Unchosen is the journalist Julie Burchill’s account of how she — a bright and bratty working-class girl from Bristol — fell in love with the Jewish race. It’s an exhilarating and exasperating mix of the utterly brilliant and the totally bonkers.
Poor Julie — she thought that her teenage dream of marrying a Jewish man had come true when she married me back in the 1980s. Yes, she got her Jew, but the -ish bit was missing. My family and I earn a chapter in her book called ‘Meet the Perverts’ and all I can say is: Oy vey! You think you’re a smart and funny man to be married to — and then you read an ex-wife’s memoir and you wonder: was I that boring?
Today Julie describes her self as a philo-Semite — that is, an admirer or lover of the Jews. But as her book makes clear, there are plenty of Jews Julie doesn’t love: me, David Baddiel, the journalist Anne Karpf, the actress Miriam Margolyes, her local lesbian rabbi, Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah and millions of Jews around the world who have ever criticised Israel. Her love is blind, deaf and dumb to such an obvious contradiction.
When I was married to Julie she was not only a philo-Semite but a Stalinist who regarded the working-class as the chosen people. Nowadays she’s a Stalinist philo-Semite; anyone who doesn’t toe the party line of uncritical support for Israel is branded a ‘self-loathing Jew’.
Julie’s love affair with Judaism began as a teenager in Bristol when she discovered the horrors of the Holocaust. (Funny; the horrors of Stalinism never bothered her.) So why does she love Jews? She says it’s not for the usual cute reasons: the humour, the food, the feeling for family etc. No, Julie loves the hard stuff: religion, Israel and Zionism.
But most of all she loves those big Jewish brains. Time and time again, she argues that anti-Semitism, criticism of Israel, war in the Middle East, you name it, are all rooted in one simple fact: the Jews are so much smarter than everyone on the planet. And this produces Jew-envy on a global scale.
One of the admirable things about her book is that she comes out and says what so many other pro-Jewish historians — like Paul Johnson and Simon Schama — only hint at deep in the subtext of their works. They would never be so intellectually crass as actually to say that the Jews are superior to anyone else. Julie, on the other hand, is happy to shout it out from the synagogue rooftop: the Jews are smarter, more successful and better than the rest of you lot, so suck it up, gentile losers!
Plenty of Jews will be embarrassed (or overjoyed) by her boasts. And many Muslims and die-hard multiculturalists will be deeply offended by what they would see as her ‘Islamaphobia’ and ‘racism’. But then Julie is a writer uninterested in fair play or the judicious consideration of evidence to support an argument. She is a pugilistic polemicist who, I suspect, thinks nuance is a fragrance for intellectual sissies. It’s what makes her such a great read — and, at times, so mind-bogglingly unreasonable.
But you can’t simply dismiss Julie as a Zionist nutjob — despite the fact that numerous times in her book she practically comes out and says: ‘I’m a Zionist nutjob, so sue me!’ She has some fair points about how white liberal leftists have turned a blind eye to the sexism, homophobia and violence of Islam in the name of multicultural tolerance. And let’s give her credit: Julie was making these points back in the 1980s, when it was a brave thing to do.
The book has some terribly dull passages, as when she recounts in drab and repetitive detail the tale of how Julie and Best Mate fly to Israel and spend all their time getting pissed. And the complete history of Julie Burchill’s masturbatory practices from 1972 to around 1976 might be a case of a little too much information, thank you.
But Unchosen is such a funny read that its sins can be forgiven. The hilarious story of her S&M affair as a teenager with a fellow NME journalist and ‘Jew’ Mick Farren has a brilliant pay-off that I won’t spoil for you. And her exchange of bitchy emails with the Sunday Times columnist India Knight is worth the price of the book on its own.
Stalinist, Champion of the Working Class, Punk, Feminist, Zionist — Julie can’t live without a big brave cause to fight for. Unchosen says little about the Jews and a lot about Julie. One thing this memoir makes clear is that Julie can’t stop being Julie — a hedonistic, working-class girl and gifted writer who loves a piss-up and a verbal punch-up. Let’s hope that she never changes.
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