Cartoonist Shay Charka plays with the language of the White House…
Over the past week or so I’ve had many difficult exchanges with friends and family over social media around posts I’ve shared about the Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer. I’ve shared articles defending the production, reviews of its artistic merit, social critiques of what the controversy represents and even parallel experiences of the production in other cities.
Those who were convinced it was anti-Semitic remain firmly convinced. Those who believed the protests were just another example of right wing denial of any legitimate Palestinian narrative remain similarly unswayed.
Depressingly, this episode has only reinforced the worst stereotypes each side had of the other in the ongoing shouting-match over Israel (can we really call it a conversation at this point?). The Jewish general manager of the Met Opera has been compared to a Nazi sympathizer and a supporter of Hamas. I’ve read comparisons of the actions of those who opposed the performance of the opera to a “book burning of Adams’ work.”
By my rule of thumb, whoever calls his opponent a Nazi first, loses
By my rule of thumb, whoever calls his opponent a Nazi first loses — and it’s hard to find any winners in this encounter.
My own feelings about the opera itself are mixed — I saw the film version created for Channel Four in the UK directed by Penny Woolcock in 2004. At the time, I was considering it for possible inclusion in the Washington Jewish Film Festival in my capacity as the Festival’s director. I remember being entranced by the music, disturbed by its portrayals of history and touched by certain images that have stayed with me over a decade later — such as that of Klinghoffer’s wheelchair sinking through the water after he has been murdered and thrown overboard.
I chose not to include the film for a number of reasons, some practical (opera on film is a tough sell) and some artistic/thematic. While I appreciated the aesthetic strengths of the work, it felt far too removed from its subject to be included in a Festival in which other films dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict spoke with greater authenticity and authorial intimacy.
The work felt like the product of outsiders to the conflict
One cannot blame Klinghoffer’s daughters for objecting to the opera — that is not their father up there (but neither should they have the last word). We are all products of our history, but the opera isn’t really interested in why these people were affected in the ways they were. It is why the captain is in many ways the most interesting character, he is also a product of history, but its effects on his character are more subtle and his choices stem from a much more personal, interesting and humanely flawed place.The work overall, felt like the product of outsiders to the conflict, looking to illuminate the tragedies and universal lessons for both sides. Firsthand knowledge of course, isn’t a prerequisite for great art, but when the subject is one that brings such passion along with it, one runs the risk — as Adams and his librettist Alice Goodman have certainly be accused — of naivety. That is why the work itself turns the characters themselves into archetypes more than real people, the terrorists are an extension of the chorus of exiled Palestinians and the Klinghoffers are extensions of the chorus of exiled Jews.
A friend I respect greatly wrote me, “folks flying planes into skyscrapers, dragging gay men to their deaths behind cars,etc? They get no inner lives.” I simply can’t agree. Their inner lives may leave them twisted and deranged, committing heinous acts because of the person they have become, but to deny that their inner lives are not worthy of some kind of artistic exploration is to go too far.
Why? Because to have that attitude is easy when you’re talking about Hitler, Osama Bin-Laden or Pol Pot; but there are a lot of shades of grey between them and the historical rungs of the ladder that the Achille Lauro terrorists occupy.
To elevate Klinghoffer’s murderers to the level of genocidal prime-movers is to engage in a false equivalency that blurs our understanding of evil. It runs the risk of a turning a tradition which takes the weighing of justice most carefully, into a shrill hyperbole.
So, my defense of the opera has to be couched in the acknowledgement that given my own opportunity to program it, I chose not to. I think it is probably fair to say that even if I had wanted to program it, given the controversy that already surrounded the work, I might have faced internal and external opposition that would have made including it unwise and impossible.
And it is that last acknowledgement that leaves me so unsettled.
Because what was at stake in this debate was not the production of this specific opera in this specific venue. It was the freedom of artists, Jewish and non-Jewish, Israelis and Palestinians, to engage with the most sensitive and provocative topics in their histories and create music, theater, dance and stories from them, and for arts presenters to provide audiences with the opportunity to see and judge for themselves the results.
I cannot share their belief that this opera constituted a threat to Israel’s survival.
That is not a priority for many of the opponents of The Death of Klinghoffer. While there were some true arts supporters among the opera’s opponents, for many others (among them, the organizing core), the opera was another front in the total war for Israel’s survival. And while I can share their goal — that Israel survive — I cannot share their belief that this opera constituted a threat to that survival, or even that it was antagonistic to it (or for that matter, that its survival depends on a “total war” footing). I believe this as a Jew, as a Zionist, as a writer, and as someone who has first-hand knowledge of terrorism.
But by mounting such a large, public and compelling campaign against an opera that most people will never hear or see, a profoundly chilling wind has been blown across the landscape of Jewish culture specifically and American culture more broadly.
“Do we want another Death of Klinghoffer on our hands?”
In development offices and board meetings across the land, well-intentioned but misguided leaders will ask themselves when faced with the prospect of presenting potentially challenging and controversial material, “Do we want another Death of Klinghoffer on our hands?”
Only the most committed (and masochistic) will conclude that they are willing to risk it.
Joshua Ford is a writer and arts consultant in Washington, D.C. He blogs at notforprofitdad.wordpress.com and is on Twitter @jfo_in_dc
Here is the thing about the Berlin Balagan and the Milky Moan. They have nothing to do with the city of Berlin or the Milky dessert.
The controversy has been simmering for some time. Young Israelis have been working to attain European passports so as to more easily leave Israel. Berlin is their most attractive and symbolically incendiary European destination. The thought that an Israeli could actively seek to live in the Land of the Holocaust sends shivers down Zionist spines.
The rhetorical stakes are high. To Full Post
Cross-posted with ejewishphilanthropy.com
Image by Shay Charka
I have recently returned from an 8 city, 11 flight, 2 weeks’ tour of campuses in North America – with 4 questions.
I was one of the Jewish Agency’s Makom team running full-day workshops on “Gaza, Israel, and the Jews” for the staff of thirty Hillels. Our aim was to empower Hillel and campus leaders to frame constructive conversations about the Gaza Conflict by identifying pertinent questions (rather than institutional answers), and by defining a successful conversation as one that leads to a second conversation…
Apart from learning that DC taxi drivers are the most interesting in the world, and that United Airlines are not always to be trusted with your luggage, I have been left with a few thoughts to ponder: To Full Post
So many emotions fill me right now.
On the television in my home on the kibbutz I see “experts”. A non-stop conversation is going on between Orientalists, experts in terror and counter terror, those who have done their doctorates on the Hamas, former generals, veteran journalists, former ambassadors (especially to the United States), political hacks, heads of regional councils, doctors from the various surgical units at the major hospitals. None of them talk about feelings as they are “experts” and “experts” talk about the pros and cons, the ifs and buts, the possibilities and the probabilities, the past and the future.
I want to talk about emotions. Here is a list of emotions I have felt over the past day: hope, sadness, anger, guilt, loneliness, frustration, determination, despair (sorry, no happiness and joy on the list, but I am hoping to have a personal reason to add those next week).
I was so hopeful a few days ago. Hopeful that the 72 hour ceasefire would turn into a permanent ceasefire and would herald the beginning of a new era. Not lions and lambs lying down together yet, but perhaps a forward movement away from violence and towards some sort of political agreement. Naive of me? Probably, but it felt good to believe for a moment.
Even though it is so clear to me that we are not guilty of crimes against humanity (more about that later under both anger and frustration), it is awful to see the pictures of the death and destruction caused by our army in Gaza. I know, yes know, that the IDF is not guilty, but that does not mean that like many, many Israelis, I do not feel some level of guilt (but, as I said, more about that under anger and frustration).
I feel so sad when I read the weekend newspapers here. From the article on the young bride to be whose wedding dress will not be picked up from the store, to the Job like story of Batsheva Huppert whose grandson was injured this week (why saddened by his injury and not the other injured soldiers? Batsheva lost two brothers in the Six Day War, her older son in the Second Intifada, and still believes in the necessity to serve and take responsibility). I am saddened by all the funerals we have witnessed over the past weeks; all the stories, the twin brothers, girl friends from mid teens, marriages which will never happen, the only son – they go on and on. I am also saddened by the response to our situation abroad (but more about that under anger and frustration).
I am angry with the Hamas as they have worked out our weaknesses. They are firing from within the heart of the civilian population of Gaza. From near hospitals (near a Finnish journalist who might not last too long after outing the Hamas), schools, mosques, apartment buildings and hotels where foreign journalists have rooms (including an Indian journalist who by chance photographed Hamas terrorists preparing to launch a rocket from the hotel car park so that Israel can respond and possibly add to our problems by killing foreign journalists). I am angry because even though we now have a pamphlet the Hamas issues to its fighters suggesting to them that they operate within densely populated areas as it limits our response “because the Zionists are not happy to fire into populated areas”, we will still be found guilty by “Human Rights” organizations (forgive the quotation marks, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain objective towards these activist groups whose anger suffers from strange chants previously heard in other circles) who are horrified by dead children in Gaza (as we are too), but strangely less so by the bodies of Syrian and Iraqi children (unless they are being recycled and used in Gaza – photographically that is). I am angry because my life has been invaded by sirens, warnings and the need to be constantly aware of danger (I know this might want you to refer to the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, but please see my previous remark about my anger with the Hamas).
I am frustrated that my government seems to know how to use our army (and they are outside of any political argument) in the theater of war, but unable to negotiate for Peace. Our leaders have let us down in this crucial area. This does not excuse the criminal behaviour of the Hamas, but it frustrates me greatly that we do not have a leadership which sees and understands the need to negotiate 24/7 for Peace. Even if there is a question about partners, the Israeli government should be reaching out for Peace all the time. Not accepting every offer made, but constantly saying to our neighbors, “Come, make Peace with us.” Talking, even difficult conversations, are always preferable to fighting. Always. I am frustrated that some of my natural allies in the struggle for a progressive, liberal, democratic world, prefer to hang out with religious fundamentalists and political fascists as long as they are Arabs, and all this in the name of anti-colonialism. Come on, you should already know that your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. Are you being naive or have you become fundamentalists too?
Most of those of you who were coming to visit us have cancelled. Of course I understand why, you have good reason, but that does not make it feel less lonely. We are functioning economically at a level of 40%. This is better than being dead or injured, but it is still tough (thank you so much to the Packer family that still came here this week. Besides enjoying guiding you very much, you crazy family, I appreciate the fact that you were here this week).
Determination and Despair
I move back and forth between these two. On the one hand I am constantly reminded of the great local phrase which translated goes like this: “We got through Pharoah, we can get through this.” I however, also ask myself, will it ever end, will it ever get better? Are we destined to live by the sword? Are we ever going to know Peace? At times I feel really strong. At times I feel so weak.
Will it be good here in the end is not the question because it is good here, very good. It is also hard, very hard right now. It is also filled with pain for all of us who live in this region, for all of us. We want it to be good for all the people who live here, but we will not go away to make this happen (our going away, by the way, is not the key to making this happen). We will continue to try and not harm innocent people, but this largely in the hands of the Hamas. We will demand of our government to work as hard for Peace as they are asking our soldiers to fight in this war.
This is our home and even when it is tough at home, when our home is in danger, we do not walk away, we will not walk away.
The feelings remain. All of them.
Julian Resnick is the Secretary General of World Habonim-Dror
I remember when August would roll around in Sag Harbor, and our synagogue’s Rosh Chodesh group meeting would focus on Tisha B’av (the 9th day of the month of Av) – the holiday that animates the Hebrew month of Av.
I would always frame the conversation by saying how out of sync the Jewish calendar felt with the Gregorian one. August is the height of summer fun – the beaches and BBQs, summer evening dresses and dinner parties. And in the Jewish calendar cycle Tisha B’Av represents the low point of the Jewish year. We sit on low chairs, we fast – in collective mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temples, the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, and so many other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people. For me, most years the sense of mourning feels forced.
This year, it felt real. We needed Tisha B’av, to give ritual expression to the collective pain that we are all feeling about the war with Hamas. To Full Post
1. Good Guys, Bad tactics?
There was something of a meme that went around, asking the two key questions of Just War theory: Are we fighting the bad guys? and Are we fighting like good guys? I think I’ve realized that the first question is almost irrelevant, and often unhelpful.
It’s irrelevant because while I may be sure that Hamas are the bad guys, so Hamas thinks it is Israel who are the bad guys. It is unhelpful because since we both reckon we’re fighting the bad guys, we both tend to take the second question less seriously. To Full Post
There is the feeling that the media and public response to the Gaza war is disproportionate to their response to every other conflict in the world. As thousands are slaughtered in Syria, all rage is directed to Gaza.
Part of me is surprised at the surprise. There is an antisemitism at the heart of Europe. There is an antisemitism at the heart of the Islamic world. Big whup. These facts don’t dispel for me the deep agony I feel when a defender of Israel wishes us to be compared to a murderous dictator such as Assad. Even if the comparison is relatively favourable. That is not the kind of company we should be keeping.
It must not be a rhetorical question
This video of Israeli philosopher and consultant to the IDF Moshe Halbertal lays out all the key questions. Halbertal points out that “proportionality” is not about the death of combatants. It is about the death of civilians. As he puts it from 17:10 onwards: “Is the expected collateral killing proportional to the military advantage to be gained?”
So it’s a really good question. It accepts that civilians might die in urban warfare. And it asks how many civilians is it “worth” killing in order to win the military advantage? It is the correct moral and philosophical question to be asked.
Halbertal’s question must not be solely rhetorical. I believe we Israelis have been remiss at going ahead and trying to find an answer.
Are we really okay with the rationale: “We fired on the hospital/school because they fired at us from there: It is their fault that we fired back.”? Well it certainly paints Hamas black, but it doesn’t answer Halbertal’s question.
What military advantage did we gain by firing back? Was that advantage worth the risk that we might slaughter some kids along the way?
It seems we are too easily appeased by Hamas’ guilt to assess our own. It tortures me.
If we want Palestinians to appreciate that violence against us does not pay, I believe we must also work behaviouristically to show that non-violence does pay.
If we are, as I am beginning to fear, responding disproportionately to Hamas violence, I believe we should be equally disproportionate in resopnding to all Palestinian non-violence. Any Palestinian who denounces violence, even in a mealy-mouthed way, should be ridiculously disproportionately rewarded. Abu Mazen, and his former Prime Minister and non-violent State-builder, Salam Fayyad, should have been treated as kings by our government. Every bona fide business established by the PA should receive outrageously generous subsidies from the Israeli government. Sweets should be thrown at every Palestinian kid who smiles at an Israeli.
At the same time I think we should be disproportionately generous to our amazingly non-violent Palestinian Israeli citizens. Forget trying to bring the education budget for Arab schools up to parity – it should be twice the size as the budget for Jewish schools. Don’t fight for Arab Israelis to have the same house-buying subsidies as Jews – fight for them to have even bigger subsidies.
If we are okay with severely punishing Palestinians for the violence of their leaders, we should also be willing to seriously reward them for the opposite.
As I walked down the streets of Jerusalem this delightful, breezy July night, I passed two demonstrations supporting the soldiers of the IDF—one particularly dedicated to the Golani Brigade, which suffered so grievously this week. Two tangible reminders that the calm of Jerusalem masks the sorrow and the fear, the violence and the uncertainty of this war. And then I recited Ma’ariv, the evening service with its 23 blessings—through whose timeless words the prayers of a moment manifest.
The evening comes, and we reflect on a trying day, hoping that on another evening, sometime soon, the news will be better. Blessed are You, Lord, who brings on evenings.
The world “regrets,” “condemns,” “urges,” and “demands,” and airlines cancel their flights. Israel yearns not to be alone. Blessed are You, Lord, who loves His people Israel. To Full Post
Radi Detey – that’s the answer you’d get, if you asked a Russian immigrant “Why did you emigrate to Israel?” That first generation of Soviet immigrants that left its country, homeland, and home of its fathers, and moved to Israel (generally with family, grandmother, piano and dog. Actually with me it was a piano and a violin, two grandmothers and a grandfather), did so out of Zionist considerations but mainly “Radi Detey”. For the sake of the children. For the possibility that they might have a future, education, a good life. Life.
For exactly the same reasons there were those who emigrated to Germany, South Africa, Australia, and of course to North America. My father, who ever since he was a student had been a wildly passionate Zionist, left a high-ranking post in the defence industry in order to receive an exit visa from the USSR. For several years he was forced to make do with a job running the National Ballet and Opera theater, God forbid.
For him making Aliya was an old dream and a new adventure. A familiar stance.
My mother, who to this day has always shied away from politics, and is a firm believer that man is born good, was driven by her terrible anxiety for her two children, my sister and me, after Chernobyl.
Emigration in the face of mortal danger is also no great innovation in the history of the Jews.
Our grandparents came with us, because separation was inconceivable.
After my first visit to the USA at age 16, in a somewhat hesitant voice my father asked if I regretted that we had come to Israel of all places (after all I had seen in the US)? I said no. And I meant it. This is my place. This is my home. This is my language. In the deepest sense of the word.
24 years have passed since our Aliyah.
We are no longer counting the wars, the sirens, and the campaigns in Gaza.
But today I am a father. Father to Danielle. A wonderful baby-girl, nearly 3,the joy of my life. Yet this morning began with our big hug, only this time – to the tune of sirens and Iron Dome explosions.
It is her first war; her second week of Operation Protective Edge sirens and explosions.
And this is the first time I find myself asking myself, what should I be doing Radi Detey?
What should I be doing for the sake of my children?
What should I be doing to ensure my daughter has a sane future, education, a good life. Life?