Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community – David Hirsh

David Hirsh

Is the Merchant of Venice an antisemitic play or is it a play which intimately depicts the anatomy of persecution, exclusion and bullying?

A classic speaks differently to each individual and in each new context.  On Monday I saw The Merchant of Venice performed by Habima, the Israeli National Theatre.  The venue was the replica of Shakespeare’s wooden, roofless, Globe Theatre.  It was a hot London night and the noise of flying machines occasionally confronted our fantasies of authenticity, if the fact that the performance was in Hebrew didn’t.

But first more context.  London is, after having been the hub of the British Empire, now a multicultural world city.  The Globe is hosting companies from all over the world to perform Shakespeare in their own languages; Shakespeare from Pakistan, South Africa, Georgia, Palestine, Turkey, China and everywhere else.

Since some rather nasty medieval stuff, London and Jews have got on fairly well.  London stood firm against Hitler, and the local Blackshirts too; it didn’t mind much whether Jews stayed separate or whether they immersed themselves in its vibrancy; it didn’t feel threatened, it didn’t worry, it just let Jews live engaged lives.  But London’s very post-nationalism, and its post-colonialism, has functioned as the medium for a rather odd new kind of intolerance.

Sometimes, we define our own identities in relation to some ‘other’.  Early Christianity defined itself in relation to the Jews who refused to accept its gospel, and it portrayed them as Christ-killers.  If people wanted to embrace modernity, then they sometimes constructed themselves as being different from the traditional Jew with his beard and coat, standing against progress.  Yet if they were afraid of the new then they could define themselves against the modernist Jew.  Nineteenth Century nationalists often defined the Jew as the foreigner.  Twentieth Century totalitarianisms, which had universal ambition, found their ‘other’ in the cosmopolitan Jew.

These processes created an invented image of ‘The Jew’ and the antisemites portrayed themselves as victims of ‘The Jew’.  Antisemitism has only ever portrayed itself as defensive.

Some people who love London’s relaxed, diverse, antiracism look for an ‘other’ against which to define themselves.  They find Israel.  They make it symbolise everything against which they define themselves: ethnic nationalism, racism, apartheid, colonialism.  London’s shameful past, not to mention in some ways its present, is cast out and thrust upon Israel.  London was within a few thousand votes last month of re-electing a mayor, Ken Livingstone, who embraced this kind of scapegoating.  [For more on post-national Europe's use of Israel as its nationalist 'other', see Robert Fine.]

We can tell that this hostility to Israel is as artificially constructed as any antisemitism by looking at the list of theatre groups against which the enlightened ones organized no boycott.  Antizionists have created a whole new ‘-ism’, a worldview, around their campaign against Israel.  Within it, a caricature of Israel is endowed with huge symbolic significance which relates only here and there to the actual state, to the complex conflict and to the diversity of existing Israelis.  If the Palestinians stand, in the antizionist imagination, as symbolic of all the victims of ‘the west’ or ‘imperialism’ then Israel is thrust into the centre of the world as being symbolic of oppression everywhere.  Like antisemitism, antizionism imagines Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.

One of the sources of energy for this special focus on Israel comes from Jewish antizionists.  For them, as for many other Jews, Israel is of special importance.  For them, Israel’s human rights abuses, real, exaggerated or imagined, are sources of particular pain, sometimes even shame.  Some of them take their private preoccupation with Israel and try to export it into the cultural and political sphere in general, and into non-Jewish civil society spaces where a special focus on the evils of Israel takes on a new symbolic power.  But the ‘as a Jew’ antizionists are so centred on Israel that they often fail to understand the significance of the symbolism which they so confidently implant into the antiracist spaces of old London.

When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me.  The play tells two stories which relate to each other.  One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated.  The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends.  Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance.

Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clichéd gags, to see if he can make us laugh.  It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy.  And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds.  And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate.  He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us.  He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something.

Now, the audience at this particular performance was a strange one in any case.  It felt to me like London’s Jewish community out to demonstrate its solidarity with Israel and to protect the Israeli cousins from the vulgarities which their city was about to offer.  The audience was uneasy because it did not know in advance what form the disruption was going to take.    In the end, the atmosphere was a rather positive and happy one, like an easy home win at football against an away team which had threatened a humiliating victory.  Solidarity with Israel meant something different to each person.  One man ostentatiously showed off a silky Israeli flag tie.  Others were Hebrew speakers, taking the rare opportunity in London to see a play in their own language.  Some in the audience would have been profoundly uncomfortable with Israeli government policies but keen to show their oneness with those parts of their families which had been expelled from Europe two or three generations ago and who were now living in a few small cities on the Eastern Mediterranean.

The audience may not have been expert either in Shakespeare or in antisemitism.  Most people think that the Merchant of Venice is an antisemitic play.  Shylock is thought to be an antisemitic stereotype, created by Shakespeare for audiences to hate.  Are we supposed to enjoy the victory of the antisemites and the humiliation of the Jew?  But what was this audience thinking?  If it is simply an antisemitic play, why would we be watching it, why is the Israeli National Theatre performing it?  And if it is a comedy, why aren’t the jokes funny, and why does Shakespeare offer us a puerile game show rather than some of his usual genius?

I don’t think this audience really cared much.  It was there to face down those who said that Israeli actors should be excluded from the global community of culture, while actors from all the other states which had been invited to the Globe were celebrated in a festival of the Olympic city’s multiculturalism.  So, the audience was happy to laugh loudly and to enjoy itself.  We saw on stage how Shylock’s daughter was desperate to escape from the Jewish Ghetto, the darkness and fear of her father’s house, the loneliness of being a Jew.  We saw how she agreed to convert to Christianity because some little antisemitic boy said he loved her, we saw how she stole her father’s money so that her new friends could spend it on drunken nights out.   And we saw Shylock’s despair at the loss and at the betrayal and at the intrusion.  Perhaps his unbearable pain was also fueled by guilt for having failed his daughter since her mother had died.

And then the audience laughed at silly caricatures of Moroccan and Spanish Princes, and at Portia’s haughty and superior rejection of them.  And now, not representations of antisemites but actual antisemites, hiding amongst the audience, unfurl their banners about “Israeli apartheid”, and their Palestinian flags, and they stage a performance of their own.  How embarrassing for Palestinian people, to be represented by those whose sympathy and friendship for them had become hatred of Israel; to be represented by a movement for the silencing of Israeli actors; to be represented by those who show contempt for Jewish Londoners in the audience, who de-humanize them by refusing to refer to them as people but instead simply as ‘Zionists’.  And a ‘Zionist’ does not merit the ordinary civility with which people in a great city normally, without thinking, accord to one another.

The artistic director of the Globe had already predicted that there might be disruption.  There often was, he said, at this unique theatre.  Pigeons flutter onto the stage but we ignore them.  And today, people should not get upset, they should not confront the protestors, they should allow the security guards to do their job.

One protestor shouted: ‘no violence’, as the security guys made to take her away.   They took a few away, the actors didn’t miss a word and the audience, largely Jewish but also English, showed their stiff upper lips and pretended nothing had happened.  Some time later another small group of protestors, who had wanted to exclude Israelis from this festival because of their nationality, stood up and put plasters over their own mouths to dramatize their own victimhood.  Antisemites always pose as victims of the Jews, or of ‘Zionism’ or of the ‘Israel lobby’.  And the claim that Jews try to silence criticism of Israel by mobilizing a dishonest accusation against them is now recognizable as one of the defining tropes of contemporary antisemitism.

Meanwhile, on stage, the antisemitic Christians are positioning themselves as the victims of Shylock.  They have spat on him, stolen from him, corrupted his only daughter, libeled him, persecuted him and excluded him.  Now he’s angry.  He’s a Jew, so he can be bought off, no?  They try to buy him off.  But for Shylock, this is no longer about the money.  It is about the desperate anger of a man whose very identity has been trampled upon throughout his life.  And at that moment, I could sympathise with him more than ever.  I imagined my own revenge against the articulate poseurs who were standing there pretending to have been silenced.  Shylock is a flawed character.  But how much more telling is a play which shows the destruction of a man who is powerless to resist it?  Racism does not only hurt good people, it also hurts flawed and ordinary people and it also has the power to transform good people into angry, vengeful people.  Obviously these truths can be followed around circles of violence in these contexts, from the blood libel, christ-killing and conspiracy theory, to Nazism, to Zionism and into Palestinian nationalism and Islamism.  Only the righteous ones imagine it all comes out in the end into a morality tale of good against evil.

What are they thinking, the protestors?  Do they understand the play at all?  Are they moved by the sensitivity of the portrayal of the anatomy of antisemitic persecution?  Perhaps they are, and they think that Shylock, in our day, is a Palestinian, and Jews are the new Christian antisemites.  One man exclaimed, full of pompous English diction: ‘Hath not a Palestinians eyes?’  He was referring to the wonderful universalistic speech with which Shylock dismantles the racism of his persecutors.  This protestor mobilized the words given by Shakespeare to the Jew, against actually existing Jews.  The experience of antisemitism was totally universalized, as though the play was only about ‘racism in general’ and not at all about antisemitism in particular.  And the point, that a longing for vengeance is destructive and self-destructive, no matter how justified it may feel, was of course, totally missed.

Somebody replied with comedic timing: “Piss off”.  Everybody cheered.  There was an understanding that the boycotters had shot off all their ammunition now, but the target was left untouched.

Or do the protestors think that this is an antisemitic play?  Perhaps they felt that this was the ‘Zionists’ rubbing the history of antisemitism in the faces of London and then by proxy, the Palestinians.  Isn’t that the source of Zionist power today?  Their ability to mobilize Jewish victimhood and their ownership of the Holocaust.  This, again, is an old libel, that the Jews are so clever and so morally lacking, that they are able to benefit from their own persecution.  When will the world forgive the Jews for antisemitism and the Holocaust?

The climax of the play sees Antonio, the smooth-tongued antisemitic merchant who has borrowed money which he now cannot pay back, tied up in the centre of the stage like Christ on the cross.  And the antisemites demand that the Jew displays Christian forgiveness.  But the Jew, who has been driven half mad by antisemitic persecution, does not forgive: he wants his revenge.

Naturally, the antisemites, who have state power in Venice, are never going to allow him his revenge.  Portia, the clever, erudite, plausible, antisemite offers a wordy justification, and before you know it, Antonio is free, and Shylock is trussed up ready for crucifixion.  And the Christians do not forgive either, they show no mercy.  They humiliate Shylock, they take his money, and they force him to convert to Christianity.  He ends up on his knees, bareheaded, without his daughter, without his money, without his livelihood and he says: ‘I am content’.

And what do I see?  I see another Jew, in the 21st Century, preparing a court case in which he too may be humiliated by a clever form of words.  Ronnie Fraser, a member of the University and College Union (UCU), the trade union which represents university workers in Britain, is taking a case to court later this year and he may well end up being portrayed as the wicked, powerful Zionist looking for revenge, in a British courtroom.    Represented by Anthony Julius, he is taking a case to court later this year in which he argues that the campaign which wanted to silence the Habima theatre company is, in effect if not intent, antisemitic, and it has created a situation inside his trade union where antisemitic ways of thinking and antisemitic norms of institutional governance have become ordinary.  This case will be huge and the stakes are high.

The antizionist elite, with all its access to the media and with all its Jewish, political, celebrity and intellectual support, will portray itself as being silenced by Ronnie the ‘Zionist’ and it will ask the court to set aside all the evidence of antisemitism in favour of a smart but ambiguous form of words.

Portia said that Shylock could have his pound of flesh but only if he could extract it without spilling a drop of blood.  The form of words in Fraser v UCU which would humiliate the plaintiff would be that while he is protected from antisemitism by the Equality Act of 2010, hostility to Israel is not antisemitic.

The day after the performance, one of the leading boycotters, Ben White, tweeted a picture of the beautiful Jewish face of Howard Jacobson, an opponent of the exclusion of Israeli actors from London.  White added the text: “If you need another reason to support a boycott of Habima, I present a massive picture of Howard Jacobson’s face”.

Faced with this, it is hardly controversial to insist that ‘criticism of Israel’ can sometimes be antisemitic.  Let’s hope Ronnie’s judge does not take advice from a contemporary Portia.

David Hirsh

Sociology Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London

note: my reading of The Merchant of Venice is largely indebted to David Seymour’s Law and Antisemitism.

27 Responses to “Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community – David Hirsh”

  1. Adam Levick Says:

    Brilliant, David. Stunning. Really, thanks so much for this.

  2. Jonathan Says:

    I was surprised that one one has engaged with the relevance of the play content to the demonstrators – until now. I should have known you would see the irony. Thanks for this.
    I don’t know if Habima deliberately chose to perform the Merchant of Venice in this situation, or if they just happened to have staged it, but either way it was a brilliant choice of play and great publicity for the festival as well as proof that Shakespeare remains relevant.

    • Jonathan Says:

      Just a note to say that I looked on Habima’s website and it appears that they were invited to the festival and requested to produce the Merchant of Venice. So it was the Globe which approached Habima and not vice versa. Under those circumstances for the Globe to boycott Habima would have been a terrible travesty and possibly grounds for legal action.

  3. zkharya Says:

    I think that drawing parallels with Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian dispossession and victimhood is fine, and legitimate. It’s just that, it seems to me, BDSers like Ben White seek a justice, the full, unfettered Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian right of return, unmitigated by mercy i.e. recognition of justice for the Jews concerned, and their right of return. He seeks his Pound of Flesh, as it were.

    For Shakespeare’s audience, the Venetian ghetto was a microcosm of the Jewish exile and captivity generally, their just deserts for rejecting or killing Christ. Compared with the protestors’ ‘non-violent resistance’, Shylock’s is pathetic, and totally dependent on the state dispenser of justice, which will surely deny it him anyway.

    The notion of Jewish desire for ‘revenge’ for their state (or lack of it) is ancient in Christian discourse. Portia’s ‘mercy’ speech is beautiful, and for all its appalling context, valuable in and of itself. But do those BDSers like Ben White recognise any historical Jewish experience of exile or dispossession, which Zionism and the state of Israel sought to reverse, such as Shakespeare assumed? He has studiously avoided doing so publicly, and first wrote against Howard Jacobson when the latter did just that, saying that, if one made an equivalence between a Jewish and a Palestinian diaspora, as Jacobson had done, it would indeed infer some justice in Zionism.

    It’s astonishing how, as a graduate of English literature, he is so ignorant of the European literary discourse about Jews of which Shakespeare was part (though of a piece with his detesting Howard Jacobson’s (indeed) beautiful face).

    Seeking to silence Israeli Jewish actors’ reminding the English of the antisemitism that contributed to the upheaval that made an Israeli Jewish state necessary. What does that mean, exactly? To Ben White, it is part of BDS, whose ultimate goal is the end of Zionism and the dissolution of the Jewish state.

    The dissolution of the Jewish state.

    Do we not see Shylock’s state dissolve before our eyes, Jewish and material, after his half-baked attempt at ‘resistance’? Is he not boycotted, divested and sanctioned to the utmost, until his conversion to Christianity/anti-Zionism? His estate divided and given to those against whom his possession of it constituted (presumably) an injustice, a priori?

    Ben White, Ben White, what are you doing?

    • Lynne T Says:

      As Richard Millett points out in an opinion piece posted on The Commentator, there’s no doubt about what PSC stands for as they have adopted an emblem showing a Palestinian state superimposed over Israel, not just the WB, Gaza and other territories that came under occupation when the Israelis offered land for peace following the 67 war.

  4. David Olesker Says:

    One of your best pieces. I can’t find anything to nit pick at. I’m left with nothing to do! Don’t do this to me again! (8-)

  5. mark gardner Says:

    David, thank you so much.

  6. richardmillett Says:

    I have a feeling that there may have been more neutrals there than you suspect. On my way out a Japanese girl asked me if the protests are a usual occurrence at London theatres. Also, wouldn’t there have probably been a similar “home crowd” audience present for all the other plays, I wonder, except for the upcoming Henry V? Will you be watching Hamlet in Lithuanian this weekend. There is still availability. But, as ever, this was a gripping review of the play and its interaction with the audience. Thanks, David.

  7. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    David thank you very much for your excellent article. Your description of London is wonderful.
    Hope to see you in autumn.

  8. Laurent Szyster Says:

    Nice article.

    I disagree however on one important detail.

    The ‘as a Jew’ antizionists usually don’t “fail to understand the significance of the symbolism which they so confidently implant into the antiracist spaces of old London.”

    Most ‘as a Jew’ antizionists don’t lack the little intelligence required to understand that they are feeding “progressive” antisemitism. But, desperate to reach fame despite their obvious mediocrity, those egotists have no scruples to pander to antisemite prejudices.

    For instance, the fame that Shlomo Sand could not get as an obscure historian of contemporary french movie industry, he got it with “The Invention of the Jewish People”.

    • Lynne T Says:

      If anything, the pro-BDS Jews are interested in nothing much more than appearing to be morally and ethically superior to the majority of Jews do not see a majority Jewish state on some of ancient Judea as an evil colonial project at the expense of an indigenous non-Jewish population.

  9. David Hirsh On The Merchant Of Venice And Habima « Soupy One Says:

    [...] informed cultural analysis on Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice within the context of Habima, and some decidedly non-Shakespearean bigots “When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles [...]

  10. Harvey Says:

    This is so relevant and wonderfully written .
    It should be cross posted far and wide in order to maximise its impact . CIF ?

  11. Quote of the day | The Warped Mirror Says:

    [...] the truly brilliant reflections by David Hirsh on the Habima Theatre’s performance of “The Merchant of Venice” in London. David prefaces his [...]

  12. Hawkeye Says:

    Superb.

  13. Yitzchak Goodman Says:

    The post is first-rate, but you are wrong about the casket-plot material. It isn’t deliberately second-rate. It displays the same powers as Shakespeare’s other comedies, but it is unsettling that Shylock’s creator and his audience don’t really have any sympathy for him. I believe that is the reason for your response. Shakespeare had a knack for creating three-dimensional villains. Iago is also “human.” The play is anti-Semitic in the sense that a play about the movie-cliche sinister Martian is anti-Martian. Shakespeare is not an anti-Semite in the sense that Wagner is, in the sense of wanting to harm the interests of actual Jews. Sorry this comment is a series of pronouncements. Great post.

  14. PG Says:

    You should see the Al Pacino (Shylock)-Lily Rabe (Portia) Merchant of Venice that was performed in New York’s Public Theater’s “Shakespeare in the Park” a few years ago, if you are curious about a version in which Portia’s story is not a simple romantic comedy. Shylock and Portia are natural antagonists due to his inarticulateness in contrast to her facility with words, but they both end unhappily.

  15. Lev Bronstein Says:

    There’s also a really great analysis of this play in Anthony Julius’ book ‘Trials of The Diaspora’ – pp.178 – 192. It’s well worth reading for an understanding of the play within the context of English literary antisemitism.

  16. Colin Stephenson Says:

    HaBimah brought Hebrew to the Globe & following the Globe’s celebration last year marking 400 years since the King James Version it cried out to be heard among those languages in which Shakespeare was preformed this year. Israel; the ancient history, the people, the concept & indeed the state with all its trails & tribulations are part & parcel of the reemergence of Hebrew as a living language. Hebrew, Israel & Judaism; they developed in that order & now the world has to live with all three. The number of comments on that part of the blogosphere related to theatre swelled indicating the complex tangle they make & that the world makes of them.
    On which topic the use of ropes in the trail scene to bind first Antonio the merchant & then Shylock the Jew was a cleaver visual representation of the bond so central to the plot & clearly helped those unable to understand the Hebrew. I hope that those following in Hebrew noted that knot is a pun on Biblical Hebrew for treachery (I Kings 15:27, 16:9 & elsewhere). It retains the meaning in Hebrew of today.
    I seem to know the production already from the many reviews & I look forward to seeing it in Tel Aviv along with my native born Israeli wife, bag check an’ all. It will be to avoid a little more than unwanted banners this time round.

  17. jacob arnon Says:

    David Hirsh’s account of the production of Shakespeare’s play and the reaction from pro-Palestinian Arab demonstrators was masterful. The quote from Ben White was particularly pertinent:

    “The day after the performance, one of the leading boycotters, Ben White, tweeted a picture of the beautiful Jewish face of Howard Jacobson, an opponent of the exclusion of Israeli actors from London. White added the text: “If you need another reason to support a boycott of Habima, I present a massive picture of Howard Jacobson’s face”.”

    We tend to forget that in these “intellectual debates have real consequences in the streets (which some of us would like to forget).

    I was reminded of this when I read a recent post by Jeffrey Tobin on his blog:

    “The notion that there is a clean distinction between street violence and the effort to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and defend itself cannot be sustained. European intellectuals may think they operate on a different level from street thugs. But the logical next step from the hounding of Jews on the editorial pages and in academia is clear. So long as Israel is singled out for unfair treatment and economic and academic boycotts of the Jewish state are treated as “human rights” causes, we should not be surprised that violence against Jews is on the upsurge.”

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/06/04/after-toulouse-more-attacks-on-french-jews-anti-semitism-israel/

    (Read the whole article)

    This is what people like Ben White also remind me of when he unconsciously followed up his “intellectual political” demonstration against Habima, as a stand in for Zionism with an attack on an actual Jewish person (Howard Jacobson’s image.) His stunt also reminded me of a scene in Orwell’s 1984 where the crowd is shown a picture of Einstein’s “Jewish face” and asked to spend some minutes vilifying it.

  18. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Late on the scene: I was also at that performance, and agree utterly with David. We are here in Israel for a celebration, and it does put the likes of Ben White in context, to tour round this vibrant country.

    While here, I met up with a friend who reported that, on the second night, the security people were even more on the ball, and the protestors barely got their mouths open or their banners up before they fund themselves outside the Globe, voiceless: just what they’d like to do to us.

    I did one female protestor claiming that she was being hurt as she was being removed. It was surprising how little was the sympathy she received from the rest of the (non-protesting) audience.

  19. The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew « MIND THE GAP Says:

    [...] you like to read other people’s opinions about this performance? Here’s The Guardian, David Hirsh, BBC News, Evening [...]

  20. R S Davies Says:

    The BDS movement has acquired a legitimacy that is troubling, in light of its demands that Israeli Jews behave differently and are subject to different sets of values than peoples of other nations. The BDS movement and its allies overlook the uncomfortable fact that Zionism is a mirror to the world that Jews have found themselves in for almost two millenia. Nothing that Israel does, no matter how awful, is fundamentally different from the conduct of virtually every other tribal or national entity.
    While the supporters of the BDS movement in UK and elsewhere may believe they are espousing liberal humanitarian values, if one follows Barghouti’s and Khalidi’s proposals to their logical end in the light of current and probable future trends then the BDS movement’s conclusion will be the expulsion and or massacre of Levantine Jews. The fantasy that in some future single state of Palestine that Jews, Muslims and Christians will co-exist in harmony remains a fantasy as there is no impulse on the part of the Palestinian alliance to seek reconciliation for the abuses of Jews over the centuries.
    The exponents of the BDS aims conveniently ignore that while there was no equivalent of the Holocaust across the Islamic world, it does not mean that the intent to oppress and abuse did not exist. The BDS movement ignores that for centuries a predatory apartheid society existed through the Middle East & Maghreb.
    As there has been no equivalency to the rejection in the liberal West of racism and sectarianism in the last two centuries, we have no reason to believe that in the future post-BDS single state Palestine that there will be the creation of a liberal democratic and egalitarian society governed by the rule of law. While the West has acknowledged its past abominations, and to a limited degree attempted to ameliorate the consequences, there is no parallel in the Arab / Muslim world. Despite having been part of a global colonial imperial impulse very bit as oppressive and destructive as the Western imperialist nations, the Arab / Muslim world has adopted the mantle of victimhood and denied its culpability for its actions.
    Their denial of the past prevents them from learning from history and condemns them to repeat it, or at least seek to. The BDS movement aspires to return Palestine to its pre-1948 condition, and in its projections it denies Jews agency as they project a view of Jewish response that conforms to their fantasy. Unfortunately Israeli Jews do have agency and they are unlikely to surrender their position of power, security and assets to the Palestinians. In fact BDS lays the foundation for a re-run of the 1948 war in which the Muslim / Christian alliance is pitted against the Jews. In 1948 the Jews were only partially successful insofar as they survived the war and established the state of Israel, they did not achieve their total war aims. This time around the Jews are infinitely better armed and resourced, and in the civil war that would follow the Palestinians would lose even more heavily than they did in 1948.
    The BDS movement, like other anti-Zionist movements, demands that Jews learn the Gentile lessons of the Holocaust, and thus adhere to behavioral standards higher than any other tribe or nation. It is of course much easier to project one’s sense of guilt upon the victim of one’s violence. The allegations of alleged apartheid in Israel can be compared with the UK’s centuries of refusal to afford the indigenous Welsh people legal equality for their language. Still one hears in Wales, English expressions of resentment and suspicion of the use of the Welsh language by the Welsh people. Yet it has been centuries since the English and Welsh have been at war with each other.
    The grubby Anglo-centric minor middle class anti-semitism of the pre-1970′s has resurfaced in the pious partial activities of the BDS movement and its allies in UK and elsewhere. Their superficial liberalism lends respectability to a movement that is on one hand racist and on the other self-deceptively self-destructive of the very people it promotes. It assigns Jews the permanent role of the “Other” damned for being different and damned for being the same.

    • Lynne T Says:

      Well said. Ironically, according to Martin Gilbert writing in The Atlas of Jewish History, the first purchase of land in Palestine made by a European Jewish benefactor was made for the purpose of resettling Levantine Jews in the 1830s-40s by Moses Montefiore. He did so in the wake of massacres perpetrated against ancient Jewish communities under Ottoman rule in and around Damascus and in Safed. Montefiore did not, at that time, think it appropriate to start settling Ashkenazim in the Holy Land.

  21. Kinks Says:

    ‘The BDS movement and its allies overlook the uncomfortable fact that Zionism is a mirror to the world that Jews have found themselves in for almost two millenia.’

    For two thousand years, the world denied a place in the world for Jews. When, eventually, the Jews did gain a nation-state, so now they are told again there is no place in the world for such an ‘entity’.

    Accused of being ‘eternal wanderers’, the moment they find a home, they, and only they, are told to go back to wandering.

    Once again, Jews are told there is no place in the world for them; and we now know what that means.

  22. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    Personally I have never had any wish to see ‘merchant of Venice’, I know what it’s about and I think I’d find it too upsetting, especially that sort of Christian triumphalism. Don’t know why people want to see it or make productions of it to be honest, that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to me in the least and I find it a bit weird that Jewish people would want to watch it? It was made back in a time when there were no Jews in the UK and people didn’t know any better.

    I just find it weird why loads of people want to watch it, personally I wouldn’t have any interest in stuff like that unless the bad guys were actually shown as bad, rather than like these righteous people who are virtuous and perfect, and isn’t the main antisemite a banker as well! Maybe that makes me uncivilized or something, but can someone explain the attraction as it’s always confused me why people would want to see this play?


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