‘Pro-semites’ wholoveyou

US pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Mark Penn has iden­ti­fied a new trend — the non-Jews who re­ally, re­ally like Jews. Alex Kas­riel in­ves­ti­gates

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES -

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.”

PHOTO: AP

PHOTO: PAUL ROGERS/THE TIMES

“Pro-semites” in­clude kab­balah en­thu­si­ast Madonna and writer Julie Burchill, who “never met a Jew I didn’t love”

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