There are 26 “I”s in Julie Burchill’s paean to her own philosemitism. This does not include those found within quotations. These are, according to my rough count, spread over 30 sentences. Almost every one of them, in other words, is partly or entirely devoted to herself. Much as she adores the Jews they will, it seems, remain secondary among her affections.
Ms Burchill claims she was moved to philosemitism because of the “centuries of genocidal cruelty on the part of non-Jews towards Jews”. A writer who describes Ireland, whose people have been devastated over hundreds of years by foreign aggressors, as a “preposterous place” defined by “Hitler-licking, altarboy-molesting [and] abortion-banning” is not, I would say, well-placed for taking a stand against ethnic hatred. Even disregarding this hypocrisy, however, there is something unpleasant about Burchill’s rhapsodies. Here is a morsel for you to taste…
To put myself on the opposing side to a man who said, as Atzmon did, “I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act” is yet another reason to throw in my lot with you lot…Like many a philosemite from Ruth the Moabitess to Liz Taylor, I chose my side long ago, and I will never change. You’re stuck with me now.
Who is the “you lot” of which she speaks? Burchill writes that her affection for the Jews is rooted in “their religion, their language and their ancient country”. Are English secular Jews spared her adoration, then? In an older column, though, one finds her claiming that “the Jews…are hated for their very modernity, mobility, lust for life and love of knowledge”. Which Jews are these? A lot of religious Jews are not very modern at all and would, in fact, be quite offended if you were to tell them otherwise. It seems that “the Jews” of Burchill’s affection are at least partly of her imagination.
I have no desire to join the commentators who appear allergic to the notion of ethnic commonalities. One can speak meaningfully of features associated with different peoples, and in both admiring or critical terms. This, however, is no excuse for making unreasonable value judgements and drawing bogus generalisations. This is obviously true when people take bigoted stances against men and woman on the basis of their ethnicities but it seems no less correct when people wildly celebrate them. Disparate individuals and communities are still being lumbered with expectations that many of them are not going to fulfil. Whether these prejudices cast them in a good or bad light it can’t be less than irritating.
Yet my concern is not merely for the objects of Burchill’s favour. It is for the truth. Unconditional love might be less dangerous than implacable hatred but it has the same potential for obscurantism. Both obscure one’s view of different aspects of reality. Burchill takes evident pride in her eccentric bias and it ensures that her analyses are destined to be partial. I would not, of course, expect scrupulous truthseeking from this source regardless of her biases but the fact that it’s uncontroversial for a commentator to proudly declare themself to be so sectarian is bleak.
Philosemitism is not the same thing as anti-semitism but they are often suggestive of the same unreasonable ethnophilic tendencies and, thus, produce ignorance towards different ends but in a similar manner. Jewish people may welcome this cheerleading if they like but I’m not sure anyone’s life needs such a tiresome distraction.