Triangulating Nigel Kennedy

A bit of an update on Israel-boycotting violinist Nigel Kennedy. These days he plays with one of Gilad Atzmon’s musical associates Yaron Stavi and has earned himself the support of Paul Eisen*. So when Robert Wyatt mentions Stavi and Kennedy approvingly in the Morning Star directly after a reference to ‘zionazis’, it’s not so much surprising as shameful.

Because it suits Paul Eisen’s politics to cheer for holocaust denial**. Because Gilad Atzmon denies the Holocaust even while nodding along with  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Because Wyatt’s ‘zionazi’ isn’t criticism, it’s just a good way to hurt a bunch of people who lost loved ones, homes, futures to the Nazis. Because Yaron Stavi is chummy with all of them. And because the Morning Star hasn’t resembled a genuine communist paper for years.

How is any of this pro-Palestine? Palestine supporters who think that picking on Jews is activism – they always damage their cause. They always end up sending a message that Jews and Israelis should be scared and defensive. Their work is a mockery.

HT Jim

*http://pauleisen.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/for-your-enjoyment-and-amazement.html
**http://pauleisen.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/how-i-became-holocaust-denier-by-paul.html

Perspectives

I wasn’t taking notice of much in 1987 when Paul Simon, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and others brought the Graceland Tour to London’s Royal Albert Hall. Joel Berlinger’s new documentary ‘Paul Simon – Under African Skies’ and the revival of Graceland in Hyde Park this month has been an occasion to revisit the cultural boycott of South Africa which intensified towards the end of the apartheid era.

I haven’t seen the film yet but Women Are From Mars, Raymond Soltysek, and Erik Lundegaard have written well about the ethical dilemmas. The joy, release and political impact of the music comes through strongly.

~~~

On the Today Programme (BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 17th July 2012, 08:53, which UK residents can listen to for the coming week) Ekow Eshun and Diran Adebayo discuss the term ‘choc ice’. Ekow Eshun takes the view that the term dates from a time when black people who made it to prominent positions or broadened their interests were often regarded with suspicion by others. He argues that to give ‘choc ice’ any currency – either as insult or as a social category – can only normalise the old narrow views of black people. He appeals for political responsibility.

This reminded me of the debates between those Israel supporters who conspicuously identify as Zionists in response to Israel eliminationists, and those others who feel that Zionism should be thought of as a historical movement whose purpose ended with the establishment of Israel, and that to give ‘Zionism’ any currency can only normalise Israel eliminationism. So, language matters. The difference is that Israel eliminationists have a big stake in getting the term ‘Zionist’ into common parlance whereas I think ‘choc ice’ is (as Diran Adebayo observed before being interrupted and misunderstood by Sarah Montague) a word bandied around by people who feel they’ve been denied their entitlement to ethnic or race loyalty – more like when ‘self-hating Jew’ is used as an insult.

 

100 years of world cuisine

“Ten casualties. Ten million casualties. Our understanding of conflicts is often nothing more than a handful of digits, the more precise, the less meaningful. The anchor’s tone remains the same when talking about major wars or isolated outbursts of violence. The horror lays hidden beneath the rigidity of numbers. Figures give us knowledge, not meaning. “

For individuals under attack, hierarchies of suffering are callous in the extreme – a death is a death, a mutilation is a mutilation. But what shapes the decisions and priorities of far-away activists and advocates?

100 Years of World Cuisine is data art visualising 38 million deaths in 25 conflicts from 1915 to the present.

visualisation of death toll of C20 conflicts

That’s a little less than a quarter of the total.

(Once on the page click on the image until it doesn’t get any bigger.)

Political music festival featuring antisemite Gilad Atzmon sponsored by the Art’s Council, The Co-Operative and National Lottery Fund.

Raise Your Banners is a “festival of political song” held annually in Bradford and is sponsored by the Art’s Council, The Co-Operative and National Lottery Fund. It was started 16 years ago in celebration of the great Wobblie (IWW) union organiser and songster Joe Hill. However this year it’s featuring Gilad Atzmon. Maybe the organisers don’t know about Atzmon’s politics but seeing that they link to his website, maybe they do. As it’s a festival of poliitical music they can’t use the old argument that they’re hosting Atzmon for his music and not his politics.

You may have liked to have gone to see Peggy Seeger perform but unfortunately it’s sold out. Still you can always go to the workshop “Songs to Counter the Zionist Bullies”.

Noam Edry: Goldsmiths made me a fundamentalist

“Goldsmiths Made Me a Fundamentalist” – Noam Edry

On Thursday 14 July you are all invited to the opening of my show “Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life”, a mini solo-show at the rear of the Baths Studios of Goldsmiths College as part of the MFA Fine Art Degree Show. It comprises of painting, sculpture, video and live performances all dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict from my own Israeli point of view. Call it a Zionist show, call it what you like. If anyone would have told me two years ago, when I came to London to start my MA in Fine Art, that I would be making a show about the conflict, I would have laughed straight away. I had always thought of myself as a-political. I never thought I had an opinion about politics, right, wrong, I only knew one thing: that I didn’t know. That things were not as simple or clear-cut as a black and white painting and that there were so many other issues I could address as an artist.

But then on my first day at Goldsmiths I was confronted by propaganda posters on the student union walls calling my country an “apartheid state”. It was the first time I had heard of it. Apartheid. How? In what way? I went to art school in Jerusalem with fellow Arab artists. We built our exhibitions together side by side, helping each other. I served in the Israeli army with Arabs and ate the same oily army food with them, and consoled myself with the same Arabic coffee that we brewed together in a small makeshift pot. My own army commander was Druze. All of a sudden I felt threatened and unwelcome here in Britain. I grew up in London from the age of five until I was seventeen but this was a very different London than the one I remembered so fondly.

In the first year at Goldsmiths I lay low, I tried fitting in, I refused to make work about my Israeli identity or anything that had to do with it. But it was simply not good enough. Because I was constantly confronted with questions, accusations, labels. It would happen on the way back from a party or over a casual cup of coffee. I saw more posters and protests and boycotts slandering my home, the place that made me who I am, a place that was barely recognisable in those posters. I saw the crass misrepresentation of my region and its de-legitimisation on a daily basis and I felt powerless. I did not have the words, I did not have the flashy slogans and the fashionable labels.

When I attended a meeting of the Palestine Twinning Campaign at Goldsmiths I felt like it was 1939 all over again. I was expecting a real dialogue but instead they were calling for academic boycotts of Israel, they were rallying young students who were desperate to be passionate about something to silence people like me; to silence artists and intellectuals who believe in human beings and mutual tolerance, who are the real hope for peace and for a bright future. I was horrified. What next? Would they start burning Israeli books? I promptly made the work “Save the Date” where I dressed up as a giant boycotted Israeli date and pleaded with my fellow artists to eat me. I performed it twice at Goldsmiths but the second performance was boycotted by the students. What utter absurdity, I thought: to boycott a performance about boycotting!

Documentation of the performance “Save the Date” will be screened at my upcoming show opening this Thursday. Also on show will be “Coffee Stand”, a work that challenges the demonising of Israel on UK campuses. The stand will be situated at the entrance to my show and manned by Israeli and Jewish volunteers, who will serve Arabic-Israeli coffee to members of the public. They will wear T-shirts designed and hand-printed by me with the text: “I come from the most hated place on earth” and on the back: “(second to Iran)”. Those who wish to take part by wearing a t-shirt at the show will be given one for keeps. You are all welcome to come and see it. There will also be a holistic therapist ready to rehabilitate your left side. Those who have tried it have felt the change.

I hope to generate real dialogue here, a conversation over a friendly cup of coffee, to show the faces of those directly affected by the hate-campaign, the demonization and the de-humanisation. Because, after all, what does it mean to hate a country? What is a country if not its people? What does it mean to hate a person simply because of the place where he/she was born? What good does it do?

I believe in human beings. I believe that each and every one of us seeks happiness.  If people want to be passionate about a cause they should know what it is they are rallying for. And make sure they are not trampling on someone else in the process. Passion is good when it is channelled in positive ways. When tolerance and well-being is the real goal and not the adrenaline rush of a good fight.

There is an Israeli voice in Goldsmiths. There is a Jewish voice in Goldsmiths. It is loud and it is here and it will not be silenced.

Noam Edry

 “Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life” opens Thursday 14 July 6-9pm at the Goldsmiths MFA Degree Show

 Baths Building, Laurie Grove, New Cross, SE14 6NW

Opening times: Friday 15 – Monday 19 July 10am-7pm, Sunday 18 July 10 am – 4pm

 The Coffee Stand opens for the duration of the Private View, Thursday 14 July 6-9pm

And then every day Friday15-Monday 19 from 12noon – 3pm

 Hope to see you all there!

China unboycotted

A couple of times, usually just before it’s just about to end, BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, has had a piece about a controversial performance. There was one on the discovery that Beyonce, Nellie Furtado, Usher and Mariah Carey all sang for the Ghaddaffis in recent years.

The latest was about Bob Dylan’s coming Chinese show. Like everybody else who tours there, he submitted to state censorship to play in China and is obliged to keep to a “strictly agreed playlist”. Bjork was nodded through the censors but went on to dedicate her song “Declare Independence” to Tibet on the day – so perhaps Bob Dylan will use the stage to draw attention to the imprisonment of Ai WeiWei and other Chinese dissenters after all.

Listen to the BBC piece for the coming week (scroll to 08:49).

HT: Matt.

When I say Israelis I don’t mean Jews; and when I say Jews I mean Israelis.

Mark Gardner over at the CST blog writes about the recent exchange of views on Caryl Churchill’s antisemitic play “Seven Jewish Children”. The original article is here.

From Kosher Conspiracy to Seven Jewish Children

By Mark Gardner.

Contemplation of the high (or low) points of contemporary British antisemitic discourse in recent years brings four episodes to mind, all of which are emblematic of the collapse in left-liberal elite sensitivities to antisemitism:

1.   January 2002. The New Statesman cover reading “A Kosher Conspiracy?” and showing a golden Star of David piercing a supine Union Jack. This has been widely quoted (by CST and others) as evidence that the left intelligentsia no longer recognised or cared about modern day antisemitism, even when it hit them in the face. The New Statesman belatedly – sort of – apologised.

2.   May 2003. The assertion by (then) ‘Father of the House’, Tam Dalyell MP, that “a cabal of Jewish advisors” surounded Prime Minister Tony Blair. Dalyell was criticised for this, but the criticism was by no means universal and he and his supporters denied that the outburst was antisemitic.

3. January 2009. The explosion of Israel equals Nazi Germany comparisons at the time of the Gaza conflict. For many Jews and others, this confirmed that the demonisation of Israel had become both limitless and detached from reality. The fear was concretised by the unprecedented outbursts of antisemitic race hate crimes at this time.

4. February 2009. The first performance of Seven Jewish Children, by esteemed playwright Caryl Churchill and carried on the Guardian website.

(Of course, there are hundreds of other examples that one can alight upon, but these stick in the forefront of my mind.)

Reflecting upon these four events, I cannot recall or see where either the New Satesman or Tam Dalyell suffered any serious reputational damage within their own circles: and this is surely not unconnected to the enthusiastic and urgent reception subsequently afforded to Walt and Mearsheimer’s book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2006). Basically, so long as you stuck to Israel, pro-Israel or Zionist, rather than Jew, you were (and remain) bang on trend.

The malaise and the conceit burrrowed so deep, that the Guardian could run aneditorial (24 July 2008) stating

When a presumptive US presidential candidate arrives in Jerusalem, he willingly dons a jacket designed by Israeli tailors.

Similarly, the profusion of Israel equals Nazi Germany comparisons never really impacted upon those who had made the equation, nor upon those who silently stood by. Besides, similar things had been said with depressing regularity by politicians and journalists since at least 2002, and none of them had really suffered for it either.

When Conservative Party-linked East European politicians try to relativise the Holocaust by comparing it to the suffering of their non-Jewish populations under Communism, then of course the intelligentsia hits top gear…but properly and consistently criticise people here in Britain for comparing Israeli Jews with Nazis, no way! Besides, this is Israel that’s being condemned and that’s not the same as Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Seven Jewish Children, however, does not fit these patterns. It is not about a Jewish conspiracy that can be entirely kosherised so long as you remember to call it a pro-Israeli conspiracy. Neither is it about granting permission to relatavise the Holocaust, so long as you do it with Israel as the target. Instead, Caryl Churchill completes the circle, by writing a play about Israel and Israelis that is entirely referenced to Jews, Jewish history and Jewish emotions.

There is at least a certain honesty in this. The play, far more than most anti-Israel propaganda, at least acknowledges (both implicitly and explicitly) the centrality of Jews, Jewish history and Jewish emotions to everything concerning Israel. Nevertheless, the antisemitic resonance of the play (primarily the extent and meaning of its concentration upon the blood of the children who are the Jews’ victims) has seen it become a celebrated fault-line in the superheated arguments regarding what is and is not antisemitic in regard to Israel.

The fault-line has been spewing once more this week, in the Guardian letters page with Caryl Churchill taking exception to Jonathan Freedland’s citation (in the Guardian) of Anthony Julius’s deconstruction of the play. (Extracted from Julius’s brilliant analysis of British literary antisemitism, contained in his book, Trials of the Diaspora. Of course, the book itself has become another fault-line in the battle.)

Freedland’s excellent piece (analysed here on CST Blog) was published in the Guardian on 3 March. Churchill replied in the letters page the following day, saying (in part)

Jonathan Freedland (G2, March 3) denies that criticism of Israel is often wrongly called antisemitism. His point isn’t helped by quoting Anthony Julius’s allegation that my play Seven Jewish Children “tap[s] into the ‘blood libel’”. The line he is referring to is “tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies?” It refers to babies killed in the attack on Gaza in 2009 and shown on TV. When people hear of babies killed in a war, they don’t usually think of medieval accusations of Jews consuming Christian children’s blood, but of babies killed in a war…

This prompted Julius to reply (in part)

…In this play, Jews confess to lying to their own children and killing Palestinian children. They also confess to something close to a project of genocide. And they freely acknowledge the source of their misanthropy to be Judaism itself.

None of this seems to bother Churchill – nor, indeed, the Guardian. As she correctly notes, the play is available on your website.

Next, Churchill replied to Julius

…What he doesn’t seem to realise is that these lines are not spoken as he suggests by “Jews” in general but by individual Israelis, desperate to protect their own child, during an attack of disproportionate violence on Gaza…It should be possible to pillory the defensive self-righteousness and racism of some – not all – Israelis without being called antisemitic.

For now (at any rate) the Guardian Letters page appears to have called time on its hosting of this particular debate. The arguments will, of course, continue, but there are two things that need saying right now.

Firstly, Normblog has this to say on Churchill’s “individual Israelis” argument

Her play wasn’t anti-Semitic because it featured individuals, rather than Jews as a category…

…And this is a playwright, with some knowledge of cultural matters! One is bound to wonder why anyone ever had a worry about Shylock in The Merchant of Venice…

Secondly, there is the point that my colleague Dave Rich and I made in our Comment is Free article, at the time of the Guardian’s own production of Seven Jewish Children

It is Jewish thought and behaviour that links the play together, not Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews are mentioned in the title and in the text itself. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now, we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.

The play is only eight minutes long. We wrote the above almost two years ago. One does not need to be an anti-racist theoretician, a leading playwright, nor a literary critic to get the absurdity of saying

When I say Israelis I don’t mean Jews; and when I say Jews I mean Israelis

Then again, isn’t that the same absurdity that lay, back in the day, behind the New Statesman and Tam Dalyell getting let off the anti-racist hook?

Seven individual Jewish children

“In the latest round of this saga Caryl Churchill has a new self-justifying plea“,  Norm comments.

Sarah Annes Brown’s lecture notes on Seven Jewish Children

I found the fierce discussions which Seven Jewish Children inspired when it was first produced extremely interesting, and suggested giving a seminar on the play as part of a postgraduate course on modern and postmodern literature. I did wonder whether that was wise, given its controversial subject matter, but in practice the classes seemed to go smoothly, without causing offence, and we’’ve had some very good discussions, particularly focusing on the distribution of lines in the play. Engage has offered to post a link to my lecture notes on the play. I’’ve never given the lecture in its full form, but have used the material here to shape the discussion. Some Engage regulars get a mention and you can view the PDF HERE.

Sarah Annes Brown, Professor of English Literature, Anglia Ruskin University.

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