The Taming of The Jew By Tuvia Tenenbaum
Review: Antisemitism Denied in England by Steven Stein
If you’ve never read one of Tuvia Tenenbaum’s books you’re really missing out on a treat – or should I say a ride, something like a roller coaster ride. You can go from laughter to despair all on the same page. It’s sort of like Borat meets Seinfeld. He has a way of going undercover in unusual ways and places to discover the chilling truth about people’s beliefs. He starts off chatting with strangers about nothing, which somehow, even when you least expect it, turns into a conversation about the Jews, or Israel, or both.
Some of his other books include Hello Refugees! – about how welcoming the Germans are to today’s refugees in comparison to the “inhumane” Jews; The Lies They Tell – about his undercover travels through America; Catch The Jew – about his travels in the holy land talking with Palestinians in Ramallah, European NGOs, and leftist Jews; and I Sleep in Hitler’s Room – about Tuvia’s travels through Germany.
The Taming of The Jew focuses on Tuvia’s wondering through Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. If you have any familiarity with Tuvia’s work, you can expect that he’s going into these foreign lands looking for trouble. And he manages to find it everywhere, starting with his first day in Ireland.
Tuvia goes around interviewing people at random. He presents himself as a German journalist by the name of Tobias. Sometimes, however, he introduces himself as an Arab journalist or when convenient he becomes a Jewish journalist. Tuvia can get away with all this because he's fluent in a number of languages. He speaks his native German, Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, and English. His accented English gives him a cover for many of these disguises.
The adventure begins upon his arrival in Ireland, where he immediately hits the local bar, one of his favorite hangouts. He cozies up to an unsuspecting patron and engages in innocent conversation. They have a drink together and he gets to know Mike the average, but well-dressed (pictures are included, in case you have any doubts) Irishman.
Very soon into the conversation, out of the blue, he asks Mike what unites the Irish people. Mike happily tells him that Ireland is the most anti-Israel, but really anti-Jewish country in Europe - although they like to say it's anti-Zionist.
Tuvia asks, incredibly, how that can be? Isn’t England Ireland’s worst enemy? After all the years of suffering under the British? After a long diatribe Mike eventually concludes that yes, while the English were bad, having humiliated and murdered thousands of Irish over the years, the Jews are worse.
Thus begins Tuvia’s journey. He speaks to all types of people, from lowly service people, students, politicians, and even gets to chat with Jeremy Corbin (well-known anti-Semite) then leader of the British Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. For many of these people, most of whom have never met an Israeli, the disgust is almost mythical. It comes across as a shared, dispassionate, and common truth.
One difference he points out between the British and the Germans, is that the Germans are passionate about their antisemitic beliefs. The British, however, when pressed on the subject, are more likely to try to change topics or walk away.
For many people, especially those who travel to Europe frequently, these attitudes may not be surprising. It’s the ease at which they’re expressed, with so little prodding that tends to take one’s breath away.
Some of the conversations are amusing, if not also sad. A student leader Tuvia meets waxes eloquently about the BDS movement and how evil Israel is. He then boasts about how he was able to help convince two thirds of the student body at Trinity College, the major University of Ireland, to vote in favor of BDS.
When Tuvia asks him about how many people have been killed as a result of the Sunni-Shia conflicts over the years, he replies that he didn’t know anything about it. In fact, he seemed to incredibly run out of words – in his articulate native English – when trying to describe the reasons why it must be a different kind of conflict.
When asked about Hamas, he described it as the democratic representative of Palestinian human rights. When Tuvia tried to explain a bit about their history, it became too much for the student. He was convinced that the Israeli settlers in Gaza were forcing the Palestinians out of Gaza – even though Tuvia told him there were no Israelis in Gaza.
Finally, Tuvia wanted to know about Trinity’s BDS campaigns against China, Syria, Libya, Yemen, or North Korea. The answer was that there was none because only the Israeli government shoots Palestinian children. You can’t make this stuff up.
Moving on to Scotland, Wales, and England Tuvia discovers more of the same diatribe throughout the population. In fact, he finds out that people are in love with Palestinians and the Palestinian cause. Although when asked, some people had a difficult time explaining to Tuvia why there were Palestinian flags flying on so many of the buildings.
However, some of the saddest moments come when Tuvia interviews Jews throughout Britain. There seems to be a blanket denial of any antisemitism throughout the Jewish populace. One story involves his meeting with Lord Stone of Blackheath, a British Lord. He used to be known as Andrew Zelig Stone, but that all changed when he was appointed to the House of Lords.
The good Lord and Tuvia had a lovely chat about his background and his climb to the Lordship as a Jew. He talks at length about his support for peace in the Middle East. But when Tuvia asks him, as a member of the Labour Party, how he feels about the antisemitism in England, especially from the Labour party, the good Lord suddenly loses his words and chooses not to talk about it - other than saying it’s a centuries old problem. Really nothing special to worry about.
Tuvia notices a bag the Lord carries around his waist and asks him what’s in it. The Lord points out that he carries the bag with him everywhere. It has his passport and twenty-seven different currencies in it. Just in case he had to leave the country suddenly.
A very poignant moment occurs when visiting a Kosher restaurant in Manchester. Tuvia starts to chat with the Jewish family sitting at the next table. He asks them if they are aware of any problems with antisemitism. The mother quickly replies that she has never experienced any antisemitism. He follows up with the father. Have you heard of any antisemitism happening anywhere in Manchester?
“Absolutely not,” the father responds.
Not one to give up Tuvia decides to ask the kids about their experience. Without a moment of hesitation one of the children, about eight years of age, pipes up with a story. He says just the other day he and a friend were walking down the street and they were pelted with eggs because they were Jews according to the perpetrators.
“Oh yes,” says the father. “I forgot that.”
One only wonders about how many other incidents he may have forgotten.
Throughout the book there are narratives of Brits hating Jews, Brits loving Palestinians, and Jews who see nothing unusual or alarming about the situation. It rings so much like the frog placed into a pot of water on the stove with the heat turned on. Before the frog even notices what has happened, its too late, he’s been boiled.
Of course, one of the main features of this book, aside from sprinkles of humor throughout, are the direct (some of the conversations are taped) quotes from the people – real, everyday people as well as the upper classes. This is not a book of theoretical tomes, interpretive spins, deep analyses, or speculative predictions. This is pure investigative journalism. What you see is what you get. It’s the raw, exposed, truth, for better or worse.
The title of the book, Taming of the Jew, is a “play” on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrewand Tuvia’s work in the theatre world. The Jews of Britain, in Tuvia’s eyes have been subdued, or tamed, to accept their fate considering the rampant antisemitism there. They’ve learned to be complacent, not ruffle anyone’s feathers, and know their place. After all, in their view, making too much noise will only get them into more trouble, so they have been conditioned to “za shtill” (keep quiet) as we would say in Yiddish.
Reading Tuvia’s books is always entertaining. His style is engaging. He comes across as an unassuming, overweight, German-accented bumpkin who loves to eat and drink. He holds his own with everyone from common folk to major political leaders, from the poor to the wealthy, and from the learned to the uneducated. He finds humour in the darkest of places. But most of all he opens your eyes to the reality of the world that is and shatters your rose-colored view of the world you may be used to.