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David Mamet writes about the "new" Anti-Semitism

post #1 of 9
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From the Forward

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'If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem': The Power of Blunt Nostalgia


I am reading in Jerusalem. I read, in Azure, a scholarly Israeli publication, an article by historian Michael Oren that Israeli opinion is split on Orde Wingate. Wingate was a Brit philosemite (the exception that, et cetera), creator of the doctrine of desert guerrilla warfare and godfather of the Israeli military. I read that the jury was still out on him, as he ate raw onions, strained his tea through his socks and greeted guests in the nude. Now, as to particulars one and three, I have been guilty myself (though never in conjunction). As to particular two, I must ask, did he, in the absence of a strainer, improvise brilliantly with a pair of clean socks, or, did he (disons le mot) utilize the very socks in which he trod that desert land he was to aid in Making Free? But, perhaps, there are some doors History was never meant to open.

My accommodations in the Mount Zion Hotel are superb — two large picture windows overlook the Old City. To its left, modern Jerusalem, to the right, the Mount of Olives, East Jerusalem and the descent to the Dead Sea. Looking east, before actual dawn, and just before sunset, the light is extraordinary. The Old City is the height of land — it rises from the sea to the Temple Mount and falls away to the Dead Sea and the desert.

A tour guide, a committed amateur archaeologist, gives me a tour of the south and east walls.

"Look up," he says, "what do you see?"

"The land rises and then falls away," I say.

He nods. "The clouds come in from the sea and deposit the rain at the highest point: the Old City. To its west, the land is tillable. To its east is desert. This is the division," he says. "This is the spot where..."

"Two cultures," I suggest.

"Not two cultures," he says, "but two mentalities, two spiritualities meet: the people in the land toward the sea, in biblical Canaan, were concerned with commerce, with trade, with agriculture. The people

to the east, the people in the desert, were concerned with spirit, with visions. The two have always met in Jerusalem."

We walk toward the cemetery at the Mount of Olives. Below he shows me the City of David, that is, Jerusalem, as it existed at the turn of the common era. In those days, he says, it had more than 100,000 inhabitants. The July heat is killing me. It is not hard to imagine the relief of the desert traveler, coming to the high, watered ground. The cleansing, insistent influence of the desert to the Westerner does not need to be imagined; one feels it.

The Old City is fairly empty. It is usually, of course, steeved, if I may, with tourists and pilgrims. The current intifada has discouraged them. We stop for lunch in a Palestinian falafel place my friends recommend as the best around. We eat under a large poster showing the growth of Medina from the desert crossroads into the modern shrine. "Excuse me," I say, "but is it dangerous to be eating in a Palestinian restaurant?" I am assured that the proprietors, like most of their co-religionists in the Old City, are Israeli citizens and that they would not think of committing antisocial acts. I am puzzled to find this suggested suspension of human nature, and not gratified when, several weeks later, I find my friends' opinions proved too sanguine.

I am invited to Sabbath lunch in South Jerusalem, in a house one block from one of the latest bus bombings. My hosts are the Horensteins, close friends from Newton, Mass. I get out of the cab, and they greet me warmly. There is a group standing outside the front door, among them a nice-looking, obviously Christian gent, around my age. How like the Horensteins, I think, to extend their hospitality, to share their Jewish home with a non-Jewish friend.

The ringer is, of course, not him, but me. He is Michael Oren, the Horensteins' cousin, author of the piece on Wingate and, incidentally, of "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East." He is a scholar and saw the eponymous war (1967), and several others, as a paratrooper in the IDF. With him is his son, Yoram, an 18-year-old on half-day leave from his unit, an ultra-elite helicopter rescue squad in the IDF. The young man leaves, and Michael says, "When he came home last night, he was short one of his uniform shirts, so I lent him one of mine." This offhanded statement is the greatest expression of parental pride I have ever heard.

I am overcome by a sense of grief. We sit there, at the ritual meal, talking about Jerusalem, about the war — Michael's sister-in-law was killed in one of the recent bombings — about being Jewish.

To me, a Diaspora Jew, the question is constant, insistent and poignant while in Israel. At this meal it is more than poignant, it is painful. How, I wonder, can I not be here; and how is it possible that I did not come here (as did Michael Oren) in my youth, and "grow up with the country," instead of wasting my time in show business? I am full of grief, as at a middle-aged meeting with the girl I did not marry.

Now, this blunt trauma of nostalgia is a dead giveaway, signaling not an inability to relive the past, but to face the present. The present, to me, consists in this: that I am an aging Diaspora Jew on a junket, and that my cheap feelings of personal loss could better be expressed as respect and homage.

Israel is at war and has been at war since its inception. Much contemporary opinion in the West is antisemitic. Before my trip, I was strolling through Newton. There, before me, was a broken-down Volvo of old, the vehicle of my brethren, the congenitally liberal. It was festooned, as are its kind, with every sort of correct exhortation: "Save James Bay," "Honor Diversity" and so on. A most interesting bumper sticker read: "Israel Out of the Settlements." Now this is a legitimate expression of free speech. Israel has been involved, as we know, in a rather protracted real estate dispute with several hundred million of its neighbors. This legitimate political expression, however, had all its "S"s transformed into dollar signs. Here we have, one would have supposed, a civilized person (one would assume that one could reason with the owner of a Volvo) sporting a slogan which could best be translated as "Hook-nosed Jews Die." My very airplane book, my refuge on the endless flight to Israel, is Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears," in which I find the major plot point, the misplacement, by Israel, of an atom bomb. As per Mr. Clancy, in this otherwise ripping yarn, the world is going to end because these lazy or distracted Mockies have committed a blunder no civilized folk would make.

It is — I cannot say "refreshing" — a relief to trade a low-level umbrage at anti-Israeli tripe for the reality of a country at war. Israel, at war, looks very much like Israel at peace. Life, as the phrase has it, goes on. Six thousand people have bought tickets to the opening night of the Jerusalem Film Festival. Nine thousand show up and are seated. We are in The Sultan's Pool, a natural open-air amphitheater, just under the walls of the Old City. Lia Van Leer, the festival's founder and complete enchilada, asks me to accompany her to the podium to open the ball officially. I do so, in English, and add "Shalom, chaverim" ("Hello, companions"), thus, exhausting my conversational Hebrew. And we watch Pedro Almodóvar's "Talk to Her," with 9,000 mainly young Israelis. They laugh at the film, cordially boo the mayor and, during the speeches afterward, smoke cigarettes, sitting under the open sky. Such beautiful young people. Even the old people here look young to me. But, then, I am in love.

I tour the sites of bombings on the Jaffa Road, accompanying Mayor Ehud Olmert. The tour ends at the house of Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel School, the Jewish state's first school of art. Jimmy and Micah Lewensohn, his great-nephews, are my hosts. It is crammed with workbooks, plaques, sculptures, paintings, ceramics, weavings. Schatz, once court sculptor to the King of Bulgaria, had an unfortunate marital experience, around 1904, and it drove him back to his Judaism. Theodor Herzl enlisted him as the "First Artist of the Yishuv" (the pre-statehood settlement). Schatz came out to create a new Jewish art. Micah tells me that Shatz's wife, once a lover of Gorky, ended up screwing half the men in the Yishuv. It was, he said, like the Wild West. They went up to the Galilee on retreat, got whacked out on the native weeds, and it was one big orgy. These were disaffected youth, he said; they were, in effect, hippies, the early Zionists. Schatz dressed in a white djellaba, kept a pet peacock and held court in the Galilee. Herzl comes up to see him, there he is: the peacock, half-naked girls, Shabbos dinner and somebody's playing the flute. "And you know," Micah says, "the flute is prohibited on Shabbos."

So I am nostalgic for the days of '48, and Schatz's great-nephew is nostalgic for the 1910 Wild West, as he puts it, of the Galilee. "He was insane," Micah lovingly says of his great-uncle. "Here is the burial plaque he designed for Ben Yehuda. You will see he dated it 'In the Year Seven.'" He shrugs. Ben Yehuda died in '24, and Schatz reinvented the calendar to reflect "seven years since the Balfour Declaration."

In my study, in the U.S., are two World War I posters. The images are identical, but the text of each is in a different language. They show a gallant squad of British soldiers in khaki, charging off. In the foreground, another soldier uses his bayonet to free a bound man. This man is a heavily bearded, tubercular, bowed endomorph in shirt sleeves. He has a hooked nose, essentially, a cartoon tailor of 1917. He gazes at the soldiers, whose ranks he will now join, and says, "You have cut my bonds and set me free. Now let me set others free." The superscription says, in the one poster in English, and in the other in Yiddish: "Jews the World Over Love Liberty, Have Fought, And Will Fight for It." And, below the pictured scene: "Britain Expects Every Son of Israel To Do His Duty — Enlist with the Infantry Reinforcements." Well, it is a various world.

Assimilated Western Jews say, "I don't like this Sharon," as if to refer to the prime minister simply as "Sharon" were to over-commit themselves. They are like the office assistant raised to executive status who immediately forgets how to use the fax machine. "This Sharon" indeed. Well, there are all sorts of Jews. One dichotomy is between the Real and the Imaginary. Imaginary Jews are the delight of the world. They include Anne Frank, Janusz Korczak, the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and the movie stars in "Exodus." These Jews delight the world in their willingness to die heroically as a form of entertainment. The plight of actual Jews, however, has traditionally been more problematic, and paradoxically, those same folk who weep at "Sophie's Choice," sniff at the State of Israel.

Here, in Israel, are actual Jews, fighting for their country, against both terror and misthought public opinion, as well as disgracefully biased and, indeed, fraudulent reporting. Here are people courageously going about their lives, in that which, sad to say, were it not a Jewish state, would, in its steadfastness, in its reserve, in its courage, rightly be the pride of the Western world. This Western world is, I think, deeply confused between the real and the imaginary. All of us moviegoers, who awarded ourselves the mantle of humanity for our tears at "The Diary of Anne Frank" — we owe a debt to the Jews. We do not owe this debt out of any "Unwritten Ordinance of Humanitarianism" but from a personal accountability. Having eaten the dessert, cheap sentiment, it is time to eat the broccoli. If you love the Jews as victims, but detest our right to statehood, might you not ask yourself "why?" That is your debt to the Jews. Here is your debt to the Jewish state. Had Israel not in 1981 bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, some scant weeks away from production of nuclear bomb material, all New York (God forbid) might have been Ground Zero.

I had two Tom Clancy books to while away the eons on the plane. One, as I say, was "The Sum of All Fears," which I discarded on the trip out. Alone, in my Jerusalem hotel room, I turn to my second Clancy novel, "The Bear and the Dragon." A subplot deals with the Chinese custom (reported by Clancy) of female infanticide. An American operative falls in love with a Chinese young woman and is informed of this crime and is, rightfully, horrified, as is Clancy. How can these little children be murdered? He writes, "If it were the Jews, the world would be Up in Arms." What can he mean? As the world was in 1941, when they rushed to the defense of 6 million innocents? Or as the world is today, in its staunch support of Israel's right to existence, and in opposition to the murder of its children? What can Clancy mean? Is there no beach novel to rest my overburdened sensibilities? Where do I belong? What will bring peace to the Middle East? Why has the Western press embraced antisemitism as the new black? Well, Jerusalem has been notorious, since antiquity, for inculcating in the visitor a sense not only of the immediacy but of the solubility of the large questions. I recommend it.
post #2 of 9
Thanks for posting Jack very interesting.
post #3 of 9
That's a longer article than I tend to read on the boards (especially here in politics), but that was an interesting read. Tip 'o the hat, SJR.
post #4 of 9
Why has the Western press embraced antisemitism as the new black?
What the fuck kinda bullshit is this guy talking?
post #5 of 9


This is a good article . Even im in Jerusalem last year.
I think nothing other then war is going in Israel.And Israel government is reacting in a very bad way going extremely violent again Palestinian protesters.
post #6 of 9
Originally Posted by David Mamet View Post
Here, in Israel, are actual Jews, fighting for their country, against both terror and misthought public opinion, as well as disgracefully biased and, indeed, fraudulent reporting.

The argument is not furthered by leaning on tired stereotypes. Using Anti-Zionism interchangably with Anti-Semitism is lazy and dangerous.

In American newspapers 'Israeli sources [are] quoted first and far more frequently than Palestinian ones.' On the television, '[. . .] in 2004 not a single network even once reported the kind of full, two-sided cumulative report one would expect: the number of people killed among both populations since the intifada had begun.' The Associated Press, the world's oldest and largest news organization, disproportionately reports the rates of Israeli death at twice the rate of Palestinian deaths (when 7.6 times more Palestinians were killed, in 2004), and the rates of Israeli children's deaths at the 7.5 the rate of Palestinian children's deaths (when 22 times more Palestinian children were killed in the same time frame) This media distortion, in Israel's largest foreign aid contributor, creates extensive cover for the more indefensible Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories.

But let's tar the West by citing Tom Fucking Clancy. America's involvement with Israel should not be obfuscated by blanket charges of 'antisemitism.' Foreign policy should not be dictated on a guilt trip. Argue the facts and the rationale, but please spare me the sanctimonious horseshit. There are plenty of 'real Jews' who are against the state of Israel. If this were Sarah Palin lamenting the Imaginary Americans who stand against the 'Real Americans' who stand against American global hegemony, no one on this board would take the rant seriously at all (except maybe Sniake). But because David Mamet makes okay movies, he is qualified to lecture us on antisemitism and what it means to be a 'actual Jew.' Fuck that. I'm sorry Jews were victimized - so was my family, my people, my country. Admitting this does not necessitate asking 'why' I don't support Israeli statehood. There is a very distinct, and very small, minority, consisting largely of the casual xenophobes and racists that make up ignorant society, that says Israel should not exist.

The real question is 'why' any concern for an equitable arrangement in Israel and the Occupied Territories makes me an antisemite.
post #7 of 9
I don't see the anti-Jew bias. Mamet is masturbating his guilt.
post #8 of 9
Originally Posted by Graynadian View Post
I don't see the anti-Jew bias. Mamet is masturbating his guilt.
This is the perfect title to Zhukov's post -- kudos to you both.
post #9 of 9
Also, Clancy's point in "Sum of All Fears" is that nuclear weapons in the field run the risk (as any weapon does) of being misplaced, stolen etc. To say that Clancy is condemning the entire state of Israel and the Jewish race is hyperbole times 1,000
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