There is no anti-Zionist Jewish philosopher and television personality named Sam Finkler. He does exist, however, in the pages of Howard Jacobson’s award-winning 2010 novel, The Finkler Question – a book influenced by the climate in the country during the 2008-09 Gaza war, a time when, Jacobson later noted, “England [had] turned into an uncustomarily frightening place for Jews”.
However, a Guardian review of Jacobson’s new autobiography, written by Joe Moshenska, a professor of English literature at Oxford University, included a paragraph that evoked characters in The Finkler Question, those who announce that Jews concerned about antisemitism on the left are merely crying wolf.
In fairness, most of Moshenska’s review artfully engages with the memoir by weaving in the story of Jacobson’s Jewish family with that of his own – until, that is, he touches upon what he describes as the book’s “underwhelming” ending, where he tips his political hand:
It’s been a funny old time to be Jewish in the UK in the past five years (by which I mean a deeply unfunny time) and one of the more depressing features has been the proliferation of people keen to speak for and about Jews and the accompanying assumptions about what being Jewish and British can or must mean. Jacobson’s book makes clear that he is more concerned than I am about the spectre of leftwing antisemitism, which, while it certainly exists, troubles me less than the election of a prime minister who has written a novel rife with antisemitic tropes; or, more subtly, than the unedifying spectacle last year of minor celebrities and Twitter personalities grinningly accepting the gift of a tree planted in Israel on behalf of “the Jewish community in the UK”, without questioning whether there is such a single entity or who has the right to speak on its behalf.
First, the “minor celebrity”/”Twitter personality” he claims has no right to speak for British Jews he’s likely referring to is the indefatigable writer, researcher and activist, David Collier, who, last year, had forty trees planted in Israel to honour those in Britain who, like Collier himself, have bravely fought antisemitism.
But, the former point in the paragraph we highlighted made by Moshenska is even more revealing.
If he would have said, prior to 2015, that the problem of left-wing antisemitism is overstated, that would be one thing.
But, to make that point after a Labour antisemitism crisis so toxic that most British Jews believed the party leader was personally antisemitic with many viewing Jeremy Corbyn as an existential threat to Jewish life, after the party was found guilty by the EHRC of violating the Equalities Act in its treatment of Jewish members, and after the worst year on record for antisemitic incidents (driven, in large measure, by the pro-Palestinian activist left), is astonishing.
Though we don’t know much about Moshenska, the fact that he’s gravely concerned about a work of fiction written 18 years ago, yet the tsunami of Jew hatred in recent years from within his own political community leaves him, as it left Sam Finkler, “stone-cold”, speaks volumes about why Guardian editors deemed him fit to review Jacobson’s book.