Monday, April 09, 2007

"Kike like me"- a Canadian documentary to watch for:

"- Are you a Jew? Don't ask Jamie Kastner. The question annoys the Canadian documentarymaker. He gets asked it a lot.

So Kastner shot "Kike Like Me," a road movie bowing at Toronto's Hot Docs documentary festival on April 24. In the film, Kastner answers a hypothetical "yes" when asked whether he's Jewish, followed by an equally terse "Why do you want to know?" to gauge how friend and foe reacts.

"I saw theatrical possibility from seeing how Jewish identity plays out in so-called civilized cultures where we've gotten over all 'that,'" Kastner explains.

The results are revealing. Kastner underwent a shotgun bar mitzvah from proselytizing Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn asking passersby "Are you Jewish?"; got turfed from Pat Buchanan's living room after asking why the TV pundit attacks Neocons for being Jewish; debated Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon, a self-described "devoted opponent of Israel and of Zionism," in London; and partied with Amsterdam soccer hooligans proudly calling themselves "Joden" (Jews).

The film's title is a play on "Black Like Me," John Howard Griffin's classic 1961 book about a white reporter dying his skin black to experience bigotry first-hand.

But there's more of a connection with Elia Kazan's 1947 movie "Gentleman's Agreement," where Gregory Peck plays a crusading reporter pretending to be Jewish for a magazine article exposing racial intolerance.

Kastner does the same for his documentary. Like Peck's character, he is at first peeved by early prejudice, until Kastner gets more than he bargained for when asking Parisians of Middle Eastern background what they think about Jews. And his breaking point comes at Auschwitz when Kastner abruptly tells his cameraman they won't be joining the tourist hordes visiting the original ovens, and instead will just go home.

"They were perceived as Jews, and died for it. And I'm perceived as a Jew, and it suddenly doesn't sound like ancient history," Kastner says at the end of a personal journey in which he appears aloof and wise-cracking as the film begins, to experiencing profound menace at its end.
Not surprisingly, the 10 broadcasters who prelicensed "Kike Life Me" -- including BBC Storyville, the U.S. Sundance Channel, Canada's TVOntario, AVRO in Holland, Denmark's TV2, YLE in Finland and Australia's SBS -- felt equal menace over the film's title.


But Kastner says only one broadcaster, Toronto-based Chum Ltd., rejected the "Kike Like Me" title and chose instead "Jew Like Me."

Chum production executive Charlotte Engel insists the word "Kike," while suitably in context in the film, might be considered discriminatory by some.

So, is Kastner Jewish?

"Why do you want to know?" he shoots back, with the barest trace of a smile.
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Funny coincidence here. This morning as I was composing a comment over here, I thought of referencing the movie A Gentleman's Agreement, in trying to explain my intuitive abhorance of of the phrase describing Jews as enjoying "white skin previlege" .

"Phil Green: Dark hair, dark eyes. Just like Dave. Just like a lot of guys who aren't Jewish. No accent, no mannerisms. Neither has Dave."

What's missing from this quote? "White skin"!

A white man pretending to be a Jew because he can fake it, due to his white skin and black hair. A Jew with white skin and black hair can fake it, be seen as a white man, exploit that similarity. The white man is ennobled for trying to pretend to be a Jew (downgraded). The title of Phil Green's article was to be: "I Was Jewish for Six Months." And after he is done with his little expreiment, he can wipe his brow in relief and go back to being a non-Jew and marry the quietist woman who could not even finish those six months with him, but not before she sacrifices some of her own social prestige by renting her house to a Jew!

Would the Jew be likewise ennobled for pretending to be white, make use of his "white skin previlege"?

Not bloody likely. The assumption is that white skin "upgrades" the Jew and therefore the Jew is twice suspect: for being an upstart, and for leading a double life. Which is exactly why I find this line of argumentation so sordid and pejorative, an antisemitic argument, rooted in the primitive fear that a Jew could not be easily identifiable as one.

Esther Delisle, who wrote a book about the legacy of Lionel-Groulx and antisemitism in Quebec, talked about how the idea of the invisibility of the Jew was a source of national paranoia during the thirties and forties. A Jew named Goldberg could change his name to Godbout and there would be no way of telling him apart from non-Jews.

Mordechai Richler had an ironic twist on this paranoia when he discussed Jews as being designated "an invisible minority". "My people", he used to say with some acerbity, "are anything but invisible".

The term "invisible minority" was much bandied about when Multiculturalism was just beginning to be the big Canadian invention. Another popular term without any Jewish content to it was "hebridity". Fortunately, both phrases have more or less vanished from the public discourse. And there is a reason why they vanished. They are simply racist. They use racial markers to denote some added value, but the value is that of a diminishing, which is always the case when you try to assort and categorize human beings according to the colour of their skin, whether literally or metaphorically.

But apparently, in the lexicon of the Radical Left, talking about Jews enjoying the previlege of white skin is perfectly legitimate.

Go figure.

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