I went to the theater last week. It’s a gem of a local theater, just a few blocks from my house in Powderhorn Park; and a friend wrote and performed a play about Jews and Israel. The play, which featured a talented three-piece band playing Jewish and Arabic tunes, started in a comic fashion, with the actor portraying a Hebrew teacher. Then the subject matter became grim, as Israel was indicted for its crimes against the Palestinians. It wasn’t so funny then.
The actor became agitated and anguished, about the perfidy of the Jewish state. She mentioned that she traveled in a Palestinian bus through the West Bank; it was stopped at checkpoints, because it had a yellow license plate — the same color as the armband that Nazis made European Jews wear during the Holocaust. Did I mention that the play wasn’t going for laughs any longer?
The play seemed to assume that the viewer was well informed about the sins of the occupation of Palestinian communities on the West Bank, and Gaza too. The dispossession of European Jewry, symbolized by a number of suitcases on the stage, was conflated with the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. And the actor felt these injustices deeply; she cried out in frustration and pain.
Apart from the bit about yellow license plates and yellow armbands (the equation of Palestinian mistreatment with the destruction of European Jewry in the Shoah), the performance was disturbing in its broad-brush condemnation of Israel, which plays well in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood — there was a standing ovation for the matinee show I attended.
While ruminating on the show, I happened to hear an interview with British author Howard Jacobson, who recently won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his novelÂ The Finkler Question. I haven’t read Jacobson’s book, but the protagonist, Sam Finkler, is a Jewish writer, television personality and a staunch opponent of Israel. In an interview with National Public Radio, Jacobson was asked if Finkler wasn’t just applying a “tough love approach,” as far as his strident opposition to Israel.
“I think it’s a very, very fair thing to say, that to be a friend of Israel is to be critical of Israel,” Jacobson responded. “But there’s something else about Finkler that I go for in this book, and that accounts for some of the book’s comic anger… and that’s the whole business of being ashamed. What annoys me about that is not their politics, but the idea that what’s happening somewhere else is about them. It’s the vanity of it, it’s the egoism; it’s the wearing their hearts on their sleeve. It’s this carnival of conscience that I make fun of in the book — not the political position at all, which in some cases is perfectly reasonable. It’s the fact that, ‘I feel this, I feel this in my heart. It’s my story, it’s about me.’”
Hearing Jacobson’s viewpoint clarified my unease about the play I saw. Now I’ll have to readÂ The Finkler Question.
Of course, everyone has the right to weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on United States policy in the Middle East. Billions of our tax dollars, or future debt, is being funneled to Israel and to the Arab states, as the U.S. tries to mediate the conflicts and deal with an Iranian regime moving to acquire nuclear weapons. It really makes one’s head spin or eyes glaze over; maybe you’ve stopped reading at this point.
As far as discussions about Israel in the American Jewish community, I’ve noted before that some folks tend to go ballistic over any criticisms of Israeli government policy. Others grant that it’s legitimate to criticize the policies of a particular Israeli government; but that some criticisms cross the line and unfairly demonize Israel. The buzzword in 2010 (and probably going strong into 2011) is “delegitimization.” As I heard recently from an Israeli diplomat, we probably should use a different word, because that one is too hard to pronounce.
In any case, it’s tricky drawing the line about where discourse about Israel veers off into some kind of bigotry. And some Jews express the belief that American Jews, who don’t live in Israel, pay taxes there and send their sons and daughters to the IDF, should mute their opinions about the Jewish state. Again, our government, the U.S. government, is providing about $2.7 billion in military aid to Israel; so it seems fair that this annual appropriation be part of the civic debate. Supporters of Israel need to provide rational arguments in the face of those who argue that U.S. aid to Israel should be stopped; and that Israel should be boycotted, divested from and sanctioned.
We have allowed space in these pages for diverse views about the roiling Middle East conflicts. The American Jewish World will continue to encourage civil discourse about controversial issues, and to be open to myriad voices. And, as the editor, I will comment on plays and radio interviews, and whatever else gets me thinking. You’re welcome to weigh in.
— Mordecai Specktor / email@example.com
Disturbing tho that Jewish guilt gets a standing ovation… cheering because Shylock (in his many forms) has a conscience?
…ironically, this being the 30th anniversary of the 3 slain nuns in El Salvador, an issue the Powerhorn crowd was very involved in… this week, 2 American missionaries in Jerusalem were attacked, one killed, by Palestinian terrorists … (news was probably breaking about the time you were seeing the matinee)… have to wonder if this same crowd that applauds Jewish conscience, has the conscience to condemn Palestinian crimes against Israeli civilians… church ladies, if you will… or will they remain silent? …Or worse, try to justify such crimes?Jus’ wondering?
And, did you stand up to protest this biased Palestinian anti Israel play? It was probably good that you went to the play so you can report this diatribe, and we can be aware. When Joeseph Goebels was producing anti Jewish plays like this in Nazi Germany the audiences were also applauding. And, so we have again the disguise of deligitimazation of Israel, as you KNOW is actually anti Jewish. Israel is not “occupying”! Israel is protecting itself and it’s people from terrorist bombings, killings, and maimings that occured frequently before Israel built the”wall”, put up border police, etc. Israel is not occupying, it is providing security, and every nation in the world would do the same to protect against terrorism. Wouldn’t Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, the United States do the same? Protect its citizens is the nature of governnment. It’s time for you “intellectuals” to recognize that Israel is the refuge and bastion for ALL Jews all over the world and protecting all of us!
Mordecai, did you sit silently while this play vilified Israel, did you applaud at the end, did you stand up and applaud? Did you speak to your playwright friend about how unfair and polarizing the content was? Or did you walk out in silence afterwards trying to intellectualize what had just occurred as unidirectional free speech? Somehow, I really believe that if the reverse had occurred and the play was pro-Israel, I am sure the local neo-prog brown shirts would have attempted to shut it down.
As for going â€œballistic,â€ many believe in the paraphrased line, â€œIf I am not for me, who then will be?â€ Sadly, you are more concerned about rationalizing your progressive mythology then you are about Israelâ€™s survival. And as for your Powderhorn neighborhood, ask these folks to point out one trait that they admire about the Palestinians, from their anti gay, anti womanâ€™s rights, anti freedom of religion, admiration of homicide bombers, Judenfrei area, Holocaust denial, and overt ANTI-SEMITISM.
Please ask your neighbors which Muslim trait they admire the most?
“You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation â€” to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians…. It can’t continue endlessly. Do you want to stay forever in Jenin, in Nablus, in Ramallah, in Bethlehem? I don’t think that’s right.” â€” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, May 2003
Admin, “Do you want to stay forever in Jenin, in Nablus, in Ramallah, in Bethlehem? [or in Gaza].”
Are these cities in PA controlled area really occupied? What did Israel achieve by withdrawing from Gaza, from Lebanon, what will happen IF Israel were to withdraw 100% to the 1948 armistice lines that were a result of the 1948 invasion of Arab armies into the new state of Israel? Will the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem now erroneously named east Jerusalem by some, be Judenfrei? The PLO and Hamas charter still states clearly that Israel should be disbanded, that Jews have no right to a state of their own, what part of NO do you so called progressives not understand?
Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Think about this when you continue to intellectualize your left wing position on Israel!
You will probably get a total flip out of this, but here is a very, very positive review of The Finkler Question by none other than our own Alan Dershowitz: http://www.jpost.com/Features/Article.aspx?id=200768.
It is truly ironic that a systematic Israel-hater like you would mention a book that makes fun of self-hating and Israel-hating Jews.
Thank you Harry and Bernie for standing up for Israel. I, too, believe that Israel is the only real home for ALL Jews. Let’s stand united, not fall, divided.