Reflecting on the proximity between the deaths of two towering figures in, respectively, literature and the arts, Howard Jacobson sees a certain symmetry between the philo-Semitic Gentile and the uncomfortable Jew:
On November 24, 2019, Clive James, the Australian writer, critic, poet, and novelist, died aged eighty. Three days later, Sir Jonathan Miller, theater and opera director, doctor, comedian, sculptor, and much else besides, died aged eighty-five. To my generation this was like an evisceration of our culture in a single week. . . . Both were inexhaustibly curious and lavishly talented. Both were accused of spreading those talents too thinly. One seemed to possess the gift of happiness, one didn’t. One was a friend of the Jews, one wasn’t. Miller was Jewish—ish being the operative word. “I’m not really a Jew; just Jew-ish,” he famously declared in the 1960s revue, Beyond the Fringe. James wasn’t. James was the one who liked Jews.
I am not about to argue that Miller would have been happy had he made peace with his Jewishness. Being a Jew isn’t a panacea for anything. But his vexed relations with his Jewishness strike me as of a kind with the discordancy of his emotions in general. He seemed unable to like anything unreservedly or to connect the pieces of his own nature, especially, by his own admission, the Jewish pieces. “Although my family were Jewish and I am genetically Jewish, I have absolutely no subscription to the creed, and no interest in the race,” he told Dick Cavett in 1980.
Israel displeased [Miller] in the usual, unthinking ways. [James, by contrast], was a staunch supporter of Israel and saw through the fashionable denunciations of Zionism made by people “dedicated to knowing as little as possible about the history of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”