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Old 05-09-2009, 04:53 PM   #1
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"Your anti-Zionism is tending to an extremism that spills over into something else."

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Dear Reichsführer,

That's a joke. I hope we can still joke. You remember the gag in Annie Hall when Woody Allen mistakes the question "D'you eat?" for "Jew eat?" I've been there myself. "I hate Jews," I heard a person on a mobile phone saying in a supermarket queue. I asked my wife who was queuing with me what she'd heard. "Highgate, at two," she told me. It's a Jewish joke against ourselves that we find anti-Semitism everywhere. As long as we're joking it means there's nothing to find.


But you're making it hard right now. I am sure you don't mean to. Hating Jews, after all, was something people on the extreme right of politics used to do, and you are on the moderate left. So you can't logically be an anti-Semite, as you continue to tell me. What you are is anti-Zionist, which is different. It bothers me that you think I can't tell the difference. Indeed you insist on it to the point where it is now impossible to disagree with anything you say about Israel without your ascribing such disagreement to Jewish paranoia, as though a disinterested critique of anti-Zionism is philosophically inconceivable to you. This is not a position you can credibly sustain. Only bigots suppose their views are not open to generous dissent. Only racists think all disagreement must be racially motivated. And you are neither a bigot nor a racist.

Your anti-Zionism, however, is tending to an extremism that spills over into something else. You would argue that that is because Zionism itself has turned the screws. And certainly there are cruelties committed in its name. I no more delighted in Gaza than you did. But it is moral hysteria to rewrite the past in order to assuage the conscience of the present.
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"Toy" with Holocaust deniers, make peace with them for no other reason than that they declare war on Israel, and you make common cause with anti-Semitism, however much you insist that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are separate entities.

More importantly still, you give succour to fanaticism. Yours is the sleep of reason.

I am not going to say more than I have already said about Caryl Churchill's now infamous play. I do not see myself as its nemesis. Futurity will decide. But it strikes me that there is an indecent haste to go on staging it in some quarters, as though it is seductive by very virtue of the offence it causes. As it happens I am in favour of offence. We must all take it on the chin. But allowing that offended sensibilities determine what isn't shown when those sensibilities happen to be Muslim, you will understand my wondering whether demonstrating disdain for the sensibilities of Jews has become a theatrical end in itself.

A spokesman for Liverpool City Council which is putting money into staging Churchill's play – whatever business it is of Liverpool City Council – states that "for Jews the play may certainly seem anti-Semitic, but not necessarily for non-Jews".

Tell me we are not so far estranged that you cannot hear what's wrong with that.
Howard Jacobson: A letter to an anti-Semite who isn't - Howard Jacobson, Commentators - The Independent


A debate on the play referred to can be found here:-

Caryl Churchill: Gaza's Shakespeare, or Fetid Jew-Baiter? - Jeffrey Goldberg
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Old 05-10-2009, 12:31 AM   #2
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Was the Jacobson piece in response to some particular person or incident? I don't follow the British press, and am unclear whether to interpret it as addressed to some generic personification of leftist anti-Semitism with no specific precipitating event in mind, or whether it was perhaps aimed at someone or something in particular.

I'm not surprised Goldberg loathed Caryl Churchill's play, haha, anymore than I was surprised Philip Weiss adored it. In general, most of the anger I've seen in print over it (as well as much of the praise) have far less to do with Israel per se, than with perceptions as to what Churchill might be taken to be suggesting about Jewish identity in general. I have NO idea what Roth is talking about with the 'she's been listening really, really closely to how Jews speak at cocktail parties' bit...from my admittedly extremely limited experience with mostly-Jewish cocktail parties, I'd have to say we talk pretty much the same way at cocktail parties as anyone else. Argumentativeness, is that maybe what he's getting at?...but that seems far too vague a trait to credit someone with brilliant insight for noticing. " 'Guernica' in ten minutes," what a great characterization.


What aspect of this were you looking to discuss?
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Old 05-10-2009, 01:39 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by yolland View Post
Was the Jacobson piece in response to some particular person or incident? I don't follow the British press, and am unclear whether to interpret it as addressed to some generic personification of leftist anti-Semitism with no specific precipitating event in mind, or whether it was perhaps aimed at someone or something in particular.
I am not that familiar with Jacobson's writings, but if I had to guess, I'd say that it was directed towards a certain mentality within UK media and 'bien-pensant' left leaning circles, especially in broadsheets such as the Guardian and the Independent, that tends towards blanket condemnation of Israel. And that might tend towards, in Jacobson's view, as a little bit of closet anti-semitism lurking under the anti-Zionism, and he might not be wrong on this. Although, I also think - and I'm only going on instinct here to be frank - that he might have directed it at someone specific also. I think it's a very good piece of writing.

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I'm not surprised Goldberg loathed Caryl Churchill's play, haha, anymore than I was surprised Philip Weiss adored it. In general, most of the anger I've seen in print over it (as well as much of the praise) have far less to do with Israel per se, than with perceptions as to what Churchill might be taken to be suggesting about Jewish identity in general. I have NO idea what Roth is talking about with the 'she's been listening really, really closely to how Jews speak at cocktail parties' bit...from my admittedly extremely limited experience with mostly-Jewish cocktail parties, I'd have to say we talk pretty much the same way at cocktail parties as anyone else. Argumentativeness, is that maybe what he's getting at?...but that seems far too vague a trait to credit someone with brilliant insight for noticing. " 'Guernica' in ten minutes," what a great characterization.
I have no interest in seeing the play, I hate agitprop but reading that debate cold, I find myself mainly agreeing with Goldberg.

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What aspect of this were you looking to discuss?
I dunno, all of it I guess? I hadn't heard of Philip Weiss before and I looked up his blog and I saw this:

http://www.philipweiss.org/.a/6a00d8...0779d65970b-pi
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Old 05-10-2009, 11:26 AM   #4
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I know many jews who are against some of what they feel Israel is doing right now, and are probably against "Zionist." However, some of them are still religious and I would never ever call them "anti-semetic"

so I think there can be a difference between being for the state of Israel, and not being Anti-semitic.
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Old 05-10-2009, 03:02 PM   #5
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Too bad Interference's resident Israeli government spokesman is not around to offer his viewpoint.
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Old 05-10-2009, 03:06 PM   #6
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Too bad Interference's resident Israeli government spokesman is not around to offer his viewpoint.
? Who?

Oh by the way, I love your avatar. Is it just me or does Sawyer remind you of Kurt Cobain, Desmond remind you of Eddie Vedder, and Ben's Dad remind you of Thom Yorke?? ... I think it might just be me lol
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Old 05-10-2009, 03:41 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by zooropop40 View Post
I know many jews who are against some of what they feel Israel is doing right now, and are probably against "Zionist." However, some of them are still religious and I would never ever call them "anti-semetic"

so I think there can be a difference between being for the state of Israel, and not being Anti-semitic.
That's not really the issue being explored here, though. Jacobson would readily agree that of course one can strongly protest and criticize the state of Israel's policies towards Palestinians without being anti-Semitic. What he's addressing--perhaps, as financeguy suggested, with an eye to a certain segment of the British Left, and/or even specific individual(s) within it--is what he sees as a tendency in some quarters to exploit that distinction to the point where claims of criticizing Israel only become cover-ups for what in fact are frankly anti-Semitic views.
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I have no interest in seeing the play, I hate agitprop but reading that debate cold, I find myself mainly agreeing with Goldberg.
(Sorry, I'd remembered that you linked to something from Weiss' blog once, so I assumed you were familiar with him. You were probably just following a link from somewhere else.)

I think the problem Roth has in that debate is that ultimately he fails to articulate a simply put, readily graspable answer for why it's good and important for him to stage this play, whereas Goldberg is acutely focused throughout on what bothers him about it. (In light of which it doesn't help Roth that he keeps agreeing with Goldberg that Churchill's play 'moves into areas that she knows have this terrible historic resonance,' that it has 'pernicious' elements and a 'problem title,' that it's 'kind of bastard form to summarize the modern history of a people in 10 minutes.') Worse, he also keeps leaning on the 'Well you just don't understand art' non-argument, which is one of the most cliched lame fallbacks there is. I do agree with Roth that finding a literal blood libel accusation in Churchill's text is over the top; I don't think that's a plausible way to read the passage in question at all. But Goldberg keeps up the pressure on him to explain why the play can't be interpreted as being about Jewish Everyman--in which case, both of them seem to agree, it would indeed be 'pernicious'--and Roth never really rises to that challenge. I don't think that's because the argument can't be made, but in the space of this particular debate at least, I think he fails to do it.



While Churchill's play certainly isn't the only thing one could discuss here (it's really quite peripheral to Jacobson's piece), it might help if more people had read it. The full text is available here; it's very short, takes only two or three minutes to read.

I might have more to say about the Jacobson article--which I agree, it's very well-written--got a bunch of family errands to run right now though. Back later...
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Old 05-10-2009, 04:37 PM   #8
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? Who?

Oh by the way, I love your avatar. Is it just me or does Sawyer remind you of Kurt Cobain, Desmond remind you of Eddie Vedder, and Ben's Dad remind you of Thom Yorke?? ... I think it might just be me lol
He's joking. There's one guy who posts here from time to time who's Jewish who posted in a thread about how people automatically assumed he'd want to talk about Israel simply because he's Jewish, and he ended up arguing with a poster over whether or not that's a reasonable expectation.
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