Jewish stereotype in Kevin Myers’s apology adds insult to injury

The men who defended the writer after his ‘Sunday Times’ column do not speak for me

Caryna Camerino: ‘Nobody has the right, in person or in print, to decide who I am or what I’m about based on my religion or heritage.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Caryna Camerino: ‘Nobody has the right, in person or in print, to decide who I am or what I’m about based on my religion or heritage.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

 

You wouldn’t know that I’m Jewish unless I told you. You wouldn’t know it by my name, by my nose or by my salary. I don’t pray, but I do celebrate. I am not religious, but my bakery is full of recipes learned from my Jewish tradition. I am a Jewish businesswoman in Ireland.

The men of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland issued a statement defending Kevin Myers’s depiction of two highly-paid BBC presenters as cunning Jewesses. They say he is a friend of the Jews who made an inadvertent mistake. This baffles my lady brain. They may speak for themselves, but they don’t speak for me.

Myers tried to justify the gender pay gap in the media – specifically the BBC – by arguing that women are poor negotiators and lack business savvy. His proof? Among those supposedly suboptimal female workers there are a rare couple who have managed to get to the top of their heap through the financial negotiation skills they inherited through their bloodline – presumably from diamond dealers and bankers.

The idea is an anti-Semitic myth with a very ugly history attached to it stretching back hundreds of years

Myers argued that Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman are paid better than other women at the BBC because they are Jews and therefore, as the stereotype goes, clever at business and miserly about money.

This is an anti-Semitic myth with a very ugly history attached to it stretching back hundreds of years. It is not a compliment – not even a backhanded one – and it doesn’t matter whether the person who wrote it meant to cause offence or not. It was published and it was offensive. None of us should stand for it, Jewish or otherwise.

Jewish diversity

It doesn’t make a difference if Myers is an anti-Semite or whether he just acts like one to get attention. What matters is how anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice are dealt with when they arise in public debate.

On the evidence, we have a long way to go, because what remains unaddressed in this controversy – by both the media and the Jewish Representative Council – is any recognition of Jewish diversity, humanity and individuality – the very things that get erased by anti-Semitic generalisations.

You can see this in the apology Myers gave in his interview with RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke on Tuesday. In his explanation, Myers offered up the observation that the “Jewish people are the most gifted people who have ever existed on this planet”. This was supposed to repair the damage he caused, but was a repeat of the original offence.

Let me make this clear. I am not the embodiment of some flattering characteristic shared by all Jews. When you generalise about Jewish people, you are talking about me, a Jewish person, and millions of other Jewish people, who are like and unlike me in countless ways. The only thing that I am by virtue of being Jewish is exceptional at using Yiddish expletives. Can I say shmuck in a family newspaper? Is that okay now?

The stereotypical Jewish person that Myers depicts in his original article and also the Jewish person he paints in his apology are two sides of the same coin. And that person is not a real Jew. It is a figment of the imagination that does not exist in reality.

Auschwitz

I am a real Jew, though, with a real history and a real life and real feelings. I come from tailors, teachers and textile dealers, not financiers and practitioners of the art of the deal.

My grandfather, Enzo Camerino, survived Auschwitz. He and his family were taken from their home in Rome on October 16th, 1943. The day he arrived at the camp was the last he ever saw his mother, sister and uncle. They were gassed. The number 158509 was tattooed in blue ink on his arm when he got off the cattle car. After more than a year in the camp, his father collapsed and died in front of him from overwork and exposure.

Nobody has the right to decide who I am or what I’m about based on my religion or heritage

Enzo and his brother Luciano escaped Auschwitz just before its liberation in 1945. He found his way back to Rome by hitching a ride with a passing truck carrying coffee beans to Italy. He started his life over in Rome, got married and my father, Italo, was born. He then moved the family to Canada, where there was more opportunity.

My father grew up in the Mile End area of Montreal, where the Italian immigrants bordered the Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Even among other Jewish people, my grandfather never wanted anyone to know our family was Jewish, because of his fears of anti-Semitism. It was as if he suffered for being Jewish so the rest of us wouldn’t have to.

I opened my bakery in Dublin in November 2014. We serve our sandwiches on homemade challah bread baked to a traditional Jewish recipe. We cook my mother’s beef brisket recipe – this is what my family ate to celebrate the Jewish holidays. We make matzoh ball soup and chocolate babka. That’s what being Jewish means to this Jew.

Nobody has the right, in person or in print, to decide who I am or what I’m about based on my religion or heritage. A good journalist knows that. A good editor knows that. A good person knows that.

Caryna Camerino is the owner of Camerino Bakery in Dublin

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