Why Julie Burchill loves all things Jewish

Francine Wolfisz - Thursday 15th 2012f November 2012


Julie Burchill. Credit: Daniel Morgenstern

The best-selling author talks to Francine Wolfisz about her new
venture and journey to becoming the UK's most noted Philosemite

While feelings of pride about one's identity are not that unusual for someone born and brought up Jewish, journalist and author Julie Burchill, who is herself not Jewish by birth, has "been in love with the Jewish people" since she was a teenager and is a staunch supporter of Israel in her national newspaper columns.

Now the 53-year-old has decided to put pen to paper about her lifelong obsession with the Jewish people in Unchosen: The Memoirs of a Philosemite.

The book will be published by Unbound, a crowd-funded publishing venture, which invites readers to make a pledge and help cover the cost of the book.

Burchill says: "This is the one book I really want to write. They say you can never get over your first love, and in my case they were right. But, typically greedy, my first love was a whole race of people - the Jews."

So the first question I really want to ask the bestselling author is exactly why she feels such an affinity towards Jewish people and why this love came about in the first place. The answer, she tells me, stems from when she was 14 and discovered her father's part-work on the documentary series The World At War. This was also the first time she learnt about the Holocaust.

"It was finding out about the Shoah - then finding out how they'd come back from that by recreating Israel rather than waiting around for it to happen again," explains the talented writer, whose novel Ambition became a bestseller, while Sugar Rush was adapted into an Emmy Awardwinning television drama.

"But interestingly I don't like the 'usual' things most Philosemites like - the food, the humour and schmaltzy family stuff. I like the real things about the Jews that make other people uncomfortable - their religion and their ancient, reclaimed country."

Such was the strength of her feeling that Burchill admits she pretended to be Jewish when she secured her first job aged just 17 as a writer at the New Musical Express.

"They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that was certainly true in my case," explains the Bristol-born author. "It makes me laugh to look back at it now. True, I had dyed black hair, but I am no-one's idea of a Jew, with my West Country voice. I've never met one who talks like me! There were three Jews up there and not one saw through me."

The young Burchill also became involved in the anti-fascist movement. "I was forever counterdemonstrating against the National Front, which is what we had in the 1970s," she says.

Much to the shock of her parents, the self-confessed "Philosemite" also swore to marry someone Jewish.

In fact, Burchill's first marriage was to Tony Parsons, a non-Jewish journalist she met while working at NME. When that marriage ended,
Burchill saw her words come true when she tied the knot with Cosmo Landesman, "the son of an eye-wateringly eccentric Jewish family".

Why was marrying someone Jewish so important to her?

Burchill, who now lives in Brighton with her third husband, Daniel Raven, says

in a light-hearted manner: "I just had the hots for them, to be honest. But the love of my life has turned out to be a non-neurotic, anti-Zionist of Irish extraction, so I can now regard the Jews without the goggles of lust. And I admire them just as much."

She adds, with her trademark tongue-in-cheek wit: "I read in The Sunday Times last week that David Baddiel thinks it bad that I "fetishise" the Jews, so I would like to reassure him there is not the least danger of me ever fetishising him."

So after four decades of professing to love the Jewish people, pretending to be Jewish and even marrying Jewish, one has to ask the headstrong journalist why has she never fully converted?

In fact, Burchill a few years ago seriously considered conversion, but she claims her attempt was "derailed" by others, "who considered me too pro Israel, which is, in my book, literally, an oxymoron".

However, she is currently learning Modern Hebrew and has not fully given up on the idea: "I still consider Judaism to be the one true religion, so who knows?"

That aside, the mother-of-two says she prefers to cheer from the sidelines, as it were, and champion the Jewish people and Israel as a non-Jew. Just last year, the Algemeiner Journal of New York named Burchill as one of the top ten non-Jews most positively influencing the Jewish future.

Other than detailing her own personal journey of Jewishness, Burchill's book also covers her thoughts on why she has never watched Schindler's List - "I wouldn't be comfortable watching the Shoah rendered into entertainment" - as well as rising anti-Semitism.

There are of course her thoughts on Israel, where the veteran writer tells me she would one day like to be buried, and the wider issues of the Middle East.

On Iran, Burchill says: "I think Iran should be engaged extremely robustly. I believe in the Red Line. I despise weasely appeasers. And indeed, appeasing weasels."

Unafraid to mince her words or bow to the "bully boys" who disagree with her views, Burchill's latest book is sure to be "somethingextraordinary" according to her publishers. Now she just needs enough readers to show their support
towards making it happen.

To pledge towards Julie's crowd-funded book, Unchosen: The Memoirs of a Philosemite, visit www.unbound.co.uk