Little Ms Jihad Can’t Be Wrong: Emma Thompson and the Magic of Technicolor

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, a freelance Israeli writer

I recently celebrated my third consecutive Passover in Israel.

True, this historical tidbit may lack the dramatic resonance of a hike up Masada or an excursion into the Western Wall Tunnels. Still, I am but a scion of restless Diaspora gypsies, a vagabond collection of characters and scoundrels who hustled pool in halls around Coney Island and attempted to topple Disneyland by getting in on a fun little footnote by the name of Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, California.

Passover in the United States is instantly synonymous with The Ten Commandments, filmed in glorious Technicolor and featuring a memorable performance by Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, the cruel Israelite overseer of the Hebrews who moonlighted as informant for the Egyptians.

Since the 1956 premier of this visually arresting epic, the Jewish world has turned, turned, turned. A slew of presumptive Pharaohs, including Gamel Abdel Nasser and Leonid Brezhnev, have sought to complete the good works initiated by Rameses II – by way of expulsion, persecution and imprisonment.

Yet, neither Dathan’s whip nor Joseph Stalin’s “forgotten Zion”, Birobidzhan, succeeded in foiling the Hebrews’ tryst with destiny – in a land called Canaan, at a time ordained in heaven.

A powerful cast, dazzling special effects (for the day) and, above all, a compelling narrative is at the root of The Ten Commandments’ timeless appeal. In the years since Charlton Heston led thousands of Paramount Picture extras to the Land of Milk and Honey, however, an insidious form of historical narrative has laid claim to popular perceptions about Israel and its place among the family of nations. Even the phrase ‘right to exist’ is applied in reference to only one nation on Earth.

When the telling of a rollicking good tale supplants the rigorous pursuit and accumulation of facts, the result is historical relativism. If truth differs over time and bends over space, then all notions of objectivity are lost. This is the United Colors of Benetton School of Historical Inquiry: non judgmental, superficially egalitarian and incessantly self-righteous.

At first, this diluting of history’s richness and depth into a tepid stew of bumper sticker catch phrases was confined to the hallowed halls of academie. It took a few years, but history-as-you-like-it eventually received the full red carpet treatment. And in no corner of society has relativism been more warmly embraced than in the arts – a subculture noted for its garish sentimentalism and ersatz tolerance.

A recent incident of fashionable bigotry masquerading as politically courageous theater was that of Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson’s call for the exclusion of Israel’s Habima Theater Company from Globe to Globe, a renowned international festival being held at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

The elegant Ms Thompson cites ‘policies of exclusion practiced by the Israeli state’ as fuelling her moral outrage.

When I clicked on to the Globe to Globe website, then, I naturally assumed, based on the effervescent Emma’s righteous indignation, that the festival would consist of the tried and true assemblage of British Commonwealth nations: Australia, India, Jamaica and of course the United Kingdom. A cross-section of enlightened societies with an appreciation for the Bard of Avon was a safe bet, no?

I stand corrected. Here’s just a partial list of nations that have “partnered” with the World Shakespeare Festival in some way, shape or form, along with some of their own state-sponsored ‘productions’:

*China: “Forced Abortions: One Child Left Behind”

* Palestinian Authority: “All in the Family: Murder Most Honorable”

*Oman: “No Comment: Of Jailed Journalists and Pesky Freedoms”

*Russia: “Now Steal This II: Putin’s Revenge”

*Tunisia: “The Rise of Moderate Jihad and the Twilight of Liberty”

While Emma Thompson’s intellectual dishonesty and selective outrage is certainly sufficient to induce a temporary spike in one’s blood pressure, I must hereby admit that I couldn’t care less.

Thing is, life is quite a bit about timing. I happened to hear about Ms Thompson’s casting her lot in with butchers and tyrants right as I was heading out, with my very pregnant wife in tow, to have our pots and pans, forks and knives kosherized prior to the onset of Passover, 2012.

At some point on the short walk from our Nachlaot apartment to the site of the holy boiling, feelings of anger at a misguided British thespian melted away like so much fermented grain from a freshly steamed pot.

Then, my mind wandered to stories my father would tell me about he being the son of a bona fide hustler…and owner of the Ocean Highway Ride at Pacific Ocean Park. Emma Thompson and Sabba Harry…no obvious connection, right?

Not so fast.

Ms Thompson’s rant actually bares a remarkable resemblance to my grandfather’s blue and orange ride. Both rumble and hiss at exaggerated decibels, making an instant impact on anyone in earshot. And both will eventually be forgotten but for the tired recollections of a few old peddlers and faded theater impresarios.

Ill fated ideas, be they Pacific Ocean Park or boycotting Israel, are slated for disposal into the trash bin of cold, objective, inevitable history.

By the way, Operation Zero Chametz (Thanks Chabad!) was a success and I’m proud to say that our floors were so clean, Elijah himself could have eaten off them.

5 replies »

  1. Gideon, you described this so well. The hypocrisy and the ignorance is mind boggling, but the notion that these people have a right even to consider whether or not a people should exist is so mind-blowingly reminiscent of Mein Kampf that one wonders what is in their heads. I would guess they would be astounded that such liberals as they claim to be could be guilty of propagating genocide, but that is exactly what they are part of.

  2. Sharon, I don’t wonder at all about what is in the heads of these people. I believe that there is, literally, nothing to wonder about.

    Emma Thompson probably couldn’t recognise Israel on a map. She has merely been assimilated in Borg-like fashion by the mindless Israel haters who will use her dubious celebrity to try to crank up their message.

  3. I may have a scoop here – I’ve just been to La Thompson’s website and have learned that she is going to play in a film about ‘Human Rights’ lawyer, Gareth Pierce.

    Here’s the spiel from her website:

    “Emma to Reprise Role Of Gareth Peirce

    EXCLUSIVE: The Kids Are Alright executive producer J Todd Harris produces with 2B Pictures and South Creek Pictures.

    British actress Emma Thompson is once again attached to play a character inspired by renowned human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce in US-UK-Canada love-story-thriller The Secret Evidence, which is currently at script stage.

    The Middle East- and London-set drama follows a young British couple mistakenly caught up in the war on terror who turn to Thompson’s character to get one of them out of prison.

    However, in fighting for her boyfriend’s freedom, the film’s young female lead finds herself and her family subject to attack from the UK Government’s secret service.

    Thompson was Oscar-nominated for her previous portrayal of Peirce, the defence lawyer of Irish terror suspects the Guildford Four, in Jim Sheridan’s acclaimed 1993 drama In the Name of the Father.”

    So was her signature on the luvvies’ letter and the following publicity, all part of a carefully planned P.R. stunt for her forthcoming film?

    There’s me thinking she an airhead when in fact, she may be a conniving bitch who doesn’t care who she hurts in order to promote her forthcoming film.

  4. Gideon, I’ve lived in Israel for 38 years, longer than I lived in the States. So I’ve lost that initial enchantment with the country; and, in addition, I’m not religious, so I haven’t that grace of belief you describe so well.
    It does strike me that you’ve made a mistake common among Israel justifiers by pointing at the obvious ignominy of other countries that have participated in the World Shakespeare Festival. Totally irrelevant. Or, as I remember an English commentator saying in an article I once read, “We expect more from Israel.” If I’m not mistaken, Israeli leaders (especially Bibi) are constantly reminding the Western World that we are the only democracy in the Middle East. We are a Western beacon in an area ruled mostly despots. No one expects Oman to be such a light unto the nations or Tunisia or even the Palestinian Authority. The reasons that China and Russia are not protested are obviously more complicated — and perhaps not legitimate. In addition, we were created by Western assent in the United Nations. And furthermore, as I’ve already hinted at, we are part of the Judeo-Christian heritage of the Western World.
    Does this make Emma Thompson’s protest legitimate? Not in my opinion. But not for any of the reasons you’ve mentioned. Attacking HaBima is ridiculous. Simply ridiculous. Theater people (set in Tel-Aviv) are among the most liberal populace in Israel. Do I boycott the free circulation of ideas? Such a boycott will have no political or economic impact. If she wants to have any effect, then she should boycott companies with branches in the West Bank or institutions that support settlement in the West Bank. But to make a protest against HaBima is silly.
    And, Sharon Klaff, international boycotts are quite legitimate. They brought Apartheid to its knees. And, again, why South Africa and not, for example, the Congo? Because South Africa was regarded (and regarded itself) as part of the Western democratic world.