique of anti-Semitism? I find anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism indistinguishable these days. ‘It isn’t anti-Semitic to criticise Israel’, they say. Yeah, yeah, we know. You know what probably is anti-Semitic, though? Obsessively loathing Israel. Treating it as uniquely murderous. Damning it for its alleged bloodlust. Accusing it of exercising a malign influence over the Great Powers. All the things once said about the Jews – they’re all-controlling, love spilling blood, think they’re better than the rest of us – are now said of the Jewish State. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism in woke drag.

Indeed, it wasn’t long before Fry’s message was held up as the sinister handiwork of an Octopus-like ‘Israel lobby’. One post that was liked more than 8,000 times suggested that Fry’s TV lecture showed just how powerful the Israel lobby can be. ‘The producers of Stephen Fry’s controversial Christmas message were members of a Zionist youth group that funnels members into the Israeli military’, said one ‘exposé’. You mean they were Jews, who have been to Israel? Maybe we should make lists of such people, like in the good old days.

Listen, people can pose as ‘anti-Zionists’ as much as they like. But the rest of us must be free to say that if you think an ‘Israel lobby’ controls everything, and you respond to a Jew raising concerns about Jew hate by screaming ‘cunt’, and you loathe the Jewish state more than any other, then it’s possible you’re the other thing. The thing that’s existed for far longer than the modern state of Israel.

I find the casual branding of Fry’s message as ‘controversial’ so striking. And depressing. That it’s controversial now to talk about a massive hike in Jew hate tells you everything you need to know. It was Fry’s description of anti-Semitism as the ‘one acceptable form of racism’ that most rattled the ‘anti-Zionists’. At some deep level, they know he’s right. They know that harassment at synagogues and the battering of Jews are less likely to bother the consciences of them and their middle-class friends than acts of hate against other minorities. Fry’s great crime was to induce feelings of shameful self-recognition in Channel 4’s audience, among the self-styled anti-racists of the professional managerial elites who have been disgustingly silent over the past 10 weeks of surging race hate. They angrily thought ‘Is this about us?’ because they knew it was.

That would be my one criticism of Fry. His only openly political comment concerned the far right, who, he said, love to point out that he’s Jewish. The far right is a menace, for sure. Their Jew hate has become more brazen in recent weeks. But the greatest threat to Jews in Britain today comes not from racist oafs from the 1970s, but from radicalised sections of the Muslim community, their craven apologists in the middle class and a polite society that disguises its suspicion of Jews as criticism of Israel. Confronting both Islamist and woke anti-Semitism is the pressing task of our time. Fry should be thanked for showing us how pressing it is.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

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Topics Culture Politics World

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