Does humour help fight antisemitism?

Simon Kelner pictured in 2010 when he was editor of The IndependentReuters

One man's anti-Semitic diatribe is "another man's show" according to a leading member of the Jewish community.

Simon Kelner, chief executive of Seven Dials public relations, has described how even at a time of rising antisemitism, spreading "like a virus" through parts of mainland Europe, his community has not lost the art of laughing at itself.

He says humour may be the best defence, as well as a powerful expression of free speech.

Writing in The Independent, which he edited until 2011, he singles out comedian Ivor Dembina for praise for eschewing political point-making while finding hour in Jewish customs, culture and conventions.

Describing a gig in a converted cellar beneath a pub in north London, he writes: "With no build-up or introduction, a man in a hat took the microphone and, for just over an hour, we listened to how Jews are obsessed with money, how they control the media, how they are sensitive, bordering on paranoid."

He says there were jokes about Israel, and even the holocaust. He adds: "We Jews are perfectly happy to laugh at ourselves, as long as it's another Jew making the jokes. We are not alone in this: Chris Rock makes black people fall about at their own peccadilloes, likewise Dylan Moran with the Irish."

The comedian, aged 63, who was in 1994 the first comedian to do a one-man show of Jewish jokes at the Edinburgh Festival, told Kelner afterwards that his parents had told him he could not trust anyone who wasn't Jewish. "We were told not to stand out, not to draw attention."

Keller says he has himself never encountered outright antisemitism, but adds: "I hear the news coming from Copenhagen and Paris, and feel a twinge of fearfulness. Humour may well be the best defence (and also one of the most powerful expressions of free speech), and Dembina is doing his bit. His test of a joke, he says, is simple: is the Rabbi laughing?"