David Hirsh On The Merchant Of Venice And Habima

Over at Engage, David Hirsh has scrutinized, picked apart and provided informed cultural analysis on Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice within the context of Habima, and some decidedly non-Shakespearean bigots

“When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me. The play tells two stories which relate to each other. One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated. The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends. Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance.

Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clichéd gags, to see if he can make us laugh. It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy. And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds. And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate. He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us. He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something.”

Not A Single Post

I had intended to separate out a few different posts on various subjects, but now is as good as any time to put them all together.

Left Foot Forward covers how the ill named, English Democrats, are happy to take ex-BNP racists as members.

Liverpool antifascists remind us how neo-Nazis still pose a real threat.

Foreign Policy has an amusing post on the peculiar habits of dictators, and what they hoard.

David Allen Green at the New Statesman shreds St Paul’s Cathedral’s feeble excuse for closing.

In more religious news, a Catholic Archbishop indulges in a bit of Jew baiting.

Earlier this month, the convicted Holocaust denying reactionary Bishop Richard Williamson took another swing at Jews, although from the Guardian’s rather anodyne coverage you wouldn’t know that. The Vatican insider explains the background in more detail, but you get the impression they themselves are ambivalent remarking that Williamson’s “positions are extreme even within the traditionalist world, they are certainly not isolated even within the Lefebvrist community itself. “

Meanwhile in Germany, the Catholic Church has apparently been profiting from pornography according to an article at Worldcrunch. Who would have thought it? First, antisemitism, now pornography, whatever next?

In the JC, David Aaronovitch deals with some nasty subconscious thinking by his fellow journalist, Deborah Orr.

Rob Marchant writes, Anti-Semitism is the new black, showing the worrying level of denial of anti-Jewish racism in the trade union movement.

The comments box at the New Statesman confirms how timely Rob’s article was. I can’t help remembering how many once loyal trade unionists resigned from UCU over institutionalised racism in that union, Engage has more.

Norm on Orr’s an apology of sorts. I really liked his first piece on it, opening with “You may think you’ve plumbed the depths of human stupidity and blind prejudice, but you never have.”

Finally, my own word of advice to those Westerners “interested” in Middle Eastern topics.

If you don’t want to be thought of as a bigot or racist then try and avoid using Far Right terminology such as “Chosen”, etc.

Better still, educate yourself on how the Far and Extreme Right use these topics and take extra, extra care.

The Guardian’s Soft Racism and Deborah Orr

The Guardian newspaper is considered to be one of the quality periodicals in Britain, yet if you ever wanted to find the tell-tale smell of anti-Jewish racism then look no further.

Comment is Free, the Guardian’s on-line presence, is stuffed full of snide articles and remarks in the comments boxes that would not seem out of place in Far Right forums.

Even the home coming of Gilad Shalit was seen as another vehicle for expressing contempt for Jews, evidenced by Deborah Orr’s article with its disdainful conclusion.

Eve Garrard, over at Engage, pulls it apart with commendable logic:

“Things are different now, and this trope has been resurrected for the same old use: to denigrate Jews and stir up dislike, or worse, against them. In fact it’s very effective for that purpose: most people (very understandably) dislike anyone who claims to be inherently superior to everyone else; and so to attribute such a claim to Jews is a very economical way of making people dislike and distrust them. By referring to the Chosen People you can, without saying another word, tell your listener that Jews are an arrogant supercilious bunch who despise the rest of the human race, and that you yourself don’t much like that kind of thing; and indeed your listener (or reader, as the case may be) probably doesn’t much like that kind of thing either, being a decent honest person; and so you and she together can enjoyably agree that there’s something pretty obnoxious about Jews, or they wouldn’t be claiming to be ‘chosen’, would they, or insisting that one Jew is worth 1,000 other people, which of course they must believe, since Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, and there’s no other possible explanation of that ratio, is there, eh?

All that hostile implication from just two well-chosen (so to speak) words, or even in Orr’s case one word alone – she writes with casual familiarity about ‘the chosen’, apparently assuming that her Guardian readers use the term so readily that no misunderstanding can arise from the informal contraction. This is indeed real economy of effort in the business of producing Jew-hatred. Orr herself may not, of course, have intended to stir up dislike of Jews; but the language which she chose to use did all the work that was needed for that unlovely task. “