web analytics
July 4, 2015 / 17 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

Alice Walker Kills Hebrew ‘Color Purple’ Deal Citing ‘Apartheid’

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of her prize-winning work, citing what she called Israel’s “apartheid state.”

In a June 9 letter to Yediot Books, Walker said she would not allow the publication of the book into Hebrew because “Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.”

In her letter, posted Sunday by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on its website, Walker supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and offered her hope that the BDS movement “will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.”

Here is the full version of Walker’s letter:

June 9, 2012

Dear Publishers at Yediot Books,

Thank you so much for wishing to publish my novel THE COLOR PURPLE. It isn’t possible for me to permit this at this time for the following reason: As you may know, last Fall in South Africa the Russell Tribunal on Palestine met and determined that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories. The testimony we heard, both from Israelis and Palestinians (I was a jurist) was devastating. I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse. Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.

It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.

In that regard, I offer an earlier example of THE COLOR PURPLE’s engagement in the world-wide effort to rid humanity of its self-destructive habit of dehumanizing whole populations. When the film of The Color Purple was finished, and all of us who made it decided we loved it, Steven Spielberg, the director, was faced with the decision of whether it should be permitted to travel to and be offered to the South African public. I lobbied against this idea because, as with Israel today, there was a civil society movement of BDS aimed at changing South Africa’s apartheid policies and, in fact, transforming the government.

It was not a particularly difficult position to hold on my part: I believe deeply in non-violent methods of social change though they sometimes seem to take forever, but I did regret not being able to share our movie, immediately, with (for instance) Winnie and Nelson Mandela and their children, and also with the widow and children of the brutally murdered, while in police custody, Steven Biko, the visionary journalist and defender of African integrity and freedom.

We decided to wait. How happy we all were when the apartheid regime was dismantled and Nelson Mandela became the first president of color of South Africa.

Only then did we send our beautiful movie! And to this day, when I am in South Africa, I can hold my head high and nothing obstructs the love that flows between me and the people of that country.

Which is to say, I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside. I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time.

We must continue to work on the issue, and to wait.

In faith that a just future can be fashioned from small acts,
Alice Walker

In a June, 2011 interview with Foreign Policy, walker said:

“I think Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world. And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves. If you go to Gaza and see some of the bombs – what’s left of the bombs that were dropped – and the general destruction, you would have to say, yeah, it’s terrorism. When you terrorize people, when you make them so afraid of you that they are just mentally and psychologically wounded for life — that’s terrorism. So these countries are terrorist countries.”

It was not clear when Yediot Books, an imprint of the daily Yediot Achronot newspaper, made the request, or whether Walker could in fact stop translation of the book. At least one version of the book has already appeared in Hebrew, in the 1980s.

“The Color Purple,” which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, was adapted into a movie in 1985 directed by Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

The novel and the film, which was nominated for 11 Oscars, treat racism in the American South in the first part of the 20th century and sexism among blacks.

Walker has intensified her anti-Israel activism in recent years, traveling to the Gaza Strip to advocate on behalf of the Palestinians.

JTA content was used in this article.

The Big Lie: ‘Israel Apartheid’

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Campuses across Canada engaged in Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) events last week amid justified rebukes by the federal government. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney linked IAW to anti-Semitism and accused organizers of using “the cover of academic freedom to demonize and delegitimize the state of Israel” and paint it as racist. In pointing to Israel being the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and singled out for condemnation, Kenney also stated that organizers of IAW ignore the brutal slaughter of the Al-Assad regime of its own people and the suppression of basic human rights throughout many countries in the Middle East. Israel Apartheid Week began in Toronto in 2005 after Palestinian organizations called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel. The groups erroneously compared Israel ‘s treatment of the Palestinians to the treatment of South African blacks, when powerful campus movements had lobbied for divestments and boycotts against South Africa for black liberation. In 1983, the UN levied its condemnation of the practice of apartheid at the World Conference against Racism, where over two dozen countries took part in trade sanctions against South Africa. At the 2001 Durban I Anti-Racism Conference, the agenda was hijacked by Israeli antagonists, led by Iran and then Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat. Israel was singled out as a racist regime and a similar course followed as in the South African anti-apartheid movements, only it was a demonization of Israel that was unjustified. Adding fuel was that South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu spuriously compared the conditions of which the Palestinians live to those of South Africa under apartheid.

The goal of Israel Apartheid Week is to erode Zionism and delegitimize the state of Israel. The strategy is a protraction of the Arab nationalist movement and that of Palestinian Radicalism which strives to work against Israel and the Jewish people, evidenced in the collaboration between Adolph Hitler, Adolph Eichmann and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during World War II. In an open letter, Palestinian students urge fellow students worldwide to unite for Israel Apartheid Week in widespread harassment, bullying and intimidation of Jewish students. Organizers also call for BDS. Nowhere is the mention of the Palestinian call for Israel’s destruction as outlined in both the PA and Hamas Charters.

Even before the state of Israel was established, Israel was sensitive to human rights, and Jewish leaders sought to avoid any situation similar to South Africa, as David Ben-Gurion expressed to Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934. Today, this commitment can be clearly seen in Israel where Arabs are full citizens with the right to vote, the right to establish their own political parties, the right to hold top positions, as they do in Israel’s supreme court, its diplomatic corps, all of Israel’s hospitals and universities, and even as members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Under apartheid, black South Africans were not even allowed to hold citizenship or vote in the very country in which they held the demographic majority. The Palestinian experience in the territories along the separation fence and in the so-called “occupied territories” is a result of the determination of Palestinians – both in the PLO and Hamas to destroy Israel – as could be seen before the fence was built by the bombings of hotels, discotheques, cafes, and buses. The territories under dispute were taken by Israel in wars in 1947 and 1967, in which Israel – the size of Vancouver Island – was forced to defend itself: both times, five neighboring countries invaded Israel in efforts to destroy it. Israel still needs to defend itself, not only from rocket-fire and other attacks, but most recently from continued threats of genocide by Iran, especially should it acquire nuclear capability.

Even after the South African Judge, Richard Goldstone, later retracted his own, UN-sponsored Goldstone report, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said that Israel, like any country, would defend its citizens against Gaza attacks. This is a very different situation than under South African apartheid. Egypt too erected a wall of separation from the Gaza Strip; the barrier was dubbed the Wall of Shame by Arab writers and leaders for isolating 1.5 million Palestinians, yet Egypt has not been branded “apartheid” by their Muslim “brothers.”

While the propaganda of Israel Apartheid Week spreads, the economic growth in the West Bank stands at 4%, compared to 3% in the US, and an astronomical 28% in Gaza. The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in Judea and Samaria, Major General Eitan Dangot noted that every day, Israel transfers luxuries into Gaza, including LCD screens, Mercedes and Hyundai jeeps, modern refrigerators, and whirlpool bathtubs. He added that Israel has invested over 50 million shekels, or over USD $10 million, in renovating and expanding the Kerem Shalom crossing through which most of the goods enter Gaza. Any segregation of the Palestinians is based entirely on Israeli security needs, not on racism.

In Search Of South African Jewish Art

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

South African Jewish Museum 88 Hatfield Street, Cape Town, South Africa http://www.sajewishmuseum.co.za

 

Cup presented to Benjamin Norden in 1857. South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town. Photo: Menachem Wecker.

I went to the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town with high hopes of seeing how South African Jews uniquely approached the fine arts and Jewish ritual objects. Lions—as the symbol of Judah and later Israel in general—can be found in Jewish art throughout the ages and across the globe, of course. But I wondered if the Jews of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Port Elizabeth incorporated other native animals into their art. I had visions of Zebras holding up Chanukah lamps, giraffes on Kiddush cups, and elephants on Havdalah spice boxes. I wondered to what extent South African Jewish artists looked to traditional African art and design for inspiration, and whether they drew upon symbols and styles from their Eastern European, primarily Lithuanian, heritage. At very least, I expected to learn a great deal more about William Kentridge, a Johannesburg-born Jewish painter with an international reputation.

Not only was I surprised not to find bead-encrusted mezuzahs and cheetah-patterned challahcovers, but I saw virtually no art at all. And the few works I saw had little or nothing to do with South Africa. Several glass cases with ritual objects in the first room didn’t even identify where and when they were created, and with the exception of one menorah, they all resembled ritual objects one could see in a Jewish museum anywhere in the world.

Menorah. South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town. Photo: Menachem Wecker.

The menorah in question (image one), which had no identifying wall text, features at least three animals. On the pinnacle, supported by some sort of pedestal that could be a hand, jug, or flame, is some kind of deer. Judging from the antlers, the deer is more of the North American rather than African Kudu variety. Lower down on the menorah, two forms jut out, which could be crocodiles or merely geometric embellishments. But the central part of the menorah is the most interesting. Two animal forms stand on their hind legs leaning against an open portal. The blessing recited over lighting the Chanukah candles—“… to light the candle of Chanukah”—is inscribed on the two animals and above the portal they flank.

“Yerushalayim d’Afrike’” (Jerusalem of Africa), the history of the Jews of Oudtshoorn, a town in the Western Cape, written in Yiddish by Leibl Feldman in 1940. Cover design by Rene Shapshak. South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town. Photo: Menachem Wecker.

The animals are peculiar in shape and thus difficult to interpret. It’s clear that they have tails and ears, and they don’t appear to be lions, since they are mane-less. Depending upon which angle one inspects them from, they could be elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, or wolves. And the zigzag patterns on the animals, as well as the eye-like forms don’t help either, as the same patterns appear on the “crocodiles” and throughout the rest of the menorah.

If the symbolism on the menorah is ambiguous, the scene represented on a cup that the Jewish community of Cape Town presented to Benjamin Norden in 1857 is quite clear, although it’s a surprising mythological choice. Norden, who founded South Africa’s first Hebrew congregation, Tikvath Yisrael, was given the cup in honor of his return to England. A lion stands atop the large ceremonial cup, while a bearded man carrying a trident is depicted on the side of the cup. The figure—surely Neptune or Poseidon—stands in a chariot drawn by four horses in the water, as two angels blow trumpets (probably not shofrot). Berries and leaves adorn various other parts of the cup.

Whether the cup was originally created for a non-Jewish patron and later adapted as a gift for Benjamin Norden, or whether it was created specifically for the occasion, the choice of a pagan symbol, rather than a Biblical or rabbinic one, to mark the celebration of a Jew’s career in South Africa is noteworthy.

Other interesting aspects of the museum’s collection include references to Jewish involvement in the ostrich feather trade (see image three) and apartheid. “In my experience,” Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography, in a quote that is printed in a prominent wall text, “I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.”

Shtetl installation. South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town. Photo: Menachem Wecker.

The Mainstreaming Of Chabad Rabbis

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

   I have witnessed a revolution. On a recent lecture tour that took me to Australia and South Africa, I hardly found a major mainstream synagogue without a Chabad rabbi. Shuls that once swore they would not invite in Chabad are now attracting large numbers of new members under the helm of young and charismatic Chabad rabbis. Many of them are the biggest shuls in their respective countries.
 
   In Sydney, Australia I spoke at Central Synagogue, where Rabbi Levi Wolf has transformed a shul on the decline into a powerhouse; for Rabbi Benzion Milecki, whose years at Southhead Synagogue have made it one of the most vibrant in the Southern Hemisphere; and for Rabbi Motti Feldman, creator of the vibrant Dover Heights community.
 
   In Cape Town, I spoke Friday night and Saturday at Sea Point Synagogue, with South Africa’s largest membership. It’s now on fire thanks to the charismatic leadership of Rabbi Dovid Weinberg. I also had the pleasure of speaking at Chabad of Cape Town, which for 35 years has molded Judaism in that city under the dedicated leadership of Rabbi Mendel Popack.
 
   In those countries, as in the United Kingdom and even the United States, Chabad rabbis are beginning to take over centrist, Modern Orthodox communities that once viewed Chabad as too religiously right wing.
 
   The mainstreaming of Chabad in leading synagogues around the world would seem to go against the Chabad model of opening independent Chabad Houses and building autonomous communities. On the other end of it, why would a Modern Orthodox shul choose a Chabad rabbi, whose chassidic lifestyle is seemingly so at odds with that of the congregation?
 
   Whereas other rabbis want to build shuls and increase membership, Chabad rabbis want people to practice Judaism. Chabad rabbis, even in large communities, are less interested in the institution of the synagogue and much more focused on the personal observance of individuals.
 
   The reason it works is that the whole problem with synagogue life is its institutionalized, depersonalized nature, which alienates people and makes them feel uncomfortable when they attend. But when the focus is on the person rather than the structure, no one feels like he or she is being asked to simply populate the pews.
 
   The Weinbergs in Cape Town are an example of how this works. I stayed in an apartment right across from them yet I barely got to see them, so busy were they hosting guests in their home, teaching bat mitzvah classes, conducting funerals and running the shul minyan, among countless other responsibilities. Their focus was not on their responsibilities to an institution’s board or membership but rather on giving their lives to the service of their fellow Jews who require religious guidance and inspiration.
 
   The Weinbergs do not have career but a calling. A career ends at night and stops completely on vacation. A calling is forever. It exists whenever there is anyone in need. And the Jewish people today have unending spiritual needs. The focus, for example, at a bat mitzvah class is not the speech the girl will give but the Shabbos candles she will light, the kosher food she will eat, and the Jewish books she will read well after the ceremony is over.
 
   But is it right for rabbis who run synagogues to put more emphasis on congregants observing tradition than on the functions of the shul? Is this not a diversion from their core responsibilities of building the congregation?
 
   Here’s my response, and it’s pretty brutal. Synagogue life for many is unbelievably monotonous. They find the shul service long and boring. We try to alleviate the bland routine of shul life with rabbis who are great speakers and by offering a delectable kiddush after the davening.
 
   Fair enough. Good whisky may indeed bring to life what can seem to some like a dead service. But the key to making shul exciting is making every person who attends feel like he or she belongs. Home life is exciting not because there are fireworks every night but because of the comfort and nurturing it provides. Shul is the same.
 
   When people start observing a Torah lifestyle they see the shul as an intrinsic element in their lives. It provides comfort for families and nurturance for the soul. As they find a sense of belonging they begin to participate, and the monotony ends.
 
   I regularly travel around the world to speak. I am at different shuls all the time. But I am never a stranger. I am always among my people. Because I am committed to Jewish life, every shul is my home.
 

   Chabad rabbis are enjoying so much success around the world as mainstream rabbis because their emphasis on Jewish observance over synagogue attendance makes people feel, once they do begin attending, that shul is an extension of home.

 

 

 

   Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Jewish Values Network and the bestselling author of 25 books including his most recent – “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.

Thoughts On Richard Goldstone, Samantha Power, And Israel

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

The subject of Judge Richard Goldstone came up quite frequently during my recent lecture tour in South Africa – at a dinner in Johannesburg at the home of Chabad head Rabbi David Masinter, where acquaintances of the judge were in attendance; at Sea Point Synagogue, South Africa’s largest, where I lectured and whose rabbi, Dovid Weinberg, had officiated at Goldstone’s grandson’s bar mitzvah; at my speech for Chabad of Cape Town and later in Pretoria.
 
The man the media describe as a “respected international jurist” and who had falsely accused Israel of war crimes was never far from anyone’s lips.
 
South Africans are among the world’s proudest Jews and most ardent Zionists. So it was understandable that they would detest Goldstone, viewing him a traitor to his people, a man who engaged in a blood libel against the Jewish state in order to enhance his standing at the United Nations.
 
I have never agreed with this assessment of Goldstone, seeing him instead as yet another useful idiot – a man so full of his own pomposity and self-righteousness as to be utterly blind to simple notions of right and wrong. Like Jimmy Carter, Goldstone is one of those well-meaning ignoramuses and nobly-motivated buffoons whose view of morality is that the party without tanks and an air force must of necessity be the party of justice.
 
This knee-jerk urge to champion the underdog, notwithstanding how evil the underdog may be, explains the shockingly obvious statement in Goldstone’s Washington Post op-ed mea culpa last week, in which he wrote, “In the end, asking Hamas to investigate [its own crimes] may have been a mistaken enterprise.”
 
It took a famous judge three years to come to the conclusion that asking a terrorist organization hell-bent on exterminating Israel to impartially report its own atrocities was, with hindsight, not the brightest idea.
 
In repudiating his earlier contention that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians in Gaza, Goldstone offers a classic lesson in how not to apologize. It turns out that however grave the damage inflicted on Israel’s global reputation by his false report, the slander was Israel’s fault:
 
“Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants our recommendations did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government.”
 
So Goldstone condemned Israel as a nation that directs its missiles intentionally at children because he did not have enough information from Israel to establish otherwise. And yet, just a few lines later in his op-ed, Goldstone writes that the UN Human Rights Council, which commissioned his report, has a “history of bias against Israel [that] cannot be doubted.”
 
So even Goldstone admits that Israel was being asked to cooperate with an investigation commissioned by an authority inherently prejudiced against it, which explains why Israel rightly refused to participate.
 
It’s clear that with his most recent ramblings the description “respected international jurist” will never again be appended to Goldstone.
 
Even more troubling are the comments attributed to Samantha Power, the rising star of the Obama administration who is being openly discussed as a replacement for Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
 
I am a huge fan of Power’s 2002 book A Problem from Hell, whichdetails how America refused to intervene to stop various genocides in the 20th century. I have repeatedly extolled the Pulitzer-prize winning book in lectures and columns and believe it should be required reading for every American high school student. I was also not surprised to read that it was Power who was instrumental in persuading an always reluctant President Obama to intervene in Libya before Khaddafi slaughtered all his people.
 
It was therefore with considerable sadness that I learned of Power’s troubling statements on Israel, comments that require clarification lest she compromise her own moral credibility. Is Powers accurately quoted as having said the United States should use military force to protect the Palestinians from Israel? Is Power really an advocate of greatly reducing or eliminating American military aid to Israel, channeling it instead to the Palestinians – who have repeatedly used foreign aid to foster hatred of Israel in schools, line the pockets of corrupt officials, and promote terrorism?
 
There is more, with Power having seemingly criticized The New York Times for being insufficiently critical of Israel after it attacked terrorist-saturated Jenin in 2002. And Power wrote in her book Chasing the Flame that what sparked Israel’s invasion of Lebanon was “dispossessed Palestinians and Israeli insecurity,” when in truth Israel invaded Lebanon to stop the incessant stream of rocket attacks that terrorized its northern cities. The phrase “Israeli insecurity” implies Israel is paranoid rather than reflecting the reality of a Lebanon dominated by Hizbullah, whose genocidal aim is the destruction of Israel.
 
I spent the last day of my African trip in Dakar, Senegal, where I visited Goree Island, the point of no return from which 14 million African slaves were sent to a life of hell in servitude. Both Presidents Clinton and Bush visited the island to acknowledge the American sin of slavery. Unsurprisingly, President Obama, with his strange reluctance to denounce great evils, has not.
 

Samantha Power is one of the few people with the president’s ear who can be relied on to influence him to overcome his inexplicable recalcitrance to broadcast American resolve abroad to stop the slaughter of innocents. It behooves her to immediately explain her issues with Israel, a nation whose principal purpose in having an army is to prevent yet another genocide of a people who suffered through an unparalleled one just a few decades ago.

 

 

 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the bestselling author of 25 books, most recently Honoring the Child Spirit” and Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Desmond Tutu Vs. Israel: An Old Story

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

An old saying has it that “liberalism is always being surprised.” That is the only possible explanation of Jewish expressions of “surprise” and “shock” that Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in late October urged the South African Opera troupe to cancel its engagement to perform “Porgy and Bess” in Israel.

Turning a blind eye to Tutu’s disparagement of Israel and indeed of Jews generally is, to be sure, not exclusively a Jewish failing. Just a few months ago, on the occasion of the Anglican clergyman’s 79th birthday, President Obama lauded him as “a moral titan – a voice of principle, an unrelenting champion of justice, and a dedicated peacemaker.”

In this year alone Tutu has demonstrated his dedication to peace, justice, and principle in the Middle East in particular by speaking up for Hamas and supporting the “Freedom Flotilla” of Islamist jihadists and “internationalist” do-gooders (people who confuse doing good with feeling good about what they are doing) who last spring tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

He has also repeatedly endorsed the activities of the BDS (Boycott/Divest/Sanction) movement. This reincarnation of the Nazis’ “Kauf nicht beim Juden” campaign of the 1930s constantly invokes Tutu’s “authoritative” condemnation of Israel (where Arabs and Jews use the same buses, beaches, clinics, cafes, and soccer fields, and attend the same universities) as an “apartheid” state. Advertisement

But his fulminations against Jews have a long history, so well-documented that one wonders how the “surprised” Jewish leaders or President Obama can possibly be ignorant of it, especially now that the latter has a “director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism” named Hannah Rosenthal, who has shown herself adept even at spotting that evanescent phenomenon called “Islamophobia” at a distance of ten miles.

Here are just a few examples of the “moral titan” Tutu on the Jewish question:

On the day after Christmas 1989, Tutu, standing before the memorial at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem to the millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis, prayed for the murderers and scolded the descendants of their victims. “We pray for those who made it happen, help us to forgive them and help us so that we in our turn will not make others suffer.” This, he said, was his “message” to the Israeli children and grandchildren of the dead.

Moral obtuseness, mean spite, and monstrous arrogance do not make for sound ethics and theology. Neither Tutu nor the Israelis he lectured can “forgive” the Nazi murderers. Representatives of an injured group are not licensed (even by the most sanctimonious of preachers) to forgive on behalf of the whole group; in fact, forgiveness issues from God alone. The forgiveness Tutu offers the Nazis is truly pitiless because it forgets the victims, blurs over suffering, and obliterates the past.

Tutu is always far less moved by the actuality of what the Nazis did (“the gas chambers,” he once said, “made for a neater death” than apartheid resettlement policies) than by the hypothetical potentiality of what, in his jaundiced view, Israelis might do. His speeches against apartheid returned obsessively to gross, licentious equations between the former South African system and Jewish practices, biblical and modern.

“The Jews,” Tutu declared in 1984, “thought they had a monopoly on God” and “Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings.” Tutu has been an avid supporter of the Goebbels-like equation of Zionism with racism. He has alleged that “Jews think they have cornered the market on suffering” and that Jews are “quick to yell ‘anti-Semitism’ ” because of “an arrogance of power – because Jews have such a strong lobby in the United States.”

Jewish power in America is, in fact, a favorite Tutu theme. In late April 2002 he praised his own courage in resisting it. “People are scared in [America] to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.”

Tutu has repeatedly declared that (as he once told a Jewish Theological Seminary audience) “whether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people.” Certainly Tutu has never judged Jews by the standards he uses for other people. Although South African and American Jews were more, not less, critical of apartheid than the majority of their countrymen, Tutu in 1987 threatened that “in the future, South African Jews will be punished if Israel continues dealing with South Africa.”

Process, Loss and History

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Process, Loss and History

South African Projections:

Films by William Kentridge

The Jewish Museum, NYC

Until September 19, 2010

 

 

New York has gone through a William Kentridge craze this year. There have been scattered exhibitions in galleries throughout the cities, in addition to lectures and live performances.  From the blockbuster Five Themes show at the MoMA, the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Kentridge’s directed-and-designed multimedia version of Shostakovich’s The Nose, the South African artist has been a dominant voice on the New York art scene. For those who missed the incredible MoMA retrospective-or for those who simply wish for another Kentridge fix-a final salvo can be caught at the Jewish Museum’s exhibition of part of Kentridge’s Nine Drawings for Projection series.

 

 Though all of the pieces in the Jewish Museum’s exhibition were on display at the MoMA earlier this year, there is something to be gained by seeing them again in this smaller, more intimate setting. The very broadness and inclusiveness of the MoMA exhibition could be overwhelming: though the overall impression was incredibly powerful, some of the individual pieces could get lost. The Nine Drawing for Projection are amongst the most personal and moving pieces in the artist’s oeuvre, and the concentrated focus of the current exhibition allows these works the time and space to make their impact. It is a shame, however, that only the earlier works in this series-“Johannesburg” “Mine” “Monument” “Sobriety, Obesity, and Growing Old”-are on view. While they are thematically cohesive, the series as a whole is severely weakened by the absence of “Tide Table” and “Stereoscope”-in my opinion, the mature culmination of the elements raised in the earlier pieces.

 

 

William Kentridge, Mine, from Drawings for Projection (video still), 1991, 16mm animated film transferred to optical disk.  The Jewish Museum, New York; Purchase: Mr. and Mrs. George Jaffin Fund, Fine Arts Acquisition Committee Fund, and Lillian Gordon Bequest.

 

 

The context of the Jewish Museum exhibit highlights different aspects of the artist than the MoMA exhibition. William Kentridge is seen primarily as a South African artist. He first came to international attention with his highly political works made in the wake of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Indeed, the struggles of the emerging South Africa are in his blood. His paternal grandfather was a member of parliament; his maternal grandmother was the first female barrister in the country’s history; both his parents are attorneys who played prominent parts in the struggle against apartheid. Though most of his family has emigrated, Kentridge still lives and works in Johannesburg and his work is deeply affected by the landscape and history of his birthplace-as is evident in this exhibition. From “Johannesburg: Second Greatest City in the World after Paris” to “Tide-Table” (not on view in this exhibit),the short films are intertwined with references to his country’s saga. “I have been unable to escape Johannesburg,” the artist acknowledges. “In the end all my work is rooted in this rather desperate provincial city. I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and films are certainly spawned by and feed off the brutalized society left in its wake.”[1] Yet within the overtly political content of the Nine Drawings, the Jewish Museum draws attention to the more sublimated-but equally important-aspect of the artist’s identity: his Judaism.

 

The Nine Drawings are in some ways the most overtly Jewish of the artist’s works. In this series of short films, he introduces his two invented characters – Soho Eckstein, business tycoon in a pinstripe suit and Felix Teitlebaum, bohemian dreamer, often depicted in the nude. These characters and the relationships between them become archetypes for the emotional and political struggle of the country as a whole, yet their names set them firmly within the South African Jewish community, of which Kentridge is a part. Indeed, the artist used himself as the model for both characters and they share his slightly portly build and “Ashkenazi Jewish nose”-to use Kentridge’s own, unselfconscious description.

 

 

William Kentridge, Monument, from Drawings for Projection (video still), 1990, 16mm animated film transferred to optical disk.  The Jewish Museum, New York; Purchase: Mr. and Mrs. George Jaffin Fund, Fine Arts Acquisition Committee Fund, and Lillian Gordon Bequest.

 

The presentation of Soho in the early films as rapacious, gluttonous, heartless and money-grubbing thus treads an uncomfortable line, sliding perilously close to Der St?rmer-like stereotypes of hook-nosed Jewish capitalists. In an interview with Lilian Tones, Kentridge admits that “initially [he] would always conceive Soho as an other, as an alien, very much based on images of rapacious industrialists from Russian and early Futurist propaganda drawings, of George Grosz and German Expressionism.” Yet the introduction of Soho’s anti-establishment antagonist, Felix, serves to counter the shadow of stereotype.  “I find that very disarming,” says Norman Kleeblatt, chief curator of the Jewish Museum. “You ‎see Jews play both roles.” ‎And as Soho and Felix engage in a primal struggle that evokes Goya’s powerful images of war, the film becomes about universal human dualities. Indeed, Kentridge ultimately came to see Soho and Felix as “two different sides of one character rather than two fundamentally different characters” -and both as doppelgangers of himself.

 

In interviews, Kentridge has openly questioned why his two characters have Jewish names, and whether they are meant to represent or comment on the Jewish community. Leaving the question open, he says that the characters-complete with their names-came to him in dreams months before he created his first film.  As such, their Judaism may simply be part of the artist’s familiar surroundings. As Kentridge’s alter-egos, they partake of his environment. Yet, in these most personal of the artist’s works, the political and personal are intertwined. As Kentridge says “the films are about space between the political world and the personal, and the extent to which politics does or does not find its way into the private.”[2] So on another level, these films can also serve as a personal, idiosyncratic metaphor for Jewish life in South Africa.

 

 The duality of Soho and Felix-one formally clothed, the other unclothed; one civilized, the other natural; one part of hierarchal society, the other an outsider; one a businessman, the other a dreamer-can be seen as embodying the paradoxical position of Jews in South African society. On the one hand, many Jews-Kentridge’s family included-arrived as refugees to South Africa. They came as the oppressed and felt the precariousness of their position. This drove many of them (Kentridge and his family at the forefront) to take part in the struggle to end apartheid. Indeed, one can sense the shade of the Holocaust in Kentridge’s presentation of apartheid, especially in the imagery of showers and barracks of Mine. On the other hand, Jews benefited from the racial hierarchy. Many were actually granted refuge because of their skin color: when other countries were closing their doors to Jews, South Africa was allowing them in to help boost the white population. Kentridge grew up in an affluent Jewish community that reaped the benefits of being part of the white elite minority. In Kentridge’s own words “a central irony exists for South African Jews. Our Passover ceremony every year commemorates the Jews as slaves in Egypt. And there was always an understanding that here we are in South Africa talking about having been slaves in Egypt, yet in the present we are certainly not slaves In the present, we are absolutely not part of those most oppressed. We are part of the privileged whose lives are made comfortable by an immediate sense of the society we are living in. That remains an uncomfortable irony to ‎ live with.”[3] Guilt and the weight of racial violence permeate the Nine Drawings, a sickness within.

 

William Kentridge, Johannesburg, Second Greatest City after Paris, from Drawings for Projection (video still), 1989, 16mm animated film transferred to optical disk.  The Jewish Museum, New York; Purchase: Mr. and Mrs. George Jaffin Fund, Fine Arts Acquisition Committee Fund, and Lillian Gordon Bequest.

 

Yet ultimately, with all the contradictions, tensions and discontinuities, these films are about the words that flash at the end of Stereoscope: “Give/forgive.”  They are united by a sense of hope and reparation. Kentridge’s idealism, expressed in political activism, is perhaps embodied most powerfully in his conception of drawing.  Kentridge sees “the activity of drawing [as] a way of trying to understand who we are.” Though he is primarily a draftsman, he stands in opposition to the carefully measured space and proportions of a Renaissance artist. Drawing for him is a chaotic, developmental process, in which an image arrives in the work. This is reflected in his favorite drawing medium-the impermanent, endlessly moveable and changing charcoal. His conception of drawing is emphasized in his stop-gap animations, where the process is extended through time, every change preserved in a moment of film. Even as history is recorded, the ephemeral nature of the material is emphasized: it is primarily the movement of the eraser that creates the animation, the images emerging, changing, transforming, the shadowy blots of the eraser’s former movement preserved in the changing frame. Each object contains its whole history, a falling woman embodying every stage of her fall.

 

Kentridge’s method of working dovetails perfectly with his subject matter: the animations are histories of changed drawings, with all their failures and resurrections, and they deal with the history of post-apartheid South Africa, with all its failures and possibilities.  Contingent, always on the verge of being erased-but therefore also preserved from the permanence of evil. “Everything can be saved, everything is provisional,” Kentridge says. “A prior action is rescued by that which follows. A drawing abandoned is revived by the next drawing.” In conceiving of his art as process rather than object, in focusing on time rather than space, Kentridge’s work is hopeful. All failure and contradiction are subsumed within an ever-changing picture, a broadening understanding. 

 

              It is this unity of form and content, medium and message that gives Kentridge’s work its power. His overt politicism does not descend to propaganda because it is sublimated by his personal artistic language. History and loss, records and restoration: these are both the thematic and visual/material thrust of the work.

 

[1]As quoted in William Kentridge: Drawings for Projection, Four Animated Films. Johannesburg: Goodman Gallery, 1992, n.p.

[2]Interview with Lilian Tones, February 22, 1999,  http://artarchives.net/artarchives/liliantone/tonekentridge.html

[3]Interview with bell hooks, Interview. September 1998.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/process-loss-and-history/2010/09/01/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: