Thursday 15 August 2013

Fools and Posturing Celebrities

I know I should be used to it by now, but I’m still shocked and taken aback by the intensity of feeling expressed by the ‘Hitler was right’ brigade. It’s particularly upsetting when it comes from the music world, around which I hover on the periphery.

I often read Norman Lebrecht’s bog ‘Slipped Disc’ and a while ago I came across an unusual guest post by pianist Peter Donahoe who had been performing a series of concerts in Israel. His piece ‘Israel Diaries’ can be read on his own website. He gives a positive account of his experiences, adding that he was not especially au fait with the politics and history of the region. Predictably, a small avalanche of left-leaning music fans proceeded to enlighten him, many criticising his decision to go to Israel into the bargain.

Pianist Peter Donahoe

This unpleasant scenario was repeated with a vengeance when the Israel Philharmonic’s Prom was defiled by attention-seeking fools, when the topic that caused most interest amongst the Slipped Disc commentariat was not so much the incident itself but the suspension of a London Philharmonic Orchestra member who had written  a letter calling for the Israel Philharmonic to be banned from the BBC Proms,

Many such people have descended upon BBCWatch to complain about Hadar’s article on Nigel Kennedy’s recent inappropriate politicising during the performance. 
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from experience in this night of music tonight that, given equality, and getting rid of apartheid, gives beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.”

Nigel Keffiyeh Kennedy

On a blog that usually attracts a small handful of Hitler Was Righters, there is now a small avalanche of people who are incandescent with fury on behalf of the Palestinians and “What Israel is doing to them.” The tone of their arguments remind me of the comments that appeared on the Channel 4 blog surrounding Peter Kosminsky’s sham historical fiction The Promise. People were outraged in a similar fashion, with acres of incorrect quotes and tranches of misunderstood, factually wrong, distorted versions of the Israel/Palestine situation. Another notable trend is the bandying about of Jenny Tonge’s favourite phrase, which she might have invented, namely the ubiquitous: “What Israel is doing” (to the Palestinians) uttered confidently, without feeling any obligation to expand, like a conspiratorial wink and the ‘know what I mean?‘when sometimes you don’t really know at all.

I called these people the Hitler Was Right Brigade because their arguments always boil down to just that. 
Underlying most of it is the fear and loathing they have for the all-powerful Zionist Lobby, which they believe lies behind every defence or positive remark about Israel that they're unfortunate enough to be confronted with. 
“Why is it that western society always listens to the Israeli Zionist Jews lies. They twist historic events and have the gall to call the written record, false.
Anyone standing up to them is instantly branded as an anti-semite, when they aren’t semites”.
asks one commenter. Well, anyone can see how difficult it would be to turn the likes of that person round.
“Sadly, there are still supporters of Zionism/Israel who only respond in line with the constructed narrative they have been taught.”
says another with an alarming lack of self-awareness.
The nub of the matter is the perception, disseminated by a plethora of BBC ‘experts’, that Jews stole the land from the rightful inhabitants, the indigenous Arab Muslims, possibly at gunpoint, like something out of a gangster movie, or the Zimbabwean land grab.
“It was called Palestine, Britain had the mandate until May 1948, when it was handed back to the UN, the Zionists came and stole it from the rightful occupants. The UN had proposed a division which, rightfully, the Palestinians said No to. Would anyone like their country being given to people from another country?” 
ventures one contributor, while the reposte, which opens:
Hard to credit someone can come onto this forum displaying such a high level of sheer ignorance.” 
- you just know will fall on deaf ears, despite being followed up with a detailed correction.

Here’s another passionate declaration of the ‘truth”
The truth is the Palestinians live under a a dailyoccupation,(sic) their lands stolen, when do the Palestinians ever get a balanced and fair coverage.. I for one commend what Mr Kennedy had to say. When Israel begins to address it’s cruel policies to the people of Gaza and the West Bank, and it’s failure to respect international laws, then perhaps less people will raise their voices in opposition.”

There’s an actual  9/11 conspiracy theorist amongst them, but mostly they’re people with  child-like willingness to take on and fight for the cause of victimhood, and run with it, blindly, up the wrong garden path. 

But I’m sorry to say that these are the views of a frightening majority; not that the numbers game has much going for it,  but since one of the arguments in their arsenal is the ‘disproportionate’ one, where war casualty numbers alone comprise the beginning, middle and and end of their case against Israel, one might equally point out the geographical disproportionality between Israel and its hostile neighbours and remind them that Jews are a numerically insignificant bunch in terms of the world’s population. 

Another recent illustration of the 'Hitler Was Right' thinking took the form of a stream of incontinent vitriol in response to Guido’s  images of Gaza. I mean.

Of course the important question concerns celebrities exploiting their position for political rants of various kinds, and the fact that their opinions may not be any more well-informed or considered than anyone else’s. In fact it rarely is. The consequences of their outbursts might be far-reaching too. 
When Nigel Kennedy utters a soundbite during his publicity  tour and the broadcasting studios and press utilize the sensationalist, controversialist  elements of it to boost their ratings, what can one expect, other than fanning a few flames and stirring up a bit more Jew-bashing.

“These problems of apartheid in Israel at the moment are extreme. You know, people not able to get onto their orange groves, people not able to get education, not able to get medical supplies.”
(From Saturday Live.)
Pianist Evgeny Kissin

The only thing one must ask oneself is, do we feel the same way when, say, someone like Evgeny Kissin rises above the piano world and comes out with a political statement of his own in this ‘open Letter to the BBC’.

Dear Sir,
I first came to live in this country thirteen years ago and became a British subject seven years ago, having grown up in the Soviet Union. I was inspired and proud to belong to the country of Winston Churchill, who famously said "There is no anti-Semitism in England because we do not consider ourselves more stupid than the Jews". Above all, the BBC and especially its World Service had always been a beacon of light, of truth and objectivity to those of us behind the Iron Curtain, in the Evil Empire. Reaching out to far corners of the world, it was the voice of a country which for us was a model of democracy and human rights.
Since a long time now, I receive verified reports on an almost daily basis of the BBC's slander and bias towards Israel, painfully reminiscent of the old Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda. This culminated with the BBC's Persian Service's blood libel concerning Israel's alleged harvesting of Palestinian organs and blood for future transplant. It beggars belief that the British taxpayer should be funding an organisation which is aligning itself with Iran's despotic leader in its anti-Semitic propaganda.
Other print media, like the Guardian, which erroneously printed this libel, propagated by Israel's enemies, have since apologized. I am not aware of any such retraction from the BBC.
Is it not high time for the BBC to return to the values for which is was so much respected before it finds itself in the garbage of history together with Pravda, TASS, Volkischer Beobachter and Der Angruff? Yours faithfully,
Evgeny Kissin


  1. Given his involvement with klezmer music, Nigel Kennedy's comments are deeply disappointing.

    The enthusiastic response of the Prom audience was really shocking, wasn't it? Though the fact that the Palestinian Strings were playing probably guaranteed a good number of pro-Pal activists in the audience - and they would have been waiting to applaud and whoop.

    There was a concerted look to that mass descent on Hadar's blog. A Facebook campaign perhaps?


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