During Saturday Evening’s Saturday Night Live dress rehearsal, the cast tried this sketch, which parodies the obsequiousness shown by U.S. Senators toward Israel last week, during the confirmation hearing for former Senator Chuck Hagel, to head the Department of Defense:
The sketch didn’t run, but the show soon put it up on the web at HULU, where it was picked up by Huffington Post and Mondoweiss by early Sunday morning.
In comments and articles on the sketch, many are saying that the sketch wasn’t run because it wasn’t funny. I didn’t watch SNL this week, but my wife did, and she says it would have been one of the funniest sketches this week, which isn’t saying much these days. I think the audience may have at times been uncomfortable watching the sketch unfold before them.
Surprisingly, the funniest headline on it, even beating out Wonkette, was the Times of Israel, which put this in the headline:
After being banished from earnest Washington discussion for decades by various press gate-keepers, the absurdly overblown power of the Greater Israel lobby is now seeping into the popular culture. SNL captures the lunacy.
This does appear to be the case. As Philip Weiss noted today:
Even friends of mine who don’t know the issue are fulminating about the Hagel hearing. And remember that those gatekeepers and lobby pooh-poohers included the Atlantic Magazine, David Remnick, Leon Wieseltier, Leslie Gelb, Walter Russell Mead, Jeffrey Goldberg, among other eminent journalists.
2013 is shaping up to be the year during which people will no longer have to carefully and guardedly talk about Israeli apartheid, but will finally be listened to, when they openly draw attention to Israeli Apartheid.
Watching the Breitbart-inspired campaign against Hagel’s “Hamas PAC” unfold, the SNL scriptwriters might consider keeping their pencils handy.
Last Thursday, philosopher Dr. Judith Butler delivered a profound address at Brooklyn University. She was one of two speakers at what might have been a small gathering of students and Brooklyn activists, wanting to hear some intelligent ideas about the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The movement, begun by Palestinians in 2005, models itself somewhat after similar movements seeking to put pressure on the apartheid South African regime, from the late 1980s, through the fall of that regime in the mid-1990s.
The other speaker was Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of Global BDS. Barghouti has a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Columbia, and a Masters in philosophy from Tel Aviv University.
At the time [Butler was invited] I thought it would be very much like other events I have attended, a conversation with a few dozen student activists in the basement of a student center. So, as you can see, I am surprised and ill prepared for what has happened.
What happened was an explosion of invective against Butler, Barghouti, Brooklyn College, its President, and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, for supporting their being able to even talk on campus about BDS under the sponsorship of one of its departments, and without someone on the podium with them who could offer an opposing view.
Judith Butler drew some hearty laughs with this:
Yet another objection, sometimes uttered by the same people who made the first, is that BDS does qualify as a viewpoint, but as such, ought to be presented only in a context in which the opposing viewpoint can be heard as well. There was yet a qualification to this last position, namely, that no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor [Alan Dershowitz], but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.
Far more Americans know of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement today than did a week ago. Many millions of people have been exposed for the first time to the idea that Israel should be boycotted, divested and sanctioned for its occupation of the territories. Many more Americans, one can safely assume, have formed a positive image of the BDS movement than those who have now turned against it.
Tafasta merube lo tafasta, the Talmud teaches us: grasp all, lose all. The heavy-handed, hyperbole heavy, all-guns-blazing campaign against what would have been, as Mayor Bloomberg put it, “a few kids meeting on campus” mushroomed and then boomeranged, giving the hitherto obscure BDS activists priceless public relations that money could never buy.
Rather than focusing attention on what BDS critics describe as the movement’s deceitful veneer over its opposition to the very existence of Israel, the disproportionate onslaught succeeded in casting the BDS speakers who came to the Brooklyn campus as freedom-loving victims being hounded and oppressed by the forces of darkness.
Butler argues that hate speech exists retrospectively, only after being declared such by state authorities. In this way, the state reserves for itself the power to define hate speech and, conversely, the limits of acceptable discourse.
I’ve wanted to write an enduring essay about Butler’s Brooklyn College address since reading it. I’ve re-read it twice now, trying to distill it for popular blog consumption. That may be a task beyond my ability.
The concept of censorship making an idea being censored more known and attractive predates Butler’s analysis. The history of people finding ways around such censorship goes back to ancient times too. When societies begin to break down through hubris, hypocrisy, corruption, pollution and so on, some members of the nomenklatura realize better than others what is happening, what is at stake.
Butler’s writings and talks (on Youtube, for instance) show examples of her sense of irony, and some humor. Her overall style, though, is quite dry. Nobody has ever accused her of pandering for attention, within or beyond academia.
Thinking about her irony and perhaps intentional avoidance of populist metaphor and framing today, I found myself listening more closely to the wildly ironic Dmitri Shosatakovich’s 12th Symphony, a work I’m considering conducting in 2014. He wrote it at the beginning of the end of the paradigm of a communist utopia in the USSR. He had ceased to believe in the myth long before, but had been rehabilitated, and was commanded to write a triumphal work, dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Lenin.
He was hesitant, but fulfilled the commission. It was thought to be a workmanlike, dutiful symphony, but it has never been regarded as one of his masterpieces.
From my first hearing in the mid-1960s, I detected that he was mocking the idolization of Lenin. He couldn’t be more obvious than he was, or it would not be performed. He mocked his own film music to the dozens of patriotic Soviet movies he scored. He parroted the false drive forward of the increasingly failed system that entrapped him and other artists.
Watching the increasingly Sovietesque moves to somehow save Israeli apartheid from being truthfully perceived remind me aspects of the downfall of the USSR – not so much as in the Mother country, but in its satellites.
Here is Yevgeni Mravinsky, conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s iconic slap in the face of false monumentalism, from a 1984 broadcast:
If you live in Brooklyn, you have probably heard of the threat from members of the New York City Council against Brooklyn College. If you live elsewhere, chances are that, unless you are involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights, or the struggle against them, you’ve missed his one.
In a nutshell, in late January a controversy arose over the political science department at Brooklyn College sponsoring an upcoming appearance there by two advocates of Global BDS. That movement, now in its ninth year, advocates putting pressures upon the increasingly apartheid Israeli state, similar to the sanctions imposed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, against the increasingly apartheid South African state. Here is a description of the controversy, from a friendly point of view:
At Brooklyn College, a student chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine organized a forthcoming panel with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti to discuss the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The political science department agreed to co-sponsor it. When certain individuals hostile to BDS heard about this event they raised an outcry. The outcry started with Alan Dershowitz, who demanded that the political science department either withdraw its sponsorship or ‘balance’ it with a voice – namely his – that is critical of the panelists. Very quickly this became a city and state-wide issue, and various politicians, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, began to make the same demands. Now, quite disturbingly, the New York City Council is threatening to withhold future funding for CUNY unless the political science department either cancels the event or withdraws its sponsorship.
Advocates for the college’s position have emerged, including constitutional attorney, Glenn Greenwald, Palestinian rights advocate Andrew Sullivan, and – surprisingly – MSNBC‘s Chris Hayes (as described by Phil Weiss):
A “who’s who” list of New York politicians is trying to shut down the conversation. Hayes mentions Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler. “I understand why there’s an outcry” from those who find BDS odious — he says, covering his bases. But Hayes is clear about the academic-freedom principle and about the highly “selective” concern for balance in this instance and not others. What if the University of Alabama tried to disinvite a gay speaker? Hayes says that some of those politicians “browbeating” the college have been on his show. Good liberals. Yes: Progressive Except Palestine, PEP.
Greenwald has written several columns now on the threats against the college. Most recently, he centered on comments by NYC council member, Lew Fidler, whose threats against Brooklyn College funding seem to have been the most explicit yet. Greenwald:
How can anyone not be seriously alarmed by this? These threats are infinitely more destructive than any single academic event could ever possibly be…Plainly, this entire controversy has only one ‘principle’ and one purpose: to threaten, intimidate and bully professors, school administrators and academic institutions out of any involvement in criticisms of Israel.
One speaker at the upcoming event, prominent feminist philosopher, Judith Butler, has defended herself many times against specious “anti-semitism” charges (Butler is Jewish), most notably, in her profound essay on anti-semitism, in the London Review of Books, eleven years ago:
In holding out for a distinction to be made between Israel and Jews, I am calling for a space for dissent for Jews, and non-Jews, who have criticisms of Israel to articulate; but I am also opposing anti-semitic reductions of Jewishness to Israeli interests. The ‘Jew’ is no more defined by Israel than by anti-semitism. The ‘Jew’ exceeds both determinations, and is to be found, substantively, as a historically and culturally changing identity that takes no single form and has no single telos. Once the distinction is made, discussion of both Zionism and anti-semitism can begin, since it will be as important to understand the legacy of Zionism and to debate its future as to oppose anti-semitism wherever we find it.
The other main speaker in the upcoming BC event is Palestinian, Omar Barghouti, echoed Butler in a 2011 interview with The Guardian on Global BDS, which he helped found:
Here is what the petition in support of Brooklyn College’s position states:
We the undersigned write in support of the decision by Brooklyn College’s political science department to co-sponsor a panel discussion with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti. We urge CUNY President Karen Gould to resist attempts by those who have attempted to intimidate CUNY into canceling, changing, or withdrawing its sponsorship for the panel. We are especially concerned that the New York City Council has threatened to withhold further money for CUNY if it does not either cancel the event or withdraw its sponsorship. This is a grave threat to academic freedom and sets a terrible precedent for the future.
MyFDL is the community site of progressive political blog Firedoglake. Anyone can participate by writing a diary, commenting on others’ diaries, or joining groups to find other people in your area. Content posted to MyFDL is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to Firedoglake.