Tisha Be’av is a traditional day of mourning in the Jewish world.
Apparently this is the day that many tragedies occurred: the destruction of not just the first, but also the second Temple, the Spanish Inquisition and on and on the mournful list goes. The book of lamentations we read on Tisha Be’av is called “Eicha,” from the Hebrew word meaning something like “alas.” While we can’t always confirm the exact date, what occurred on Tisha Be’av 2014/5775 on literally opposite sides of the world suggests that tragedy does, alas, befall the Jewish people on this date.
In the UK, after the shocking but almost inevitable boycott of an Israeli arts company at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, on Tisha Be’av in London Tricycle Theatre took the boycott to its logical conclusion. They did so by going from a boycott of Israel to a boycott of the local Jewish community by refusing to host the UK Jewish Film Festival on the grounds that the festival gets its money from the Israeli embassy.
I’m not sure what I find more frightening, that the cinema did this or that they don’t see the anti-Semitism inherent in their act. The anti-Semitism is manifest in the fact that these anti-Semites – yes it’s time to say things as they are – will only accept Jews on conditional terms. That condition is for Jews to renounce ties to their homeland, an expectation that glaringly reveals that those making these conditions completely fail to comprehend the place of Israel in Jewish identity.
The real issue here is not the boycott of the festival itself, but what the artistic director of the Tricycle Theater Indhu Rubasingham is telling us is deemed acceptable and legitimate for Jews to believe. If people like this had their way Jews will be like modern day Marranos, watching Israeli films and discussing Israel in secret.
Incredibly, Rubansingham said the cinema wants to “find a way” to work with the Jews and their film festival in the future. Maybe all Jews need to do is stop praying toward Jerusalem and then the way will be found.
Meanwhile, down in Australia, respected veteran journalist Mike Carlton had a week earlier published a vitriolic article against Israel in the respected broadsheet the Sydney Morning Herald, with allegations of genocide, which played on the theme that the Jews, who experienced the Holocaust, should know better. Carlton’s claims were bad enough, but they were controversially illustrated by a cartoon of a hooked-nose Jew setting off a remote-controlled bomb in Gaza.
This was a clear case where the criticism of Israel is informed by and reinforces the worst stereotypical perceptions of Jews. Eventually, under threat of legal action under racial vilification legislation, the newspaper’s editor apologized for the cartoon, but this doesn’t mitigate the fact that he regarded the image, not to mention Carlton’s words, as legitimate in the first place. This worryingly confirms that such influential people as the editor and cartoonist don’t need to be rabid anti-Semites to buy into and perpetuate anti-Semitic imagery and myths.
This furor around the Carlton article climaxed on Tisha Be’av when the competitor Australian newspaper reported how journalist Carlton responded to email communication from members of the Jewish community.
Carlton took one aggrieved reader to task by responding; “You’re the one full of hate and bile, sunshine.
The classic example of the Jewish bigot. Now f..k off.”
While there is some comfort in the fact his employer took action and Carlton ultimately lost his job, that Carlton is not a member of the socialist revolutionary Left or neo-Nazi far Right is cause for further concern.
This is because we can disconcertingly assume he is not the only mainstream member of the media and public elite to have such Israel-related anti-Semitic prejudice. The only difference is he was both stupid and honest enough to admit it.
At first this might sound odd, but I think the Jewish world owes Rubasingham, the Tricycle Theatre, Carlton and the Herald a debt of gratitude. For Rubasingham and Tricycle have clarified and confirmed what we always knew, that the boycott against Israel is and always has been about boycotting Jews. For their part, Carlton and the Herald have exposed the thin line between criticism of Israel and outright anti-Semitism and concomitantly the nexus between the two.
Now that we can see the anti-Semitism we have been starkly shown we have to fight it, otherwise what occurred this Tisha Be’av on opposites sides of the world makes me fearful of what this could lead Jews to mourn on future Tisha Be’avs. Alas.
The author was born and educated in London, and is an associate professor specializing in anti-Semitism at the Center for Citizenship and Globalization at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He is the co-editor of the book Israel the Diaspora and Identity.