He may be funny, but his prejudices are far from the values we should be aspiring to
Comedian Jackie Mason is being presented as the champion of Anglo-Jewry’s “Israel 60” celebration, which will take place at Wembley Arena next week. I think he is a terrible choice.
His love of Israel is unquestionable. He abandoned his show to stand with the Jewish state while the Scuds descended in 1991. He will be funny and robust. He will draw the crowds and, with so much venom about Israel, solidarity matters. But solidarity with what?
The authors of the Declaration of Independence asserted that the Jewish state would “be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”, ensuring complete equality for all its inhabitants. They espoused the same idealism as Isaiah when, in a Jerusalem surrounded by the Assyrian army, he spoke of the redeemer who would come not with the sword, but with righteousness and justice. Twenty-seven centuries later, in 1948, with Jerusalem again under siege, my father’s uncle, a jurist who had fled Nazi Germany, died for that same vision. Those values are far removed from the kind of stereotyping of which Jackie Mason’s work is full.
In Israel’s 60th year, I ponder the words of its founders in awe. I feel the challenge of those who died to turn them into reality: “What are you doing to be true to that vision?” I think of the ways those ideals have been realised, but also of how they’ve been betrayed, not only by Israel’s enemies, but within Israel itself. I’ve watched a Palestinian house demolished, for no good reason.
I know Jackie Mason’s assertion is untrue that Palestinians have everything they could reasonably want in Israel. I cannot ignore the descriptions by Professor David Shulman, of the Hebrew University, of vicious settler intimidation of Palestinians, from plain thuggery to the poisoning of fields, and his lament that such Jews “have stolen... not only land, but also the dignity that once belonged to Jewish books”, by scorning the values they embody.
At Israel 60, we should honour those Israelis, and Palestinians, who, in spite of the gross violence perpetrated against the state and the wrongs committed within it, devote their lives to those same ideals of justice, freedom and peace. How then can we not be troubled by Jackie Mason’s views, when on a video blog on YouTube he generalises about Palestinians as offering nothing but hatred and killing, suggesting that the land never was their home; when he praises Pat Robinson and Jerry Falwell, the leaders of the American Christian right, as exemplars of support for Israel; when he instructs Anglo-Jews that they will never survive “if they don’t learn a great lesson from the power of the Muslims”, who, he implies, are basically effective intimidators; when he mocks the pusillanimity of the Jewish conscience? Isn’t that conscience something to be proud of? He speaks powerfully about world justice in his JC interview today; surely he believes in Jewish values too?
Wembley is about making an impact. What is the message we should give? It should not be Jackie Mason. It should be about vision and ideals. It must be about reality and truth, the struggle for peace and reconciliation. It must include Israel’s many voices, among them Arab voices. It must emphasise our need to uphold our shared humanity, in spite of all attacks. Otherwise there may be no Israel to celebrate in another 60 years.
That’s the message I want to hear at Wembley. I don’t want to desecrate our hopes and values, and all who toil for them.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg is rabbi of the New North London Synagogue