Friday, July 4, 2008

The Golem of Church Street

One story that seems to never end for me is one that began when I ended my association with Bread and Puppet Theatre over a mural-sized series entitled "Independence Paintings" by Bread and Puppet founder, Peter Schumann, that juxtaposed the images and text of the Warsaw Ghetto with conditions in the Palestinian West Bank. I perceived both a provocative from of antisemitism and what is sometimes referred to as "soft-core" Holocaust Denial ("soft-core" in that it either minimizes the suffering of the victims of the Shoah, that it grossly misrepresents another event through comparison to the Shoah.)

I revisited the story this past September when "Independence Paintings" were exhibited in Burlington, Vermont as part of that city's annual Art Hop. While I was not present for the events in Burlington, I did follow the controversy that raged in the Burlington press for several weeks.

Perhaps the most moments were on the morning of Saturday, September 8th when Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP)-- whose website I discuss elsewhere-- the organization that sponsored the Schumann exhibition, presented a lecture by Joel Kovel drew protesters. There were many varied accounts of what occurred at that lecture, however, one thing that was clear was that there had been a breakdown in civility (elsewhere, I note that any breakdown in civility originates in misrepresentations made by Schumann and VTJP.)

Perhaps the most powerful image from that day was a flyer by local artist David Sokol that portrayed parading Bread and Puppet puppets, a recent victim of vigilante justice, and the text "Puppets Lynch the Jews." Sokol has since created a book of prints entitled The Golem of Church Street: An Artist’s Reflection on the New Anti-Semitism. The prints are currently being exhibited at the Burlington art gallery, Kasini House until August 9th.

I have yet to see the prints, but the interview that Sokal gave to Margot Harrison in Seven Days has made me excited to see the work. Much of the work, based on the description, presents many icons revered by progressives (of whom Vermonters are accustomed to describe themselves) but in the context of their complicity with antisemitism-- and this part of what is the "New" in the "New Antisemitism" the way that a hatred that has long been associated with theological intolerance, racial hatred, and right-wing extremism, has co-opted the rhetoric of Enlightenment humanism (though, I would note, it really isn't that new.) Sokol eloquently describes his stance towards the phenomenon here:

“My issue is not with the left. I’ve supported the Progressive Party. I’m trying to make a distinction between the left and the fundamentalist left. My definition of fundamentalism is that you no longer see the needs of other people, because your ideology gets in the way.”

I intend to set my eyes upon the prints in the immediate future.

(* Note: it is my practice not to hyphenate "antisemitism", my reason for doing so is that there is no contrasting ideology of "Semitism"-- this is a common practice in the scholarly community. The standard practice, however, is hyphenate.)

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