Steve Cohen

We are sorry to convey the news that Steve Cohen died this morning.

Steve was a socialist and a campaigner against all racism, including antisemitism.

Steve was the author of “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic”, published in 1984 and re-published by Engage in 2005. This was a landmark argument against antisemitism on the left.

Steve also wrote this memorable and angry response to a boycott motion passed by the old Higher Education trade union NATFHE in 2006.

There will be a Commemoration Meeting for Steve On Thursday 12 March at 5.30, Manchester Town Hall. Now confirmed.

Update: Bob on Steve Cohen.

32 Responses to “Steve Cohen”

  1. Mira Vogel Says:

    What an unbelievably sad piece of news. I never got to meet him but I gained more than I can say out of reading That’s Funny. What a lovely bloke he must have been.

  2. Jeremy Jones Says:

    I never met Steve, but his “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic” was well known to me, and to the countless number of people I insisted read it. He had a positive impact on many people, by challenging them to engage their critical capacities. His humanity shone through his writing. My condolences to his loved ones.

  3. David Hirsh Says:

    I’m really sorry to hear it.
    All good wishes to Jane and to others who were close to Steve.

  4. In Memoriam - Steve Cohen at Z-Word Blog Says:

    […] Engage comes the sad news that Steve Cohen, a British Jewish socialist and campaigner against racism and […]

  5. Ben Cohen Says:

    Very sad. My heartfelt condolences to all his friends and family – I wish you all a long life.

  6. Steve Cohen Died This Morning. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] Steve Cohen Died This Morning. 2009 March 9 by modernityblog Engage has more. […]

  7. Jane Says:

    Don’t Organise, Mourn!
    Steve was smart with words – he liked playing with them.
    That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic is a great title for a book; No One is Illegal is a clever campaign name. (
    Right now, ‘Don’t Organise, Mourn!’ – his only slightly tongue-in-cheek injunction to grieving friends’ seems as tidy and insightful as anything else he came up with.

  8. Mikey Says:

    I am very sorry to hear this news. I once had a bit of debate with Steve on this site but that does not mean to say that I did not respect his work. That’s Funny was a landmark book and one of the most frequently thumbed through volumes on my bookshelves.

    Given his views on both religion and Zionism, I hope that his family would not be offended if I wished them the traditional Jewish response to such an event of a long-life and hope that God comforts them amongst the mourners of Zion.

  9. Jane Says:

    Offended? Its obligatory darling!

  10. Richard Says:

    I’ll miss Steve a lot. He was a great friend. Even towards the end when he was in great pain we still had several great chats.

  11. James Mendelsohn Says:

    I never met Steve either but I have heard lots of good things about him and his book is on my reading list. My condolences to his family.

  12. Paul Frosh Says:

    There are books which seem not only to speak for a generation but also to create one. I think that’s true of Steve’s That’s Funny – it not only gave a brilliant historical and critical account of left anti-semitism that resonated, tragically, with the personal experiences of many of us at the time (mid-80s), but also became a way of identifying like-minded fellows and cementing bonds with them: anyone who had read and appreciated That’s Funny was fundamentally alright. That’s why it holds an important place in the memories of those who were active in the left and the student movement at the time. Like most of those who read Steve’s book, I never met him personally, but what made That’s Funny more than simply a superb critique (no mean feat in itself) was the way his personality seemed to emerge from it: humane, sharp as a knife, ironic, and not prepared to suffer fools (or the socialism of). I’m sure that Steve the man was much more than this – you can’t reduce a life to a book – but perhaps the real magic is that he’ll be remembered with great affection by people like me, people who have no idea what he looked or sounded like, but who will continue to treasure his voice.

  13. john Strawson Says:

    I first met Steve on a demonstration in the early 1970’s and I last met him in my favorite Greek restaurant in Holloway about 10 years ago. I encountered him at meetings, demonstrations and of course on Engage. His generocity, serious committment and humour were always evident. He made an enourmous and lasting contribution to the progressive politics and to the Jewish community. He will be much missed. Long Life to his family.

  14. Phil Carmel Says:

    Look at all our political journeys and why we’re all contributing here on the same blog(s).
    Thanks, Steve, for providing the link and taking us all on that journey.

  15. John Mann Says:

    I am so sorry to hear this- Steve was a great man. His book is responsible for my preparedness to take on the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism work and is one of few books to have survived with me over the years.

  16. Mark Gardner Says:

    Steve Cohen’s book has made a unique, lasting, meaningful contribution to the fight against antisemitism. His passing is a sad loss.

  17. Dan Says:

    but perhaps the real magic is that he’ll be remembered with great affection by people like me, people who have no idea what he looked or sounded like, but who will continue to treasure his voice.

    Count me in as another who never met the man but who felt his influence via That’s Funny… and his involvement in the Noone Is Illegal campaign. A sad loss.

  18. David M. Seymour Says:

    I am saddened to hear the news of our loss.
    Condolences to Jane and others close to him.

  19. Saul Says:

    “Funny you don’t look antisemitic” has a very special place in my personal history.
    He will be missed

  20. Jon Pike Says:

    “I’m sorry” was a pradigm shifitng book for me too, first in the 1980’s, and then, when I had cause to reach for it again in 2005. Steve’s contribution is immense. It’s one of the few books of which you can say, the more people read it, the better the world is.

  21. gil teitler Says:

    i am french ( paris) and a member of peace now france

    i never met steve cohen, but i read his book three years ago

    it was very important for me, one of the bokks that are very special for me

    his death is a great sadness for me

    without him, we lose a man of knowledge, of wisdom

    shalom, h’aver

  22. David Rosenberg Says:

    Very sad to hear about Steve. Ironically in our last conversation a couple of months back Steve was talking about an article he planned to submit for Jewish Socialist about Jewish funerals – he was having grief with the jewish authorities trying to arrange a Jewish humanist funeral. The article never came and I hadn’t realised how quickly his already severe condition had deteriorated. In the end – no funeral – he decided to leave his body for medical research.

    I first met Steve more than 30 years ago when he joined the JSG. he made an immediate impact not least because he had recently self-published a booklet of poems called “The Jews and the Genitals” whcih was funny, sad, in places very serious, and hugely enjoyed by his comrades.

    His impact on the group was especially in the area of campaigning around immigration and refugees – something he was still doing days before his death. His pioneering research on the Aliens Act was the inspiration behind an exhibition we prepared in 1985 that linked the reaction to Jewish immigration to that against later waves of immigrants and refugees. He was a consistent and unbelievably tireless champion of the victims of racist immigrataion and refugee legislation.

    Of course there were areas where we had genuine disagreement – such as the framework for understanding antisemitism on the left, and on the Israel-Palestine conflict where he was a much more convinced one-stater than I have ever been, but I will remember the times in which we strove together for common socialist and anti-racist goals more than I
    will remember times of disagreement.

    He was and a warm and humorous comrade and a great campaigner. Condolences to family and friends. Koved zayn ondenk.

  23. Matthew Kalman Says:

    I was shocked and saddened to learn of Steve’s untimely passing. He was a wonderful man who inspired many of us with his intellectual honesty, bravery, modesty and dark humour. I was fortunate to meet him when I was very young – he was addressing a NUS conference fringe meeting in Blackpool on Britain’s racist immigration laws – and he had a huge impact on my own political development. When no-one would publish “That’s Funny…” it seemed only natural to help find the few hundred quid needed to get it printed because we realized it was important. But no-one could have predicted its huge impact. Much of today’s parliamentary and now international work on antisemitism led by people on the Left grew directly from the groundbreaking work done by Steve back in the 1980s, as John Mann implies above.
    As we say in Jerusalem: May he be remembered for a blessing.
    For once, I am sure that is true.

  24. Richard Says:

    David Rosenberg : “Of course there were areas where we had genuine disagreement – such as the framework for understanding antisemitism on the left, and on the Israel-Palestine conflict where he was a much more convinced one-stater than I have ever been, but I will remember the times in which we strove together for common socialist and anti-racist goals more than I will remember times of disagreement.”

    Sorry Dave but you are very wrong here. I discussed this issue many times with Steve – He was ideally for no states. However he told me only a few months ago that he would be happy with 2 states as long as it came “from below”.

    Steve didn’t care at all for the concept of states but a one stater he certainly was not.

    Steve was also extremely concerned about the large ammount of antisemitism on the far left and unlike some of his old comrades he wasn’t prepared to ignore it or play it down.

  25. Mark Gardner Says:

    The range of people on this thread is in itself a striking testimony to the reach that Steve Cohen had.

  26. David Rosenberg Says:

    I fully agree with Mark and know that the range of people on this thread have written of their sincere sense of loss.

    It’s a pity that one commenter thought this was an appropriate time and place for attempting cheap political point scoring at what are described as Steve’s “old comrades”. In fact, Steve rejoined the JSG several years ago and remained a member, a comrade.

    I hope we can keep this thread respectful of Steve.

  27. Jane Says:

    I didnt read Richard as meaning you and yours – please don’t kick off. Its Steve’s commemoration event later today and there’s no need for a fight.

  28. Richard Says:

    David – I wasn’t referring to you. Please try not to fight. It’s been a very upsetting and tiring three weeks or so. We can have this debate sometime in the future but not now.

  29. David Rosenberg Says:

    That’s fine, Richard – thanks for the clarification. I just read a very positive note about today’s commemoration for Steve on the Socialist Unity site.

  30. philip mendes Says:

    I was also sorry to read about Steve’s death. Even in far-off Australia we left-wing Jews read Steve’s book, and were educated by his informed historical and political understanding of anti-Semitism on the Left.

    Philip Mendes

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