Friday, September 28, 2007

A politically-activist art exhibit has let out some genies at New England's heartland.

A stinky affair

"Over the Wall: Censorship or anti-semitism? Inside the furor over an Art Hop exhibit

by Ken Picard

"The Art Hop debate raging this week in Burlington ...[i]s about walls themselves — walls that protect or imprison us, walls we hide behind, and walls that separate us from one another and from the truth. To shift the metaphor: Art is supposed to cast light in the darkness. But whether this controversy generates enlightenment or just a lot of heat and smoke remains to be seen. As does who will get burned.

The trouble started with a South End Art Hop installation by Peter Schumann, the 73-year-old Silesian-born founder and art director of Bread and Puppet Theater. In November 2006, Schumann visited Beit Sahour, a small, mostly Greek Orthodox town near Bethlehem in the Palestinian West Bank. For 10 days, he tried to teach Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 60 about performance art.

Schumann’s goal, he tells Seven Days, was to hear Palestinian stories about the pains and indignities they’ve suffered at the hands of Israeli soldiers — checkpoint searches, home incursions, property destruction and the deaths of loved ones — and then to turn those stories into street theater. Against this backdrop, Schumann was reading The Wall, John Hersey’s famous account of the extermination of the Warsaw Ghetto Jews by the Nazis.

Out of this experience, Schumann, no stranger to controversial art, created “Independence Paintings,” so named because the street performances were held on Palestine Independence Day. The paintings, done on blackened cardboard in his distorted and free-wheeling style, depict people in various states of anguish and persecution. The figures are juxtaposed with “random” quotations from Hersey’s book and descriptions of the Palestinian street theater.

Local opposition to Schumann’s exhibit was stirred up by Ric Kasini Kadour, a Burlington writer and gallery owner, who circulated emails about the piece before it had even opened. Kadour wrote an essay for Art Map Burlington entitled “Art Hop Exhibition Takes on Palestinian/Israeli Conflict — Wades into Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial.” In it, Kadour repeats many of the charges that were leveled against Schumann in Boston — that the piece equates the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with conditions in Nazi Germany, trivializes the Holocaust and undermines historical fact.

For his part, Schumann has repeatedly denied the accusations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial — after all, he and his family fled Nazi Germany when he was 10. He says his critics not only misinterpret his work but “over-interpret” it.

“I’m not saying that what’s happening in Palestine is the same as what happened in Warsaw . . . but it’s certainly a reminder,” Schumann says. “I don’t understand how a people so terribly violated can now violate another people so badly.”

This fracas unfolds against the backdrop of multilateral assault on a beleaguered Jewish community on a few fronts: Jimmy Carter's highly biased book about Israel, Mearsheimer and Walt's "scholarly" treatise on the insidious power of a "Jewish Lobby" which has a stranglehold over the American administration, the thorny issue of tenure for rabidly anti-Israel scholars who publish books which attempt to deny Jewish history and Jewish identity, Ahmadinejad's invitation to address Columbia.

And then, there is this comment from "Nina Parris ... who turned 80 on September 11 [and] is a VTJP member and a Holocaust survivor.":

If you think back to the 1930s, what happened the other day and the tactics that were used by the group that was creating the ruckus were exactly the tactics that were used by the Nazis in every meeting, whether it was trade unions, artists’ groups or on university campuses,” she says. “When this is a tactic adopted by Jews, something is rotten in Denmark.” which is as close to hate speech as I have seen recently, all the more dangerous coming, as it does, from a Holocaust survivor whose words then appear to have weighty "moral authority". Something is indeed rotten here.

As Oliver Kamm suggests, here, "Historical analogies are never exact but sometimes useful. If they are to be useful, then the precedent needs at a minimum to be stated accurately."

So let's see how this analogy works. Here's a record recounting what happened to trade unions under the Nazis:

The trade union movement fared no better. Hitler declared the First of May a National Labour Day, to which the trade union leaders humbly offered their full cooperation. The official organ of the German TUC, Gewerhschaftszeitung, published an article for its May Day edition with the following scandalous statement: 'We certainly need not strike our colours in order to recognise that the victory of National Socialism, though won in struggle against (the Social Democrats) our victory as well'!

After the National Labour Day mass demonstration of 100,000, Goebbels wrote: 'Tomorrow we will occupy the trade union buildings. There will be little resistance'.
The next day the SA occupied the trade union headquarters, dissolved the unions, confiscated the funds and arrested its leaders. They were loaded into trucks and taken off to the Nazi concentration camps.

And what did the Vermont "Jews" do to merit this comparison with a the might and brutality of the well-oiled Nazi regime?

"The letter [drafted by Members of the Israel Center of Vermont] then urged the board to: issue a public apology for allowing the Kovel lecture; adopt a formal policy that “only art presentations” be included in future Art Hops; conduct formal reviews of Art Hop programs before they’re approved; and open all future SEABA board meetings to the public."

So there is the proposed analogy, a letter written by a Jewish community under attack is analogized to the brutal, physical and legal violence of Hitler's regime. If this is not an example of blatant Holocaust trivialization, which is itself the younger brother of Holocaust denial, I don't know what is. Enough said.

The US has not yet formally confronted the full implications of this "new antisemitism". There is no uniform, universal statement defining and detailing what is antisemitism today by an authoritative body of scholars and litigators. Europe, however, did recognize that the erosion in the safety and freedom of the Jews among them called for a special scrutiny and concern. Which is why they commissioned the research and drafting of this document I'm referring to for consultation in this matter.

In December 2006, The European Union issued a document which set forth a list of definitions and examples deemed antisemitic. Here's a Summary overview of Antisemitism in the European Union .

This document was drafted and published in order to "allow people to copy and past parts of the definition as needed in order to clarify when debate and discussion has cross the line from free speech to hate speech. In the EU hate speech is not protected, it is in fact a crime".

According to this document,

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective - such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non­ Jews.

Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

"Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self ­determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

I highlighted in red the relevant clauses in this document that can be applied to the Art Exhibit, and to the specific analogy made by Nina Parris, equating Jews with their Nazi exterminators of 65 years ago.

Regrettably, the stench is unmistakable.



Rachel Corrie is mentioned in the Ken Picard's article, in that following manner:

"Neirman was one of several people who circulated flyers at the Schumann/Kovel talk. One flyer took aim at a Bread and Puppet performance called “Daughter Courage.” That theater piece deals with the death of 23-year-old American activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to stop the destruction of a Palestinian house. Neirman’s flyers featured photos and captions depicting eight other “Rachels” who lived in Israel and were killed by Palestinian violence. "

As usual the information contained in this nugget is wrong.

The kindest way I can assess Rachel Corrie’s Palestinian mission is in comparing her to Pasha Antipov, the idealistic revolutionary from Dr. Zhivago, whose rage of exclusive pity overwhelms his moral values. The suffering he saw turned him from a naive idealist to a brutal, mass-killing revolutionary. He was a lost soul.

Corrie, likewise, aligned herself sentimentally and seamlessly with suffering Palestinians, reserving for them her absolute pity to the extent that suffering Israelis merited nothing but a sneering hatred from her. Corrie’s idealism did not proceed from love but from ideologically induced hatred. She was a de-facto apologist for Palestinian terrorism, and she died trying to prevent the work of an Israeli bulldozer, which was searching for munitions buried in the ground . Contrary to Palestinian reports and what is claimed in the article, the bulldozer was not there to demolish a house, (though houses used as cover for weapon-smuggling tunnels were demolished by the IDF, but not on that particular day). Any which way you slice it, those munitions were there to be utilized in attacks against innocent civilians. Corrie died protecting terrorist weapons. She was completely indifferent to the deaths these weapons spelled at a time when suicide bombings were a matter of daily occurrence in Israel.


Anti-Racist blogged on the same topic, here.


At 9:42 AM EDT, Blogger Anti-Racist Blog: Exposing Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism on American College Campuses said...

Great post. Thanks for covering this important story. Keep up the excellent work!

At 8:12 AM EDT, Blogger Ian Thal said...

I actually covered the Bread and Puppet story rather extensively on my blog, firstly because I had performed with the company off-and-on for some years until I recognized
92>a show which we were rehearsing had anti-Semitic content.

I then followed the afore mentioned debacle in Vermont, in a series that began here and culminated here.

At 9:19 AM EST, Blogger Ian Thal said...

The story of Peter Schumann's and Bread and Puppet's trivialization of the Holocaust continues. The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research blog ran a series earlier this month analyzing the debacle, and featured interviews both with Schumann and myself.

I should also point out that the statement in Seven Days that Schumann's family had fled from Nazi Germany when he was ten years old, appears to be in error. Schumann tends to be vague about his childhood, but the few statements he has made indicated that his family was fleeing from Allied bombing of Nazi Germany and an invading Soviet Army. I pointed out that error in a letter to the editor


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