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Sorry, Woody, History's Not a Recurring Punch Line

July 14, 2005 By:
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David Gelernter
Author David Gelernter writes in the Los Angeles Times (www.latimes.com) July 8 about the contrasting views of Woody Allen and Natan Sharansky:

These two men "are celebrity Jewish intellectuals who offer radically different worldviews for your contemplation. Allen's is more popular with intellectuals worldwide. Sharansky's whole life says that Allen is wrong.

"Allen recently explained his view of history to the German magazine Der Spiegel. If you understand [his] disagreement [with Sharansky], you will grasp the main spiritual question facing Americans today.

"Allen, 69, is a filmmaker from Brooklyn. Sharansky, 57, was a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag; today, he is an Israeli politician.

" 'The history of the world,' Allen told Der Spiegel, 'is like: He kills me, I kill him. Only with different cosmetics and different castings: So in 2001, some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important. History is the same thing over and over again.'

"If history is merely a bad movie endlessly repeating itself, then history is meaningless. If all killing amounts to the same thing, you can't possibly save the world by fighting wars. Allen doesn't say these things but plainly implies them.

"These ideas are important: Americans must decide whether they are fools to fight for other people's freedom. The Iraq war was partly inspired by none other than Natan Sharansky - who passionately preaches that free people must battle tyranny militarily.

"But Allen's theory implies that we are crazy to fight in Iraq. Whether you kill a man while liberating his country or because you are Saddam Hussein just fooling around, he is equally dead.

"But Sharansky knows that as language expresses human thoughts, history expresses deeds, which (like thoughts), are sometimes nonsense and sometimes meaningful. The collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, meant that innumerable freedom-lovers had struggled, suffered and won.

"Sharansky was prepared to die for freedom. He saw fellow dissidents die. Don't tell him that all killing is the same, that history is going nowhere. He rode history's bucking bronco from a Soviet cell to a Jewish state that is strong enough (physically, spiritually) to fight off insatiable enemies in war after war and never surrender.

"As a Soviet prisoner he invented a prayer: 'Grant me the strength, the power, the intelligence and the patience to leave this jail and reach the land of Israel in an honest and worthy way.' The prayer was granted. For Sharansky, his personal history means nothing less than that God is listening. Is that meaning enough for Woody Allen?"

A Hard Look at British Discourse

Hebrew University scholar Robert S. Wistrich writes in the summer issue of Azure (www.Azure.org) about the pedigree of British anti-Semitism:

"Britain is unusual not simply in the frequency and severity of anti-Semitic incidents. While many European countries have come to associate anti-Semitism with the forces of either the extreme right, radical left or the increasingly vocal Muslim minorities, in Britain anti-Semitic sentiment is a part of mainstream discourse, continually resurfacing among the academic, political and media elites.

"While a great deal of attention has been focused on anti-Semitism - often masquerading under the banner of anti-Zionism - across Western Europe in the past few years, especially in France, in some ways British anti-Semitism is more prevalent, and enjoys greater tolerance in public life, than in any other country in Europe. While the French state, for example, has marshaled its resources to fight anti-Semitic words and actions, with greater or lesser success, in Britain the response has been far less decisive, its public denunciations frequently unsupported by institutional or government sanction.

"There are many possible explanations for the unusual quarter that anti-Semitism in Britain enjoys. Whereas the efforts to combat anti-Semitism in France and Germany are intimately connected with the memory of the Holocaust that took place on their soil, Britain has never had to undergo a similar kind of soul-searching. At the same time, London has become a world center for Muslim anti-Semitism, and the demonization of Jews and Israel that accompanies it.

"In a country such as Britain, with its proud history of tolerance, moderation and multi-culturalism, this is indeed a damning indictment. Unless something significant changes, the United Kingdom risks becoming the country where anti-Semitism has the freest rein, and where Jews feel the least secure, in all of Europe."

Another Wonderful Wrinkle in Jewish Life: Jews Who Love Jew-Bashers

Columnist Timothy Noah writes on www.Slate. msn.com July 8 about a curious case of a grant of absolution for participation in an anti-Semitic act:

"A new religious cult is growing, one that seeks purification through acts and statements of self-abasement. Its members are Jews who love Jew-bashers, and, like Jews for Jesus, it embraces contradiction.

"Fred Malek is managing partner of the Washington Baseball Club, the investment group with the inside track on acquiring the Washington Nationals.

"[More than 35 years ago], he was ordered by then-President Richard Nixon to count the number of Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Malek is not himself an anti-Semite, apparently; he is (or at least was) something worse: an opportunist willing, albeit reluctantly, to gratify the anti-Semitic impulses of his superior. Malek counted the Jews (or rather, guessed, according to surnames), and passed the names and number - 13 out of 35 - up the chain of command. Within two months, two of the 'Jews' were demoted. Malek has long insisted that he had nothing to do with that.

"Now, the leaders of a number of Jewish organizations are rallying to Malek's defense. Writing in Washington Jewish Week under the headline, 'Don't Count Malek Out for Counting Jews,' Eric Fingerhut reports that Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, 'both contacted WJW to defend Malek after being alerted to the issue by Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks, who called recent criticism of Malek 'character assassination.' What interest the Republican Jewish Coalition has on matters relating to Major League Baseball is anybody's guess.

"Foxman told Washington Jewish Week: 'One mistake does not an anti-Semite make.' This is obviously some sort of cult incantation, because Foxman has uttered precisely the same words about Malek before. Since we're repeating ourselves, my earlier rejoinder was: '[O]ne mistake a penitent contributor to Jewish causes makes!' "

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