Tuvia Tenenbom is a man of the theater, a showman, the most serious clown ever, for buried beneath his puckish exterior is a barely hidden heartbreak over humanity’s betrayal of both reason and the Jews; and of Western Culture as we have known it.
Tuvia Tenenbom is also a bon vivant, a gourmand, a lover of both luxury and simplicity, a convivial coffee and whiskey drinker, a smoker, and he invites us to join him as he tours the British Isles, dines well or dines poorly, talks to almost anyone who will talk to him, visits all the theater he can find in the hope that it has not been destroyed by political correctness.
After interviewing the people of Germany (I Sleep in Hitler’s Room and Hello Refugees); Israel (Catch the Jew); and the United States (The LiesThey Tell), he has just published the aptly titled The Taming of the Jew, in Czech, in Hebrew, and now in German (Suhrkamp). It is set in the United Kingdom. He was there and on the road for three months in 2018 and for four months in 2019.
He is our guide to a surreal section of Hell—our Virgil, our own Pagliacci. Yes, he follows the same self-indulgent and sprawling script, but he is good company as he invites the reader along, engages in whimsy (sometimes it works, sometimes not); makes jokes (some good, some less so); but he is always rather jolly for a bearer of such bad news. It’s precisely what makes it all bearable. The fact that he is mainly anecdotal, personal, personable, is what makes reading this easy. One does not glaze over with too many studies and statistics.
Tenenbom is also our modern-day Albert Londres (The Wandering Jew Has Arrived), the French journalist and righteous Christian who toured pre-Holocaust Europe to interview Jews who were starving, freezing, mired in poverty, hated, and yet who refused to leave. They were not only waiting for the Messiah—their miserable circumstances did not allow them to even imagine, no less fund an escape. Always, even for those who are flush, it is hard to leave Egypt, namely one’s relatives, friends, neighbors, language, profession, land, and home.
Tenenbom has toured the New World, the Holy Land, and, so far, two European countries, talking to Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Lords, Ladies, Laborites, etc. He does not have to pursue his subject. Wherever he is, whatever city he’s visiting, his subject finds him. It is everywhere.
Palestinian flags fly all over Ireland. No one really knows why but they feel strongly that it is “right.”
Palestinian flags fly all over Ireland. No one really knows why but they feel strongly that it is “right.” In London, OXFAM sells a book for 100 pounds about “the history of Palestine and its turbulent formation in 1948.” Palestinian demonstrators in Glasgow oppose Scotland playing against an Israeli team. Also in Glasgow, there is a “synagogue that doesn’t look like a synagogue but like a high security prison.” Tenenbom concludes that the “Jews are hiding,” or rather, due to attacks, have been forced into hiding—and into denying that this is so.
A few years ago I was having high tea in the lobby of the Dorchester with a wealthy British Jewish businessman. As the Arab owners and their friends glided to and fro, my guest dropped his voice to a whisper and said: “You see how it is? One cannot say anything.” Indeed, he said nothing, not even in a whisper. For all I know, he might have been referring to taxes, his marriage, or the weather.
In The Taming of the Jew, Tenenbom manages to capture, with both camera and recording equipment, the most typical and yet the most unbelievable conversations with total strangers, and by appointment, with various Lords, Baronesses, elected politicians, and Jewish leaders. Most have been properly “tamed.”
Once Tenenbom asks them about Brexit, or about Jew-hatred in the Labor Party, or about Israel, Palestine, or life in the UK for the Jews, totally loquacious interviewees suddenly begin to stutter, claim ignorance, stop in mid-sentence, insist on going off the record, deny reality, engage in irrational rants, or simply walk away. Our intrepid interviewer makes appointments with Jeremy Corbyn under his alias as a German, or as a Jordanian, but Corbyn eludes his grasp—until Tenenbom meets him quite by accident and is able to paint a word portrait of the man.
Jews are cursed and pushed aside on the street in Gateshead—but everyone denies that this is so; in Newcastle-on-Tyne, an Amnesty International bookstore boasts posters that claim: “Millions of Palestinians will be DENIED human rights today...Help stop 50 years of suffering and oppression;” students in Newcastle-on-Tyne festoon their t-shirts with “swastikas and anti-Semitic hate lines;” in Sheffield, a sports fan, asked to provide their contact information at game’s end writes, “I hate Jews;” in Prestwich and Manchester, kosher shops and Jewish bookstores are fire-bombed but Jewish interviewees don’t mention it, minimize it, “forget” it happened; non-Jews insist that the Jews set the fires for the insurance money. When a Jewish interviewee admits that Jewish cafes have been fire-bombed all over England, including in Golders Green in London, he also says that if he is quoted by name he’ll “be fired.”
Fear stalks this green and pleasant land—a Jewish fear that things might get worse if they speak up and fear of Jews who are seen as controlling all the money in the world.
Jewish children admit to Tenenbom that they are being “pelted with eggs” on the streets of Prestwich. Their parents admit nothing or sheepishly claim to have “forgotten” all about this.
Tenenbom tries to get various MPs to say whether they think that Corbyn is—or is not—an anti-Semite and this particular conversation is beyond hilarious. Some refuse to comment at all, others ask what is meant by “anti-semitism,” does it have anything to do with Israel because that’s a separate subject, etc. A Jewish Dame Commander of the British Empire is a Labor Party MP.
“I sit with her for over an hour, and not once would she say what she thinks...as far as she’s concerned, if I understand it correctly, you can’t say that a person is an ‘anti-Semite’ unless that person publicly declares ‘I am an anti-Semite.” If, on the other hand, that person says that Jews have no right to breathe, for example, you can say, at the maximum, that he or she ‘behaves’ like an anti-Semite.”
Tenenbom describes a very talkative young man in London, when asked his opinion about “anti-Semitism in the Labor Party” in this way: “Suddenly, there is a major change in his speech patterns. He stutters: ‘I mean, ah, eh, that’s a very, that’s incredibly, em, eh, it’s an incredibly delicate subject.’ And after a bit more struggling with it, he tells me he has to go.”
No matter how bizarre or disappointing or infuriating such answers are, Tenenbom carries on—he is quite the Queen of England.
Muslims are more than welcome in Bradford; Jews, not so much. And in London, the largest mosque in the country (the East London Mosque) requires absolutely no security. “This is not a synagogue, this is a mosque.”
Tenenbom chats with random people on the streets of Chester and Shrewsbury. A young man, Alex, tells him: “I think that the establishment of the state of Israel was wrong. They came in and took over a country. Figuring this out is a rabbit hole...The Holocaust is a big rabbit hole. History is always written by the victors, so you can’t really tell. Did the Germans kill the Jews? Not all agree. Did Hitler order to kill the Jews? There’s no evidence for that. And if some Jews were killed, how many were there? That’s another rabbit hole.”
And yet, when asked if he supports the Palestinians, Alex answers this way: “Not necessarily. I mean, now that the Jews are there I kind of, I think, more on their side. Hard to say.”
And, as Tenenbom endures or enjoys more conversations like this, the Oxford Union features the Malaysian Prime Minister, a known Jew-hater, followed by a “Palestine Debate” the following week. Tenenbom’s comment? “They know who to honor.” Separately, the Lord Mayor of Oxford and the Mayor of Ramallah have signed a “Twinning Agreement between the two cities.”
Yet another Jewish MP will talk to Tenenbom but only off the record. A Jewish Baroness, Rosalind Altmann, will speak on the record and she tells him that “for the first time in my lifetime I feel threatened as a Jew for my future in this country.” Tenenbom is aghast. “A lady in a position so high, fearful of the ultimate fall.”
Surely, there is something rotten in the state of England if the theater fails to stir the blood or bring tears to one’s eyes. Tenenbom, a life-long theater aficionado, and himself a playwright and director, paints a damning portrait of the state of theater in England.
In the Bard’s home town, Stratford-on-Avon, a performance of Moliere’s Tartuffe “has been relocated to present day Birmingham’s Pakistani Muslim community.” It makes little sense and is not at all funny. The actors are not “here to play...all of them are here to preach.”
In Cardiff, Wales, Tenenbom attends a politically correct version of Romeo and Juliet. The Capulets and the Montagues are indistinguishable from one another. Both houses feature “mixed races and ethnicities, and the lovers come from no rival communities...They are just the same. Politically correct and equal.”
In London, he attends a production of Richard II. The entire cast is composed of “women of color.” Tenenbom is not impressed by their performances.
In London, he attends a production of Richard II. The entire cast is composed of “women of color.” Tenenbom is not impressed by their performances. “An elegant white young English lady sitting next to me explains it thusly: ‘For generations women, especially women of color, have been denied the right to play important roles. Tonight they will. I think it’s a wonderful idea. At intermission, after saying how much she liked the performance, she “gets up, to have a little fresh air, but never returns.”
Tenenbom writes: “British theater used to be brilliant, artsy, gutsy, humorous, emotional, funny, entertaining” but, with some exceptions, this is no longer so.
Holocaust Memorial Day takes place every year in London on “the day the German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland was liberated.” It has become “a Memorial Day not just for Jews but also for other peoples who perished in other tragic circumstances, be it in Sudan, Rwanda, Myanmar, Bosnia, gypsies and gays...(at the ceremony) a number of countries are repeatedly mentioned, but Israel is only mentioned once and even then, more as an afterthought. This is Holocaust Memorial Day, Britain-style.
In a conversation with another Jewish Lord (who refuses to comment on anti-Semitism in the Labor party), the Lord tells Tenenbom: “I have a bag which I carry everywhere. In it I have my passport and twenty-seven different curriencies. If I had to leave tomorrow, I’d go. I’m 76 and I’ve lived here for 76 years and I’m a member of the House of Lords and yet.” Tuvia concludes that “The Holocaust has not yet ended, and it belongs to Jews only, Lords too.”
What conclusion may we—must we—draw? Here’s how Tenenbom sounds: “Yes, I have found much anti-Semitism in this land, and have dedicated many pages to it, but I still don’t fully believe it; I don’t believe myself. This cannot be true, I keep saying to myself.”
Such blind and stubborn hatred defies all reason; evil is impossible to comprehend.
The Taming of the Jew is a report from the front. We now know that Jew-hatred is bigger than Jeremy Corbyn, bigger than the Labor Party, and that anti-Semitism has infected all of Britain, from the high-born on down to their low-born betters. We know this because Tenenbom was there and lived to tell the tale. There are precious few places in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or England that one can visit without running into it. We also know that Jew hatred is far bigger than the UK, bigger than all of Europe, that no country on earth seems to be free of this ancient and bloody prejudice.
Thank you Sir Tuvia for allowing us to accompany you on this never ending journey.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and the author of 18 books including Women and Madness (1972); Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman (2002); The New Anti-Semitism (2003); and A Politically Incorrect Feminist (2018). She lives in Manhattan.