Christopher Biggins was thrown out of the Celebrity Big Brother house on Friday. Channel 5 explained that the actor “had made a number of comments capable of causing great offence to housemates and the viewing public”.
Having previously made the same wrongheaded argument back in The Big Issue in 2014, Biggins repeated his erasure of bisexuality, and expanded on it with his nonsense claim that HIV/AIDS is “a bisexual disease”.
And after being told that fellow housemate and former X Factor character Katie Waissel is Jewish, Biggins said: “You better be careful or they’ll be putting you in a shower and taking you to a room.”
The decision to remove Biggins from the house has inevitably led to a chorus of the usual suspects arguing that he had been punished for exercising his freedom of speech. The repeated mantra of Ricky Gervais disciples that “offence is taken, not given”.
Even Channel 5’s statement made reference to the “great offence” potentially caused by Biggins’s comments. The suggestion is that bisexuals, Jews and everyone else is being protected from “offensive” comments by Biggins’s eviction.
That’s not really the issue.
Are Jews “offended” by Holocaust jokes? Maybe. But by the time you reach your 30s you’ve heard so many that it’s pretty unlikely. Can Holocaust jokes be funny? Appropriate even? Of course. Forget timing – context is actually the key to comedy.
Biggins’s gag wasn’t about comedy. It wasn’t even really a joke. It was a casual reference thrown at a Jewish person that was loaded with threat. Was Biggins personally threatening Waissel? Of course not. But the meaning behind the one-liner is everything.
You are different. You are Jewish. You are a only a couple of generations away from being gassed to death and burned to ashes just because you are Jewish. You are alive in Europe by dumb luck and historical accident. You are alive in Europe because we have chosen not to kill you. We will never let you forget that.
Katie Waissel was born 41 years to the day of the liberation of Auschwitz. You can see that as ancient history. You can see that as a blink of an eye.
“You better be careful or they’ll be putting you in a shower and taking you to a room.”
Like every Jew living in Europe, Katie Waissel will never escape the shadow of the Holocaust. She will never be allowed to.
One of the most pervasive modern antisemitic themes is to define Jewishness by persecution in general and the Holocaust in particular.
Biggins’s comment is part of that everyday drip-drip-drip reminder that Jews must regard themselves as victims.
All peoples have their rebels and warrior heroes and Jews are no different. From the Israelite conquest of Canaan to the Haganah. The Maccabees to the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa and Żydowski Związek Wojskowy who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Jews have frequently defined themselves by their strength, not their weakness and victimhood.
Europe will not allow it.
“I think that tree roots cannot grow in ash,” Robert Fisk slyly quotes Auschwitz concentration camp guide Stetkiewicz Wojciech as saying in his 1990 book Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War.
The dotted line between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel is filled in. It is made bold. The scores of other dotted lines into May 14, 1948 are erased to fit this narrative.
There is a hunger on this continent to define Israel – and Jews – as trees in ash. Borne of dust that was recently blood. Fragile. Weak. Precarious. Sure to fail. Sure to fall.
All nations have their founding heroic myths and, lurking in the shadows, their founding horrors. Force and its immediate cousin violence are inseparable from the very notion of the State.
In Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber defined the State as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.
Historically, the establishment of that community has been inescapably bound up in theft, murder and tragedy – for both those included and excluded from the State.
The equation of Israel and Jews as trees rooted in ash is not about these horrors. It is about defining Jews as victims. Victims in a past that is still recent.
It is a reminder that Jews are outnumbered in Europe and as such are reliant on the grace of their hosts for their very existence.
Almost certainly without that intent, Christopher Biggins’s comment is part of a continuing European discourse that seeks to instruct every Jew that they must think of themselves as victims past and – should Europe decide – victims-to-be.
We reject this.
We are not victims.
We refuse to be identified as victims.