Howard Jacobson could only have produced his attack on anti-Zionism in The Finkler Question as a book. I don’t mean that as a novelist he was highly unlikely to write it as anything else, but that the book trade provides the last, best refuge for original and uncomfortable debates in Britain.
A playwright would not dream of offering the National a drama about how and why Jews ended up endorsing anti-Semitism and going along with fascistic Islamist movements. As Jacobson shows, the present position of British Jews is full of hypocrisy, conflict, folly and pathos, but the National would never have agreed to explore these compelling tensions on stage, because Jacobson is attacking the assumptions of its administrators and actors.
Nor would the BBC have gone near his critique of liberal thinking if he had offered it as a radio or television play. Leaving aside the fact that Jacobson’s protagonist is an ex-Radio 3 producer who is scathing about its employees – “a woman’s inability to be stylish no matter how hard she tried always moved Julian Treslove. Which meant he was moved by most of the women he worked near in the BBC” – Jacobson’s view of the world is beyond the comprehension of its editors.