“Can you imagine a journalist for a liberal newspaper referring in neutral, even vaguely congratulatory terms to an artist’s “provocatively anti-gay rhetoric,” or “provocatively anti-black rhetoric,” or “provocatively anti-Arab rhetoric”?”
“Well, have a look at John Lewis’s profile of Gilad Atzmon for the Guardian, in which we read about the saxophonist’s “provocatively anti-Jewish rhetoric,” his “firebrand political outbursts,” his “furious attacks on Israel,” his “blunt anti-Zionism.” Sounds like laudable stuff, a challenge to the status quo, hooray!”
Steve Cohen died on the conclusion of Shabbos Zachor – the sabbath before the festival of Purim. This literally means the sabbath when we remember. We remember the terrible deeds of the Amalekites against the Israelites in the desert just after leaving the bondage of Egypt. The Amalekites picked upon the vulnerable, the weak and the stragglers. Purim celebrates the confounding of the evil plans of Haman, a Persian courtier and a descendant of Amalek, some thousand years after the Exodus, who fails in his plans to wipe out the Jews of the Persian Empire and ends up hanging from the gallows he had planned for the Jews. Amalek stands for the worst of the oppressors of the Jews – Agag, Haman, Hitler and Ahmadinijad. Famously just before Julius Streicher dropped to his death on the gallows of Nuremburg he screamed Purim Fest 1946.
Steve was a fighter against antisemitism and all oppression. He was a universalist who loved his Jewishness but was not a Jewish political particularist. He wouldn’t have liked what I’ve just written. He would have found the link fantastical and the message ethno-centric and religious. He may have thought it funny. I should think that some of the Purim story and its account of the bloody revenge exacted by the Jews on their adversaries would have troubled him, just as would the religious injunction to blot out Amalek. Steve fought antisemitism not as a Jewish nationalist and he didn’t draw zionistic or millinerial conclusions from it. Steve was a pure universalist.
And here is the great paradox. For religious messianic zionist nut jobs such as myself he was the icon of all icons in the struggle against left antisemitism. He was the prototype, the proto – Engagenik because he called the antisemitism on the left. He spoke out when the ranks of the JSG remained silent, he published when Pluto Press wouldn’t and he did so from an unimpeachable universalist position. He was like a laboratory which allowed the issue to be analysed under the most sanitised of conditions and he found beyond dispute the bacillus of left antisemitism. But of course it was disputed and he was villified and his motives were impuned and that’s why ultimately I think his universalism was wrong because it places too much faith in the power of human agency but I loved him for his purity of purpose and his nobility of his commitment.
Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine loved the secular zionist settlers of the Yishuv because, despite their desecration of the sabbath, their consumption of non-kosher animals, their sexual libertarianism and their avowed atheism, they were doing the work of God. Steve was doing the work of God – he was carrying a very important message. That’s funny you don’t look like a Malach. Sorry Steve.
Malach means angel or messenger. Malachi means my messenger. Its also the name of one of the 12 minor prophets.
Malachi Wald was the name given by Michael Elkins to the leader of DIN in Forged in Fury.
(Chair of UJS in 1985, Formerly known as “The Commander”. And other names too.)
PS Engage still has my copy of That’s Funny – can I have it back now!