The Show Should Go On in London
In a popular Sherlock Holmes story, the solution to the mystery hinges on the curious incident of the dog that did not bark. No mystery hinges on the reality that Europe did not bark about the committing of crimes against humanity and war crimes by Hamas, the terrorist group that occupies and controls Gaza in using civilians, especially children, as human shields to prevent any Israeli response to attacks on its civilians.
Instead, noises quite different in character have been voiced in the hostile words and actions of citizens in various European countries. Only a few examples are necessary to make the point. One example came from the lips of the Italian Marxist philosopher and former member of the European Parliament Gianni Vattimo, whose blatantly frank opinion was, in language not usually used by a philosopher, “I’d like to shoot those bastard Zionists.” Fortunately, since he was exempted from military service, he couldn’t really shoot anyone.
Vattimo's contributions to political wisdom in regards to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were unusual, to say the least. He called for Europeans to raise more money to “buy Hamas more rockets.” He wanted international brigades to fight alongside Hamas. He had already called in 2009 for the European Union to remove Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations.
Bizarre combinations of individuals espousing different political points of view have joined with raucous Palestinians and Islamists in demonstrations or other actions concerning Israel. Ugly demonstrations of anti-Semitism have intentionally misconstrued Israeli policies as an excuse for violence. Rationally, one can distinguish hatred of Jews from strong opposition to and appropriate criticism of specific policies of Israel. But compelling evidence indicates the interlacing of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist declarations or actions.
In France, outbreaks of violence have occurred in a number of places. On July 13, 2014, in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, the local synagogue, and Jewish pharmacies and shops, were attacked by a mob shouting, “Death to the Jews.” Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, the umbrella group for France’s Jewish organizations, has noted that demonstrators in the streets of Paris are not screaming, “Death to the Israelis”; they are shouting, “Death to Jews.”
In Germany, rioters in demonstrations have compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews. Molotov cocktails were thrown at the Bergische synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany in the attempt to burn it. The attack was accompanied by the slogan – in effect two hatreds for the price of one – “Destroy the Zionist Jews.” In Bischofshofen, Austria, on July 23, 2014, twenty individuals of Turkish origin waving Palestinian flags invaded the pitch and attacked members of the Israeli soccer team, Maccabi Haifa, in their game with Lille of France. In Amsterdam, the house of the chief rabbi was attacked.
Demonstrations in Trafalgar Square in London in late July purportedly protesting against the Israeli response to the unceasing rocket attacks by Hamas in Gaza displayed not only flags and banners such as “Free Palestine” and “Stop Israeli State Terror,” but also outright anti-Semitic proclamations, including one declaring that “Hitler was Right.” In Manchester, graves in the Jewish cemetery were desecrated. In July 2014, more than 200 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded, one of the highest monthly recordings ever. In all, between January and June 2014, there were 304 anti-Semitic incidents in the country.
The country, on August 7, 2014, was treated to another weird performance by George Galloway, the controversial MP for Bradford, Yorkshire. Standing in front of a Palestinian flag, Galloway declared Bradford “an Israeli-free zone.” The city would not entertain Israeli goods, academics, or tourists.
Strikingly, the infection of moral equivalence, in effect a disease of anti-Israeli bias accompanied sometimes by the virus of anti-Semitism, has taken hold, almost to the point of obsession in Britain, as elsewhere in the world. A number of recent incidents show this outbreak.
The London Times refused to run a full-page ad, one that has appeared in a number of papers in the United States, featuring Elie Wiesel, that tells, correctly, of the use by Hamas of children as human shields in order to prevent Israeli retaliation against rocket launching sites. The paper’s absurd explanation is that the ad was “too strong and too forcefully made ... it will cause concern amongst a significant number of Times readers.” One can only wonder about the delicacy of those readers in acquiescing to the misuse of Palestinian children, a crime against humanity.
Even more telling is the pious hypocrisy on the issue of Israeli actions in Gaza exhibited in an action in London on August 5, 2014, when the Tricycle Theater banned the annual Jewish Film Festival, which was to feature 26 films on Jewish issues, as well as some on Israel, and six gala events. The reason given was the circumstance that the festival was being sponsored by and had been given some funding by the Israeli Embassy in London.
Four facts reveal hypocrisy by the officials of the theater. The first was that the funding was ludicrously small – less than $2,000. A second was the festival has been supported by the Embassy for 17 years. A third is that the Tricycle Theater has been associated with the festival for eight years.
Most important, the films were said by the festival organizers to constitute a diverse program with a wide perspective on the Middle East conflict and that films to be shown did not refrain from criticism of Israel. But these perspectives should not be the basis for criticizing the cancelation of the festival by the theater. Rather, the basis for censure of the Tricycle Theater should be that it is engaging in political censorship. The festival, whether or not its films were sympathetic or hostile to Palestinians, should not have to conform to the political positions of the artistic director of Tricycle, especially since it appears to have double standards – one for Jewish or Israeli contributions and another for everyone else.
The theater describes itself as renowned for innovative, political, and experimental British and international productions. Nevertheless, the theater has not lived up to a policy of political neutrality in this challenging mission. Its initial demand was to review and vet the Israeli films that were planned, a demand that obviously constituted censorship and that was refused by the organizers of the festival. The theater then gave the following as an excuse for banning the Jewish festival: “[g]iven the situation in Israel and Gaza, we do not believe that the Festival should accept funding from any party to the current conflict … we asked the Festival to reconsider its sponsorship by the Israeli Embassy.”
This claim of political neutrality was not borne out by previous productions of the theater. Among others, they have included a play critical of the United States for Guantánamo Bay; one on the killing of Stephen Lawrence, a young man of Jamaican parents, murdered in a racially motivated attack in London in April 1993; plays critical of the war in Afghanistan; a season of plays “looking at London from a black perspective”; and a play on the killing of a young black man, Mark Duggan, by a police officer during riots in London in August 2011. No conditions or questions of funding have been imposed on previous productions or events in the Theater.
The theater’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, herself the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, in defending her decision to ban the festival, said, “I am not anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic.” One can accept her statement at face value and still argue that she made what is at least a bad error of judgment. In a delightful song, Noel Coward asked, “Why must the show go on, is it indispensable?” Yes, the Jewish Film Festival must go on. The Tricycle Theater should reconsider its shameful and biased decision to cancel the show.