Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat MP this week reflected on an article published in the Observer that by the comedian Stewart Lee which targeted Mr Tugendhat for his surname, which is Jewish.
In a Jewish News column, Mr Tugendhat said: “Antisemitism – in its varying shades – is still with us. I was surprised to see so many of the old tropes echoed in a major newspaper recently and, though grateful for the mountains of support including from many of their own journalists, was forced to ask – what do some think I am? A foreigner in my own country?”
He added: “Perhaps that’s not what was meant but the myths it repeated I’ve heard before and it reminded me that there is an ongoing blind-spot for antisemitism in liberal, British society where the quinoa is followed by a quip”.
Mr Tugendhat wrote: “My own name is a reminder of the days before Jews were had rights. Tugendhat, rather grandly, means ‘has virtue’…I remember how I felt at Yad Vashem. Tugendhat just one name amongst millions and the hope it embodied barely a century before now reduced to a record in a war crime archive”.
“Perhaps that’s why my last connection to a history of European Jewish culture makes me so conscious of the words that normalise hatred and try to turn me into an outsider in my own home”, he wrote.
On Twitter, Mr Tugendhat said in response to the article: “The idea of uppity foreigner coming over here and conspiring to take power is literally the archetypal antisemitic trope. It is so standard it’s dull but that doesn’t make it any less true. The search into my name shows he knows the origins. It’s not new”.
CFI Vice-Chairman Andrew Percy MP highlighted in a Jewish News article reflecting on the article that many Jews in Britain and Europe changed their names through fear of discrimination. He added that there is evidence that other communities, particularly Muslims, still face name discrimination to this day.
Mr Percy wrote: “That Lee wanted to take issue with Tom’s tweet is his prerogative but in taking aim at Tom’s name he has, in my view, effectively lowered the bar for racists to take aim at others’ names. He did so whilst seemingly perpetrating an ‘us and them’ narrative, bearing all the hallmarks of the one that painted Jews as failing to understand English irony. In this world view, Jews are imposters, foreigners, an irritant in our midst”.
The Stewart Lee column in the Observer read: “Many names – Fisher, Cook, Smith – derive from ancient trades. But ‘Tugendhat’ is just different words put together, like Waspcupfinger, or Appendixhospitalwool, or Abortionmaqaquesymptom. This former intelligence officer is the nephew of a real man called Baron Tugendhat. Baron Tugendhat is not a character from a 19th-century German children’s book about a baron with a weird hat, the end of which gets tugged. But what did Tom Tugendhat want? Why was he bothering us?”