Today’s guest on Podcast Against Antisemitism is the actor Eddie Marsan, who shared insightful comments on antisemitism within the acting industry and the UK.
Marsan, who is not Jewish, has also received antisemitic abuse for playing a Jewish character in the BBC’s Ridley Road and for speaking out against antisemitism online and in public life.
Mr Marsan said: “There isn’t only a blindspot against antisemitism. In some ways, I think antisemitism is a trendy racism. It’s a trendy racism. I read a thing about a guy called Ferdinand August Bebel, who was a German social democrat in the nineteenth century. And he described antisemitism as the “socialism of fools”, because most racists, when they attack somebody who they consider to be inferior to them, they’re always shooting down, but a lot of antisemites, especially those on the left, believe that they’re shooting up to this kind of all-powerful Jewish cabal that runs the world. And it’s quite often sold as a form of egalitarianism, as anti-capitalism, as anti-imperialism. And so you have lots of very, very experienced left-wing intellectuals who are telling younger people: ‘This isn’t racism, this is anti-capitalism.’ Then morally, it’s okay to do. And so that’s why I say, it’s a very, very seductive and a very trendy racism. And it goes against my culture.”
Mr Marsan went on to say: “It breaks my heart for young, Jewish actors, really. I mean, I’ve got lots of Jewish friends in the profession, and they’re walking into rehearsal rooms and film sets and they have to make a decision about whether they put their head above the parapet or not. And that kind of thing upsets me, and I don’t think that’s right for a profession like ours, which is supposed to encourage empathy and openness and complexity and understanding, to be so bigoted.”
He also observed: “As an actor, when you explore characters, you realise in order to be a good actor, you can never play evil characters or good characters. You can only play human beings. What you have to accept, as an actor, is that all aspects of the human condition are on a spectrum. You have to explore the spectrum and embrace the spectrum, and what I’m beginning to realise now is that because of the binary nature of populism, whether it’s left-wing or right-wing populism, people are not embracing the spectrum, they’re not embracing the complexity. So antisemites on the right or the left will ask someone like you, ‘where do your loyalties lie?’ They will ask you to be binary because they see the world in a binary way. And the reality is, the world isn’t binary. Do you know what I mean? And human beings aren’t binary. I mean, your Jewishness doesn’t define you. It’s an aspect of you and it’s a part of you that informs who you are but there’s loads of other elements that inform who you are.”
On the scapegoating of Jews, Mr Marsan said: “Populism is still powerful, because we live in a very, very complex world and people prefer simple lies to complex truths, and one of the simplest lies that a politician can sell people is to create an ‘other’. If they create an ‘other’, then you unify everybody on your side, and you create a narrative that people can belong to. And one of the easiest ‘others’ for people to hate are Jews, it’s really easy. And the far-right and the far-left can hate Jews to the same degree, they’re a really convenient ‘other’ for them.”
On diversity, he said: “When it comes to the antisemitism, in many ways that kind of broke my heart because the people who were being antisemitic were people who I thought would never be. Do you know what I mean? They were supposed to be the champions of diversity, they were supposed to be standing up against that and they weren’t.”
You can listen to the full podcast here.
Or you can watch the full interview here.
Podcast Against Antisemitism streams every Thursday and can be downloaded wherever you get your podcasts.
Last week’s guest was comedian and author David Baddiel.