Mainstream antisemitism

The Prime Minister of Italy:

“Days after Berlusconi told a youth rally an apparent joke about Adolf Hitler, he emerged from his Rome residence on 29 September to regale supporters with a joke about a Jew who charges fellow Jews money to hide in his basement from the Nazis, without telling them the war is over.”  more in the Guardian

A CNN news anchor:

Rick Sanchez: I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I just think it’s important that people who are not minorities understand that those of us who are – and very few of us will say the things that I just said – are actually more complex than they think we are.

Pete Dominick: [Jon] Stewart’s a minority as much as you are. He’s Jewish.

Sanchez: Yeah. Yeah. Very powerless people. Please. What are you, kidding?

Dominick: You’re telling me that….

Sanchez: I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart. And to imply that somehow they – the people in this country who are Jewish – are an oppressed minority? Yeah.

more in the Guardian

33 Responses to “Mainstream antisemitism”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Slightly (and I do mean slightly) different take on the Sanchez story from Ha’aretz, here:

  2. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    I am now really curious if the staunch defenders of liberty of expression will also defend Sanchez.

  3. luny Says:

    In related news you guys chose to ignose, Berlusconi got the ADL award for fighting antisemitism, is a consistent “friend of Israel” and a deputy in his party is a settler living in Gilo.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Welcome back, luny of the well-chosen nom-de-plume. Getting awards for fighting antisemitism does not give the recipient a licence to make antisemitic jokes, any more than an award for fighting sexism would mask or excuse sexist behaviour. The jokes were not made in private, behind closed doors, but in public. In private, this might be excused as the bad taste of an aging politician who is well past his sell-by date. In public, even to presumed supporters, bad taste becomes antisemitism.

    Politicians are expected to be consistent, and not just careful with their words when the microphone is switched on.

    And the point of “and a deputy in his party is a settler living in Gilo” is what? Try living in the real world, luny. With friends like Berlusconi and you, who needs enemies?

  5. Brian Robinson Says:

    ‘[T]his leads us to today’s tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness – the decaffeinated Other.

    ‘The mechanism of such neutralisation was best formulated back in 1938 by Robert Brasillach, the French fascist intellectual, who saw himself as a “moderate” antisemite and invented the formula of reasonable antisemitism. “We grant ourselves permission to applaud Charlie Chaplin, a half Jew, at the movies; to admire Proust, a half Jew; to applaud Yehudi Menuhin, a Jew; … We don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to organise any pogrom. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable actions of instinctual antisemitism is to organise a reasonable antisemitism.” …’

    — Slavoj Zizek in the Guardian
    ‘Liberal multiculturalism masks an old barbarism with a human face: Across Europe, the politics of the far right is infecting us all with the need for a “reasonable” anti-immigration policy’

    • zkharya Says:

      Thanks for that quote, Brian. One could find that paradeigm, with ‘anti-Zionism’ in the category of ‘reasonable antisemitism’, ‘antisemitism’ in the category of ‘instinctual antisemitism’, in many a CIF contributor today.

  6. Brian Robinson Says:

    Perhaps off-topic in this thread (i.e. is it “mainstream”?) but
    Deborah Lipstadt has a piece in today’s Guardian (print edn) online here:

    “Even a ‘remake’ of Jud Süss can never be neutral: Goebbels’ propaganda film is now showing in another guise. Which shows why Germany is a unique case for censorship”

  7. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    From Lipstadt’s article: ‘Though only a limited number of Germans did the actual killings, many others took part indirectly – processing the victims’ belongings, arranging the roundups and the deportations, or “helping” in other ways. Those involved often shared the information about what was going on with their family and friends. A German friend once told me: “When it comes to the history of the final solution my country is not ‘normal’ and sometimes we, the perpetrators and their descendants, have to be protected from thinking that it is.”‘

    Thus, we have Daniel Goldhagen’s “willing executioners”, and Lipstadt’s hits home, hard – but not just at Germany, past and present.

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    I’m looking forward to today’s Daily Show!!

  9. Absolute Observer Says:

    Brian and Brian,
    Here’s a question. In the comments to that piece you cite, there is a small discussion of good films dealing with nazism and the Holocaust.
    One of my favourites is “the Pawnbroker”. (And, without being too iconoclastic, I’m not overly fond of “Schindler’s List”
    Just thought it would be interesting if you or anyone else, had likes and dislikes?

  10. James Mendelsohn Says:

    I like “The Pianist”.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      Yes, I did like the Pianist very much — in fact it sent me to the book — Wladyslaw Szpilman. Spielberg’s film had, I think, a certain “aura” about it when it came out, and it was indeed powerful, but I think some of the criticisms levelled at it, e.g. sentimentality towards the ending were probably justified. It’s a long time ago but as far as I recall, Polanski didn’t go for any escapist relief from the bleakness.

      AO, if you meant us to include documentaries as well as dramatised (semi-fictionalised) films, the outstanding one for me has to be Lanzmann’s Shoah, which I’ve watched twice but have long meant to get a DVD so I can watch it more. I know that it too has been criticised, sometimes quite severely in a number of particulars — e.g. it was said to be “anti-Polish”, Lanzmann was accused of “bullying” the barber to get his story.

      I remember hearing Lanzmann (or maybe I only read it) being extremely dismissive about Spielberg’s film — perhaps before it was released. Lanzmann spoke of “the obscenity” of having *actors* playing the parts of the Holocaust victims. I don’t know if he modified his views afterwards.

      There’s a thought that strikes me as I write this — you may recall seeing the ghastly “Lady” Renouf tangling (and tangling herself into shrill knots) on You Tube with Norman Finkelstein over what she persisted in calling “the Hollywood version” of the Holocaust (i.e. her particular form of Holocaust denial). Does the showbiz side of movie-making carry a danger of a certain trivialisation because we’re watching actors — actors building careers, directors trying to live up them, in other words, artifice and artificiality?

      If so, I think Polanski’s version is far less vulnerable to this criticism than Spielberg’s (although probably not in the eyes of the Renoufs of this world).

      However Spielberg did go on to found the Visual History Archive, so we know he was serious, i.e. in his own mind, it wasn’t just another movie.

  11. Absolute Observer Says:

    Thanks James.
    I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve yet to see it – but, I’ll take it as a recommendation.

  12. Jonathan Romer Says:

    “Shoah” is in a class of its own, for the way it just presents fact after fact, detail after detail and testimony after testimony, seemingly without any kind of artificial drama or manipulation, until the sheer weight of it forces you to understand the enormity and horror. But the two films that have had the most lasting emotional impact on me have been “Enemies, a Love Story” and “Primo” ( Both of them left me gasping for breath. Primo, in particular, I need to own one day, even if I never watch it again. I can’t imagine what it must have been like — how it was possible — to act it (it’s a one man play).

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      We (my wife and I) were privilioged to see Anthony Sher act it on stage: and it’s all that everyone says it is/was: a stunning performance. Difficult to know how Sher managed to distance himself from the content.

      • Absolute Observer Says:

        Yes, we saw it too. It was something unique.
        At the time I didn’t realise that the director Richard Wilson was the same Richard Wilson of “One Foot in the Grave” fame.(please note, that I did not say, I didn’t “bloody believe it”!)

        I also thought the play “Bent” was also powerful and moving when I saw it some years ago. I recall Ian McKellan playing one of the lead roles.

        One of the scenes I recall is that a “Yellow Star” dishing out “food” to one of the “pink triangles” did not go to the bottom of the pot (where the “meat” was).

        It is because of scenes like that I don’t like Schindler’s. The Jews in SL remain untouched by the moral collapse going on all around them and unaffected by pre-existing prejudices; as if they were murdered for their (unnatural) goodness (and we know where today’s consequence of that myth.
        Complete bastards who happened to be Jews were also murdered; and that does not effect the matter of the Holocaust in any way.
        In fact, it serves to expose the nature of nazism and antisemitism more than the more “romantic” images presented by Speilberg and JVP.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      Thanks for this (why had I not known about this before?) — amazon uk had just one copy left and I’m afraid I’ve just bought it but they say there are more on the way.

      • Jonathan Romer Says:


        I can’t exactly say I hope you enjoy it, but I hope you find it as powerful as I did. I’d be very interested to hear what you think, if you feel like saying after you watch it. Don’t try it when you have to function socially afterwards.

        • Brian Robinson Says:

          The DVD hasn’t arrived yet, but I bought the 4 DVDs plus 180-page booklet of the Special Edition of Shoah (from Amazon). I haven’t seen it since the 80s and have been watching it again. I find it even more powerful now (one reason might be that I’ve read so many books on the Holocaust in the interim).

          But I couldn’t help another persistent set of thoughts as I watched, relating to the present day. I kept thinking of those people, anti-Zionist Jews and non Jews, who insist on comparing Israel to the Nazis, Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto, and so on.

          Some of these people are simply ignorant, but the others, who might at one time have known the facts must, if they really believe in the comparison they’re drawing, have developed a kind of elective, and selective amnesia.

          However much one might feel for the tribulations of Palestinians, one couldn’t watch Lanzmann’s film and think for a second that any comparison was tenable.

          One irony is that most of these same people, the ones who are known to me personally, often complain about supposed Zionist instrumental use of the Holocaust; but that’s precisely what they’re doing themselves. The Holocaust becomes a weapon with which to beat not only Israel, but Jews generally.

          Some of them refuse to capitalise ‘Holocaust’; others insist — if you mention it in conversation — on immediately speaking of “all holocausts”; some seem to exhibit something close to a kind of embarrassment, almost as if they felt guilty mentioning it in polite company, or as if they might be thought to be indulging in special pleading.

          But none of this ever stops the kind of people I have in mind from suddenly finding a use for either direct or oblique references to it, when it suits them.

          I think this sort of opportunistism must be a part of the kind of current mainstream antisemitism we’re discussing here.

  13. Absolute Observer Says:

    I agree entirely with what has been said about “Shoah”.
    Apparently Lanzmann’s was quite scathing about SL. Regarding its use of black and white, he said something along the lines that the Holocaust happened on days when the skies were blue and the sun was shining. But, as noted films and documentaries are different things.
    I note no one has mentioned “Life is Beautiful”. I just can’t make my mind up about that one.
    Thanks for the list. It is fascinating for a number of reasons, not least for a 1948 film made between Israel and Poland in Yiddish.
    On cif someone was saying that the movie “the Quarrel” is one of the few films that see the Holocaust through the eyes of Jews rather than through the prism of (as in SL) the “good German”.

    I am old enough to recall the impact of the episode of “World at War” which was apparently one of the first, if not the first, mainstream shows to document the extermination. It was aired in 1973.
    It has stood the test of time.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      During this second week, we will continue our discussion about the effect on viewers of different cinematic representations of the Nazi period. What sorts of acts are Shoah, Night and Fog and The Diary of Anne Frank? That is to say, how do each of these films affect us and to what effect? How do each of these films make us feel and what political effects might such feelings lead to? How does the materiality of film (its emphasis on the visual, its preference for narrative progression, its documentary nature) affect our willingness or unwillingness to believe what we see? What are the ethical issues involved in representing the Holocaust?
      Tuesday, January 16
      Shoshana Felman, “The Return of the Voice” (READER)

      Thursday, January 18
      Geoffrey H. Hartman, “The Book of Destruction” (READER)

      This week we will examine one film, Schindler’s List, in its entirety so that we may discuss its political, aesthetic, and ethical effects. How does this film differ from those we have discussed so far? Students will be preparing to complete their first assignment, an analysis of one of the cultural documents from this first third of the semester. We will also begin our analysis of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and discuss what constitutes postmodern culture.

      Tuesday, January 23
      Claude Lanzmann, “Why Spielberg Has Distorted the Truth” (READER)
      Miriam Bratu Hansen, “Schindler’s List is Not Shoah” (READER)
      See especially
      ‘A’ Paper from Spring 2001
      HONR 199K: “Telling the Holocaust” — “Schindler’s List: A Story of Kitsch”

  14. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I’d also pick out the Resnais film “Nuit et Brouillard” (Night and Fog), which I saw as a student in the early 1960s.

  15. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    “Come and See” directed by Elem Klimov (1985 Soviet war movie) shows the Einsatzgruppen murdering in Beloroussia.

    “The Nazis move into the village and herd everyone to a wooden church, locking them all inside. A German officer announces to the terrified people that any of them will be allowed to climb out of the barn through a side window, as long as they leave their children behind. No one moves, but Florya takes up their offer and climbs out. Shortly after, a woman attempts to climb out with her child but she is dragged away by her hair and the toddler is thrown back through the window. Grenades are thrown into the church, which is then set on fire and shot at; Florya watches the inferno of burning Belorussian peasants while the Nazis stand and applaud, taking photographs and laughing. The woman who escaped the church is put into a moving truck with a group of soldiers and repeatedly raped.”

  16. Absolute Observer Says:

    I know it is not a Holocaust movie, but I cannot not mention “Escape to Victory”!!

  17. Brian Robinson Says:

    This bit jars with me somewhat (am I being oversensitive?) “If a guy is antisemitic and no-one’s listening, is he still antisemitic? That’s the bit I don’t get” (am I imagining some of the audience laughter is a little nervous?).

    Firstly, actually, lots of people *were* listening to Sanchez, so the set-up for the joke is false (it might have been a funny dig without the subsequent ‘joke’). Secondly, is the (many-a-true-word) jesting suggestion that, nudge-wink, it’s OK to think it, just don’t speak it (e.g. Berlusconi, y’know, fine just so long as nobody puts a recorded clip on the web)?

  18. Absolute Observer Says:

    Letterman answers in the affirmative and questions the comment during the interchange. The joke is, less on the substance, that it is on the philosophical tree – as well as the radio station in question (and Sanchez’s popularity)
    That is my listening of it, anyway.

  19. Brian Robinson Says:

    Thanks AO. I see there are a few letters in today’s Guardian in response to Lipstadt’s recent article there.

    “The real stories behind Jud Süss”

  20. Absolute Observer Says:

    I must admit I found the history of the story “Jud Suisse” fascinating, especially how a novel that was opposed to antisemitism became used as a vehicle for venomous antisemitism.
    I also liked the comment of a call to make a film of the original novel.
    Til then, I suppose we will have to make do with the fantasy of Inglorious Basterds!!

    On a more serious note, I can recommend Taking Sides

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      This topic, and a similar dramatisation of the post WW2 investigation of Richard Strauss, was the subject of a double bill by the English dramatist Ronald Harwood, re-staged only last year. And much food for thought they were too.

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