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Proto-Nazism on Exhibition

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Israel’s policies and actions toward the Palestinians has been a principal incitement of international terrorism. To say that, does not excuse the latter, but does help to explain it. Had Israel chosen a different path from its founding (Arno Mayer’s Ploughshares into Swords records in detail the events of 1945-48 demonstrating the Zionist paradigm of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population, with few dissenting voices, such as Martin Buber and Judah Magnes), one can speculate that the historical outcome would have been a different spirit and structure of the Middle East, far more promoting of Jewish security certainly than in the present. The irony of history: authoritarianism feeds upon itself, force against force, hatred fully reciprocated. The original fault lies with a totalitarian Zionism which refused to credit the humanity of those it sought to displace, rather than live peacefully among—hubris hiding behind the fig leaf of providing a refuge for the victims of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was the systematic execution voicing World Evil, mercilessly planned and carried out on a hitherto unknown scale of human depravity. Survivors and descendants would bear the scars. Yet rather than engender compassion embracing the whole of humanity and life itself, the reaction was that of vengeance, of seeking power, however ruthless the consequences, as a self-protective shield with the inscription, “Never again”. At first, that seemed natural, and even commanded world respect following World War II. But the psychology of suffering was so intense as though breaking into another realm, what I am calling the introjection of the mentality of the Nazi executioner, perhaps not even realizing it.

How otherwise view the history of modern Israel with respect to its own militarism, cult of superiority, reactionary stance in world politics, discouragement of internal dissent, and, obviously, treatment of the Palestinians, an Occupation not unlike what Europe experienced decades earlier? Humiliation, check-points, bulldozers, terrorist-like arrests in the middle of the night, the ever-present blockade, all-in-all a studied effort at imposing degradation on a people, the better (presumably) to enforce social control.

From IDF shootings of adolescents to the scene in New York, Monday, October 20, at the Metropolitan Opera is a straight-line projection, nominally, to protest the performance of John Adams’s “Klinghoffer,” but far more, having nothing to do with the opera, rising to the occasion of absolutist self-justification of all Israel has done and everything it stands for. For the most part, world Jewry supports that record and finds only goodness in Israel, making Judaism and Israel indissoluble in meaning and moral value. There I disagree strongly. Israel is not Judaism, and, indeed, is fast becoming a curse on Judaism, by its wanton killings, arrogance, willingness to cause universal calamity to satisfy its policies. Bomb Iran. Bomb Assad. Bomb, bomb, bomb, power stations, water treatment plants, schools, shelters. Invincibility, the national disease. And AIPAC, hosannas to the heavens—American Jewry fearful of its own shadow, not from external forces, but congregational unanimity lest one be declared the Self-Hating Jew.

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Michael Cooper’s NYT article, “Protests Greet Met Opera’s Premiere of “Klinghoffer,’” (Oct. 21), provides some sense of the scene, not the usual Met opening—tuxedos and gowns, but there the resemblance ends: “[At the opening] men and women in evening attire walked through a maze of police barricades, while protesters shouted ‘Shame!’ and ‘Terror is not art!” One demonstrator held aloft a white handkerchief splattered with red. Others, in wheelchairs [Klinghoffer, the passenger on a cruise ship hijacked by Palestine Liberation Front terrorists, confined to wheelchair and murdered] set up for the occasion, lined Columbus Avenue.” Let’s stop a moment. Demonstration: as one who has participated in many over the years, and even if I hadn’t, I would defend its right to exist and occurrence to the hilt. Objective: one doesn’t have to agree with the content and purpose of every exercise of free speech, here, a falsification of the composer’s position AND itself an attack on the civil liberties of others, i.e., closing down an opera as well as, in principle, censoring artistic (and all other) expression. Free speech was taking a beating last night (Oct. 20) in the name of free speech. I cannot let the moment pass, and be steamrolled over by what amounts to a hidden or implied argument on behalf of Israel policy and conduct.

Of course, free speech can have an ugly side: Cooper reports that “after months of escalating protest, including threats of opera officials and online harassment of the cast,” the opera went on “only a few minutes late.” Inside the hall, quite uneventful: “By the time [the] opera ended, with a roar of cheers when Mr. Adams took the stage, there had been two major disruptions: Before the intermission, a man shouted ‘The murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgiven’ several times before being escorted out, and during the second half, just after the character of Leon Klinghoffer was murdered, a woman cried out a vulgarity and left, accompanied by ushers.”

The opera, he writes, “considered a masterpiece by some critics, has long aroused passions,” given its subject matter, the murder of a helpless Jewish passenger, but in addition, he continues, “the 1991 opera arrived at the Met at a moment when many Jews are anguished by anti-Semitic episodes in Europe and reactions to the conflict this summer in Gaza. [See my Comment below.] It also ignited what sounded at times like a revival of the culture wars of the 1990s, in which works of art became fodder for intense political debate.”

In other words, the opera was not allowed to stand on its own; instead, Adams was charged with giving the terrorists a podium. Rudy Giuliani was among the protesters, but, perhaps to his credit, unlike most others, he wanted to register disapproval (calling the work “a distorted view of history”) but not cancel the performance, while Bill de Blasio “defended the Met’s right to perform” the opera, and pointed out how Giuliani, as mayor, in 1999 wanted to stop funding the Brooklyn Museum of Art because of a show he found offensive. De Blasio: “I think the American way is to respect freedom of speech. Simple as that.” There was tight security, uniformed police, “all bags checked,” and at the final dress rehearsal the previous Friday, Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, reassured the “performers and musicians… about enhanced security measures.”

The rally’s master of ceremonies (yes, quite organized), Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, said he did not expect the protesters “to react inappropriately,” yet his own remarks were hardly less than accusatory: “But you can’t be responsible when the Metropolitan Opera advocates terrorism and incites violence—you can’t know what will happen.” Incitement by whom? The onus is placed on Gelb: “And anything that happens, that has besmirched this Metropolitan Opera, and besmirched Lincoln Center, is to be laid at the foot of Peter Gelb.” Not to be outdone, Cooper quotes a pediatric nurse who “believed the opera made an excuse for terrorism”—in her words, “By putting this on a stage in the middle of Manhattan, the message is, ‘Go out, murder someone, be a terrorist and we’ll write a play about you.’” The reporter concludes, “The protests were initially led by several smaller Jewish groups and conservative religious organizations. The larger Anti-Defamation League brokered a compromise with the Met… in which plans to show the opera to a wider audience in movie theaters were dropped, but the New York production would otherwise go on. Leaders in the more liberal Reform Judaism movement have condemned the opera, but did not call for its cancellation.”

My New York Times Comment on the article, same date, follows:

Wouldst the protesters show as much concern for the Gazans, men, women, children, murdered by Israel in the bombing and shelling of a densely populated area. Wouldst they show as much concern over the Israeli hooligans who broke up peace demonstrations in Tel Aviv or the Israelis of Siderot gathered on a hillside, sofas and munchies at hand, cheering the explosions on the Gaza side (all of which had been reported in The Times).

Israel’s conduct is creating anti-Semitism in Europe, not the other way around. Israel has been a dead weight on World Jewry by its flagrant violation of the Torah, which commands us (yes, I am proudly Jewish, not, as vipers would have it, a self-hating Jew because I criticize Israel) to respect the stranger and reach out to the poor.

What we saw in New York was proto-Nazism in microcosm–nothing will stop this ferocious campaign of swinging out promiscuously against all who do not follow the strict party line. It had nothing to do with Mr. Klinghoffer’s death, but merely a striking out of supreme self-justification of Israeli policy, no matter what–the “what” being the commission of war crimes, and the corrosion of Judaism itself.

God will get a hand on the situation someday, and punish those who hide behind Adonei to kill and maim for reasons of a vulgarized “Chosen People” doctrine as license to be transmogrified from oppressed to oppressor. The psychodynamics for what has happened is dark, introjection of the mindset of the persecutors.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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