Saturday, January 28, 2006

Munich and Shylock

I am writing this a bare half-hour after seeing the film. You will forgive me, I hope, the intensity of my emotions. I want to say now, at the beginning, that, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, it was a brilliant film. Well-acted, beautifully photographed, tensely edited. Spielberg remains, as always, a master manipulator of emotions and images. Beyond that, it was one of the most morally vile works of art I have ever seen. Whether the fault lies with Spielberg or with co-screenwriter Tony Kushner, I have no idea. I am inclined to blame Kushner, since Spielberg’s public musings on the Arab-Israeli conflict appear to be little more than well-meaning naiveté, whereas Kushner’s bloviations on the subject are of the most startlingly poisonous variety. I have been subjected on one unfortunate occasion to the equally unfortunate Mr. Kushner, and I can only say that I doubt any other Pulitzer Prize winning author in history has managed to be so simultaneously stupid, juvenile, insulting, and megalomaniacal in such a short span of time. In this, at least, Kushner has some claim to uniqueness. Beyond that, the only remarkable thing about him is how unremarkable he is. Here we have yet another self-loathing, pseudo-moralistic, ultra-leftwing Diaspora writer whose sole definition of Judaism is the willingness to acknowledge the humanity of those who would happily slit his throat and those of his children.

The film, as everybody now knows, is based on the supposedly true story of the Israeli assassination squad who hunted down and killed those who planned and organized the 1972 Munch massacre. The massacre, at least, actually happened. As for everything else in the film, I am inclined to think that it sprang fully formed from the fevered imaginations of Spielberg and Kushner. The film’s plot is, putting it very mildly, fantastically ridiculous. In order to swallow the film’s premise, we must believe that the Mossad fielded the single most incompetent assassination squad in the history of modern intelligence work; that French anarchists regularly supply information to intelligence agencies which, despite their massive resources, they are apparently incapable of finding out for themselves; that seasoned assassins fantasize about terrorist attacks while having sex with their stunningly beautiful wives; that Tel Aviv has an elevated boulevard complete with railing…but all of this is largely irrelevant. Spielberg is a fantasist after all, and we can hardly expect a filmmaker whose primary cinematic influence is ‘50s television to be capable of putting together an entirely credible narrative out of life and death events. Let alone in struggling with the complexities of the Jewish reacquisition of the capabilities for power, violence and, yes, we shall speak the dread word, vengeance. Schindler’s List will, of course, be cited as an exception, but in that case Jews were quite comfortably victimized, and so we could spend our time pondering the possible humanity of a mass-murdering Nazi officer. Of course, in this case, it is not the Nazis who are the mass murderers of Jews, and so, apparently, we are in more complicated territory.

The film’s lack of believability aside, at least its fictions are in service of something. That something appears to be a grab bag of ideas – I use the term generously – which could be easily summed up in the kind of high concept buzzwords which Spielberg no doubt uses to sell his films. Revenge is pointless. Vengeance only creates a cycle of violence. Anyone who fights terrorists becomes a terrorist himself. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and etc., etc., ad infinitum. All of this is, of course, a means of sounding complex and intelligent without having to actually be complex and intelligent. A predilection which has made both Spielberg and Kushner rich men, but hardly speaks well for their artistic capabilities. Of course, while Spielberg is a great artist, if only for his extraordinarily manipulative talent; Kushner is the shuck and jive man as artist. The ultimate Jewish Uncle Tom. He never fails to give the Gentiles what they want. The thought that a Jew might have no qualms about killing those who would kill him, that vengeance can also be righteous, that turning the other cheek is the hypocrisy of Christianity and not the creed of the Jews, that Jewish blood matters the most to us because it matters to no one else, that a Jew can be more than a blithering house negro for the beautiful people; all this is too horrifying, apparently, to be even thought of as a rational possibility. So we receive yet another weeping Shylock, wearing the clothes of conscience, which for the righteous is but another Jewish gabardine for them to spit upon. If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die? Forgive us, oh beautiful and well meaning souls, for not being Gentiles. And, of course, the final line, the great truth at the heart of Shylock’s rage, which is not a plea, is erased as another shanda before the goyim. Because it is unthinkable. Because it reads thus: If you wrong us, will we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest we will resemble you in that. And it shall go hard, for I’ll better the instruction. I have neither the time nor the patience for those who would deny Shylock his vengeance. Give me Shylock. I will adore him. I will sing his praises. I will fight for Shylock. I will stand up in his name. He is my kinsmen. He suffered because he was a Jew. And he desired vengeance for his suffering because he was a human being. I am both a human being and a Jew. I suffer as my people suffer, and I desire vengeance for my suffering and theirs. And I do so as both a Jew and a human being. And I will not be shamed by callow refugees of the television generation nor by self-satisfied fools masquerading as men of conscience.

Hamas Ascendant

Several people have written to me asking my opinion of the Palestinian elections.  I hate to be the odd man out of the general hysteria, but I don’t think they make much difference whatsoever.  I have always held to the same position regarding the possibilities of peace between us and the Palestinians.  In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I believe peace is impossible between us at the moment.  What is not impossible is a status quo in which two states live side by side in mutual hate and enmity with a minimum of violence on both sides of the divide.  With the passing of a generation or two, this may or may not lead to a rapprochement of sorts.  I frankly don’t know.  I also don’t think it particularly matters.  Israel has spent far too long hinging its future on the possibility of Arab acceptance.  It is time for us to return to ourselves and to concentrate on the future of Israel and Zionism.   Peace is not the fulfillment of Zionism.  A living, prosperous, culturally creative and nationally proud Jewish state is the fulfillment of Zionism.  Neither peace nor acceptance is a requirement for this.  What is a requirement is our disengagement from the Palestinians and our setting of permanent borders.  This can only be done, at the moment, if ever, by unilateral Israeli action.  Who rules the Palestinians is, frankly, no concern of mine except to the extent that it threatens Israel and Israelis.  From this point of view, the difference between Hamas and Fatah is minimal to non-existent.  The only possible distinction I can see is that Hamas actually comes out and says what Fatah clouds in diplomatic doublespeak.  We now have an enemy who looks us in the face and says what he means.  So be it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

So It Begins...

Voting has begun in the preliminary round for the Jewish Israeli Blog Awards at the Jerusalem Post web site. Voting rules are here, and you may vote for Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite - should you be so inclined - here. As they say in Boston, please remember to vote early and often.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The word from the media over here is that there is a slight improvement in the Prime Minister's condition, but I'm afraid I'm not holding out much hope at this point. I think everything that is happening now is essentially a series of heroic measures. At least, that seems to be the consensus on the street.

I have been jotting down a few thoughts in Hebrew over the last 24 hours or so, so for those of you who read the Holy Tongue, I have posted some of them over at my Hebrew blog.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Thy glory, Israel, is fallen upon his heights.

What does one say when giants are dying? Perhaps in a day or two I will say more than this, but right now, one thing is certain: we have lost our DeGaulle. The way forward is clear, but without him it will be more difficult, more complicated, and much slower in coming. His slanderers will curse his name in the coming days, and those of us who admired and believed in him will smile and keep our own counsel. He took the slings and arrows for all of us, for the entirety of his people. He loved us and he fought for us until the inevitable came. Every man, however strong, however great, must eventually face the unavoidable fact of mortality. He has done enough, more than enough, more than could be requested of any man. He made his mistakes, and they were our mistakes; he achieved the greatness he sought for his entire life, and it was ours as well. Sharon is the last of a generation of giants. He was of a generation which is now a part of the past, and the country they hewed out of barren rock is now stronger than any single man. In that, we may take more than some comfort amongst the tragedy.