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The vicious murders at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, leave many shocked, but it’s hardly an accidental anomaly. Anti-Semites have been beating their drums and rallying the troops for decades while training guns on lawmakers, Israel, academia, the church and the arts. This has created a virtual battlefield in which individual artists may find themselves required to either square off or stand down.
Along with massive assaults on the arts through Islamic fundamentalism, there is a harmonic counterpoint of Anti-Semitic and expressly anti-Israeli bigotry and hate. In an earlier WND piece I document artists and galleries victimized by Islamic threats, censorship and violence, which include moderate Muslim artists among their targets.
Some institutions and individual artists in the West, however, are producing virulent attacks on Israel, which are really only thinly disguised acts of anti-Semitism. That the majority of the art world and “literati” hasn’t addressed it is hardly anything new.
Marc Chagall, the great Jewish painter, commented on the reluctance of artists and writers of his time to address the horrors of Nazism and slaughter of European Jews. Chagall expected that Christian humanists would certainly rise up in defense of the Jews, and in a 1944 speech he expressed his sorrow and dismay when they didn’t.
“I see the artists in Christian nations sit still – who has heard them speak up?” he asked. “They are not worried about themselves, and our Jewish life doesn’t concern them.”
America, among the Christian nations, offered Chagall refuge but didn’t address the scourge of Jew hating in any substantial way. Sadly not much has changed since World War II; as they say, “Only the names have changed.”
Since the ancient claim that “Jewish bankers scheming to take over the world” was greatly overused by Nazis, a new campaign was manufactured more recently. It shrewdly manipulates pity for the Palestinian people into a lethal weapon. This disintegrates into a specious, widely used argument that supporting Israel is equal to harming Palestinians, which is utter nonsense, but many accept it, even in the arts community.
Last year the muffinpost.com interviewed self-designated, “pro-Palestinian” Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff. His work of crude, anti-Israeli propaganda reduces the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict to this simplistic, unchanging formula: Israel should not exist;
anywhere Israelis live belongs to somebody else; Israel has no right to defend itself under any conditions; if it does defend itself, it is a war crime; attackers of Israel are always justified.
This narrative is replayed interchangeably by modern anti-Semites, as it is rarely challenged by academics, the press or even churches.
In an interview by Roba Assi and Ibrahim Owais, Latuff claims, “I don’t care if people call me anti-Semitic, and I don’t care about what people think of me; I care about the Palestinians,” perfectly illustrating the either/or, false dilemma he insists the world must follow.
This includes revision of Nazi history and de facto Holocaust denial by trivializing and reversing identities and victims. For instance, an event in Switzerland was shut down over a series of Latuff’s cartoons, “We Are All Palestinians.” It portrays Nazi, Jewish ghettos as occupied by Palestinians, implying that Israelis are the true Nazis. Latuff merely cries “censorship” and claims he has been horribly mistreated.
Last December Swiss government-supported Musée de l’Elysée made a point to publicly stand by Palestinan artist Larissa Sansour, when sponsor Lacoste asked for her removal from a competition. The museum gave up a €25,000 photography award rather than censor her. Sounds noble enough, but Sansour’s works were a prettified tirade of anti-Semitic propaganda with no relation to the show’s theme “Joie de Vivre.”
Reducing all Israeli existence to “brutal Israeli settlement expansion in Palestine,” Sansour equated the state of Israel to slum landlords and used other racially offensive wording in her work “Nation Estate.” In a dramatic burst of illogic, Sansour claims she was banned for being “too Palestinian,” utilizing a twist of the good/evil scenario.
The situation in Britain is especially noxious over the last 10 years, as anti-Semitism slowly crept into laws and even theaters and art galleries.
A 2005 play, “Arab-Israeli Cookbook,” portrayed all characters in gross stereotypes. Israelis: heartless, greedy and militaristic; Palestinian Arabs: warm, sympathetic and kind.
The Saatchi Gallery in London, contributed to the delegitimizing of Israel and demonization of its people in 2009 by including “Qalandia 2067” by the artist Wafa Hourani. Yet again evil Jews oppress Palestinians, this time via the medium of art installations. Big, scary, Israeli soldiers stand with guns trained on helpless people. This exhibit of new art from the Middle East failed to include even one Jewish artist, in spite of the fact that the philanthropist who founded the gallery is Jewish. Yes, the Saatchi has done its part to bring peace on earth.
Other famed London galleries such as the Serpentine hosted their own Anti-Semitic hate fest via “art” or , in 2010, maps by late artist Richard Hamilton. Without many words (of proof), the maps infer that Israel should not exist or only exists on the backs and blood of other people. Hamilton also fails to inform that the maps were originally created by Hamas as tools of propaganda. The Times of London gave a glowing review though, and the exhibit was famous, so can it be that bad?
Then there’s the Jew-hating and Christophobic Chapman brothers, but there is so much invective in the British art world against Jews and only so much room here, so I’ll let that pass for now.
French artists don’t produce many anti-Semitic displays, but their historic ties with Egypt and the Middle East bring can that perspective, including a strong bias against Israel at times.
From France, England, Israel, U.S. and elsewhere, many artists live in complete artistic and political freedom but create streams of work that persuade viewers to believe they are trapped in some desperate place of abuse by Jews. Their virtually identical artist statements are not only a little suspect, but also show a lack of personal expression for supposedly being subjected to an overwhelming political agenda.
This may be in complete contrast to their craftsmanship itself, such as in Karim Abu Shaqra’s beautiful and brilliant paintings of flowers, birds and landscapes. He produces delightful work that reflects Western artists such as Van Gogh but incorporate Arabic pattern and brilliant, native coloring with a life-infused energy.
But the young artist’s statement belies his current conditions and life: “I, a Palestinian artist, am living and experiencing the current life of the Palestinian people. In this painting I portray the events that my people have lived through. I painted the past and reflected about the symbols and colors that stand for the past and the suffering of my people.”
Karim Abu Shaqra writes this while living in complete freedom in Jaffa, an Israeli city where he lives and paints and is free to travel.
These types of disingenuous attacks aimed at Israel accompany many artists and academics with a concomitant air of self-righteousness that no one is allowed to challenge. I will undoubtedly feel the wrath myself for daring to question the anti-Israeli narratives much of the contemporary art world has swallowed whole and is being forced to digest.
I thought this these lyrics by the brilliant songwriter and MIT mathematician Tom Lehrer sums it up pretty well:
But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans ’cause it’s very chic.
Step up and shake the hand
Of someone you can’t stand.
You can tolerate him if you try.
Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.
Regardless of who is right or wrong in every instance, the demonization of an entire nation leads to violence and abuse against its people anywhere on earth.
Artists as a group must stand against violence and knee-jerk bigotry of this kind. I’ve always considered the majority of artists to be deeply intellectual, non-conformist and above all, thinking persons. We have a chance to stand against a destructive tide once again in this millennium. Have we changed at all or would Marc Chagall still be appalled?