US presidential adviser Mark Penn has identified a new trend — the non-Jews who really, really like Jews. Alex Kasriel investigates
AT THE recent funeral of humorist Alan Coren ( s ee page 17), his friend and fellow writer and broadcaster Barry Cryer was overheard proudly announcing to the rabbi: “I’ve always been an honorary Jew.” Cryer’s sentiment is not uncommon, particularly in areas where Jews and their non-Jewish counterparts frequently mix. In certain parts of Manchester and London, Jewish couples about to tie the knot are accustomed to hearing their non-Jewish friends exclaim how excited they are about the prospect of attending a traditional Jewish wedding. Non-Jewish teens are often enthusiastic guests at their friends’ bar- and batmitzvahs.
But does this constitute “prosemitism”? This is the phenomenon identified by American author Mark Penn in his new best-selling book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes. Penn, the president of the influential polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates and former political adviser to President Bill Clinton, writes: “Today in America, Jew-loving is a bit of a craze. Jews are in demand everywhere. Whatever in the past seemed to trigger envy or rejection of Jews now seems to be triggering admiration and attraction.”
Penn, himself Jewish, came to this conclusion after seeing a Gallup survey which revealed that Jews were the most popular religious group in America. “So we decided to probe modern preferences in a short poll, and asked Americans if they’d be interested in dating or marrying someone Jewish. Almost 40 per cent said they would. The number-one reason they gave for being interested in a Jewish mate was a sense of strong values. And of the various such ‘pro-semites’, Catholics were the best represented.”
Penn and his co-writer E Kinney Zalesne have done research suggesting that “nearly 11 per cent” of Jewish dating website JDate’s members are nonJewish. JDate spokesperson Gail Laguna would not confirm that number, but said that about 10 per cent of the site’s active members list themselves as “unaffiliated” under the category of religious background, a group likely to include a significant but undetermined number of non-Jews.
Microtrends notes other reasons nonJews gave for desiring a Jewish spouse — apart from a sense of strong values — “with nearly a third also admitting they were drawn to money, looks or a sense that Jews ‘treat their spouses better’”.
Penn even insists that non-Jews are starting to have similar coming-of-age parties to barmitzvahs and happily munching on matzot. That might be the case over in the States, but does such a trend exist i n the UK? “There is much less evidence of pro-semitism in other count r i e s b e y o nd the US,” admits P e n n , s p e a k - ing from Washington DC. “Indeed, antisemitism seems to be still strong in the UK, and some recent reports have suggested it’s on the rise.”
Nonetheless, there does appear to be something approaching a Britishbased version of pro-semitism. The most high-profile candidate for inclusion is Madonna. The singer, who spends much of her time in London, is very public about her love of all things Jewish, recently declaring to Israeli President Shimon Peres that she wanted to be an “ambassador for Judaism”. And her enthusiasm for kabbalah is well-documented.
If Madonna is not a sufficiently British pro-semite celebrity, there is always writer Julie Burchill, who is outspoken about being a friend to the Jews. In her final column for The Guardian, she admitted that she had decided no longer to write for the paper because of “its bias against the State of Israel”, which she sees as a form of antisemitism.
She added that she “can’t help noticing that, over the years, a disproportionate number of attractive, kind, clever people are drawn to Jews… Think of famous anti-Zionist windbags — [Vanessa] Redgrave, [George] Galloway — and what dreary, dysfunctional, po-faced vanity confronts us. When we consider famous Jew-lovers, on the other hand — Marilyn [Monroe], Ava [Gardner], Liz [Taylor], Felicity Kendal, me — what a sumptuous banquet of radiant humanity we look upon!”
But does Burchill consider herself to be a Penn-style pro-semite? “Would I ever!” she exclaims, speaking from her home in Brighton this week. “Since the age of 12! I never met a Jew I didn’t love.”
At grass-roots level, British prosemitism is expressed in a respect for things Jewish. Take Chinnie Kingsbury, 32, a horticulturalist who lives in Somerset and went to school in North London. Although half-Indian with a Christian upbringing, she admits she has a great admiration for the Jews.
“Because so many of my friends are Jewish, I have really loved being a part of their marriage celebrations,” she says. “They are full of singing, dancing, love and laughter, and I have found some sort of spirituality through them. It feels like it’s not just a religion but a way of life. I think my admiration is to do with family and community. I really respect the way in which the Jews that I know are very close to each other and to their faith. And through being included in that, it makes me feel part of something bigger.”
Many members of the pro-Zionist group Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) are non-Jews. Luke Akehurst, chief whip on Hackney Council, would not necessarily call himself a pro-semite, but he certainly admires Jews.
“There are a whole bunch of non-Jewish people who are supportive of the Jews in the UK and see themselves as Zionists,” he says. “Because they came out of student politics and had a lot of positive contact with UJS [Union of Jewish Students]. A generation of politicians, including Lorna Fitzsimons, the chair of [pro-Israel lobby group] Bicom, and ex-MP Stephen Twigg, former LFI chair, would have formed their opinions during student activities.
“There are a lot more people who are instinctively supportive [of Jews] than you might expect. The centrality of the family, charitable giving, strong bonds of community — that is something admirable.”
“Pro-semites” include kabbalah enthusiast Madonna and writer Julie Burchill, who “never met a Jew I didn’t love”