Friday, July 15, 2005

Theodorakis's Jewish problem (2004)

In light of some recent events, it may be worth recalling a notorious speech by the famous Greek composer, political activist, and former member of parliament & government minister Mikis Theodorakis in November 2003. Theodorakis, of course, is no ordinary musician (or obscure blowhard). He is a major cultural and political icon, not just in Greece but in Europe as a whole ... and the sentiments he expressed in this speech seemed common-sensical enough that no one in the audience (which included high officials in the Greek government) thought to object.:
We are two nations without brothers in the world, we [Greeks] and the Jews. But they have fanaticism and manage to get their way. [....] Today we may say that this small nation [i.e., the Jews--not Israel] is at the root of evil and not of good [....]"

=> Theodorakis in a 2004 interview (with Ari Shavit of Haaretz), trying to "explain":
Question: Mr. Theodorakis, on November 4, 2003 you said in this house the words that shocked Jews and non-Jews across the world. You said that the Jewish people are at the root of evil. What did you mean?

Answer: "For me the root of evil today is the policy of President Bush. It is a fascist policy. I cannot understand how is it that the Jewish people, who have been the victims of Nazism, can support such a fascist policy. No other people in the world support those policies but Israel! This situation saddens me. I am a friend of Israel. I am a friend of the Jewish people. But the policy of Sharon and the support for the policy of Bush darkens the image of Israel. I am afraid that Sharon is going to lead the Jews - just as Hitler led the Germans - to the root of evil."

Even today, 10 months later, you don't think you made a mistake when you uttered those words?

"No, but it's important for me to emphasize that I never said that the Jews are the root of evil. I said they are at the root of evil."

So you have no regrets?

"No. And I was very much hurt by the Jewish reaction to what I said. It was not a civilized reaction. I got hundreds and hundreds of poisonous e-mails from Jews all over the world. I couldn't understand this hatred toward me. I fought against racism all my life. I was for Israel. I wrote "Mauthausen." After all that, how could I become from one day to the next an anti-Semite?"

Let me explain to you the context for this reaction. Many Jews have a renewed fear of Europe. We are afraid that there is a new kind of anti-Semitism in Europe. So when you said what you said there was a feeling of thou too, Brutus. There was a feeling that even our old friend Theodorakis turned against us.

"I don't believe there is anti-Semitism in Europe. There is a reaction against the policy of Sharon and Bush. I think it's artificial to think there is a new anti-Semitism. It's an excuse. It's a way to avoid self-criticism. Rather than ask themselves what is wrong with the policy of Israel, Jews say the Europeans are against us because of the new anti-Semitism. Because they don't love us. And even Theodorakis says we are at the root of evil. This is a sick reaction."

Why? In what way is it a sick reaction?

"Because this kind of reaction is relevant to the psychopathology of the Jewish people. They want to feel victims. They want to have this comforting feeling. We are in the right, we are again victims. Let's create another ghetto. It's a masochistic reaction."

The Jews are masochists?

"There is psychological masochism in the Jewish tradition."

Is there sadism as well?

"I'm certain that when Diaspora Jews talk among themselves, they feel satisfied. They feel that now, when we are so close to the greatest power in the world, no one can do anything to us. We can do whatever we like. This is why the claim of new anti-Semitism is not only a sick reaction, it's a sly reaction as well."

In what way is it sly?

"Because it really allows the Jews to do whatever they want. Not only psychologically, but also politically, it gives the Jews an excuse. The sense of victimhood. It gives them a license to hide the truth. There is no Jewish problem in Europe today. There is no anti-Semitism."
"... [I]n the Jews' battle for self-defense they became distinguished. There are 200 Jews who won Nobel prizes. Christ, Marx and Einstein were Jewish. The Jews offered so much to science, art and music. They hold world finance in their hands. So it's only natural that they would see themselves as very strong. This gives them a feeling of superiority."

The Jews have international finance in their hands?

"They control a great deal of the world's finances."

So today's globalized capitalism is controlled very much by the Jews?

"Since we speak frankly, I will tell you something else. The Jewish people control most of the big symphonic orchestras in the world. When I wrote the Palestinian national anthem, the Boston Symphony was planning a production of my work. It is controlled by Jewish people. They didn't allow the concert to go on. Since then I cannot work with any great orchestra. They refuse me."

You ran into this problem with other orchestras too?

"Wherever there are Jews. Wherever there are orchestras controlled by Jewish people, they boycott my work."

You really feel Jews control much of the music world?


And the same applies to world finance?

"In America the Jewish community is very strong. It controls much of the economy. Certainly the mass media.

"Let me make myself clear: When the State of Israel was established, we were on the side of Israel. There was great sympathy toward Zionism because of what they suffered in the war. This is one side of the Jews. But the international Jewish community is also a negative phenomena [sic]. The Jewish people now appear to control the big banks. And often the governments. So whatever bad or evil comes from the governments, it's natural for ordinary people to associate that with the Jewish people."

You yourself think that the Jews, the international Jewish community, have control of the banks, Wall Street, the mass media?


And you say that now, through its influence on Bush, it has control of world affairs?


What is the Jewish influence on the Bush policy?

"I believe that the war in Iraq and the aggressive attitude toward Iran is greatly influenced by the Israeli secret services."

The Jews have so much power that they can direct the policy of the world's only superpower?

"There is a group of Jews who surround Bush and control the policy of the United States."

So the Jews pull the strings behind Bush?

"No. They are in the front."

America, the great superpower, is actually controlled today by the Jews?


Let us go a bit deeper. Let us go back in time. When you were a child, before the Holocaust, what were your impressions of the Jews?

"The Jews of Greece were not different from the Greeks. They were entirely Greek. They loved their work and loved their family. At school they were the best. Good friends, good neighbors. No problems."

But there must have been something problematic as well. They were the other. They were different.

"The Jews were picturesque. I remember that for the old women, the Jews were the ones that crucified Christ!

"In 1932 I was in Ioannina. There was a very big Jewish community there. I played with the Jewish boys all the time. My grandmother was very religious. She had a room full of icons. She sang psalms. Much of my music was influenced by her religious singing. And I remember that in springtime she said to me: Now that it's Easter, don't go to the Jewish quarter. Because during Easter the Jews put Christian boys in a barrel with knives inside. Afterward they drink their blood."

Was this story imprinted in your young mind?

"It was a very powerful image. Years later, before I became a communist, I was a member of a fascist youth movement. It was a state-sponsored movement during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. We walked up and down the streets in uniform and heiled all the time. It was a bit like the Hitler Youth but comical. One day they gave me an assignment: to talk the next day about communism. I went home and asked my mother what is communism. She said she didn't know but she thinks it's something evil. What kind of evil, I asked. Evil like the Jews, she said. So I asked her if the communists also put little boys in barrels with knives and drink their blood.

"What do I want to say by telling you all this? These things exist. I wasn't aware of it before, but now, through your questions, I realize it is there."
=> Commentary seems almost superfluous ... but some commentary (from 2004) is below. (See also this Ha'aretz editorial, which is cogent and on-target.)

Jeff Weintraub


-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Theodorakis's Jewish problem
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 2004 15:08:20 -0400
From: Jeff Weintraub
To: X

Hi X,

If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth reading Ari Shavit's recent interview with Theodorakis in Ha'aretz--not only because Theodorakis himself is an important figure , but because it seems clear that his statements illustrate some wider patterns (and pathologies) in current European thinking about "the Jews."

I found this interview fascinating (also bizarre, infuriating, alarming, and in some places disgusting--but still fascinating and illuminating at a number of levels). The undercurrents of psychological ambivalence, contradiction, and denial regarding Jews reminded me in some ways of the hero of Gregor von Rezzori's novel Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, with which I trust you're familiar.

One of the more bizarre elements of the interview was Theodorakis's repeated claim that, after he had made these blatantly anti-semitic statements, he was shocked and hurt when a lot of Jews got upset (due to the well-known "psychopathology of the Jewish people") ... and what is even more bizarre (and significant) is that, at some level, I suspect he was genuinely surprised. As someone else said to me:

[X responded, in part:
I agree with what you say about Theodorakis; it is bizarre - almost like a caricature written by a Jew to lampoon an anti-Semite in denial. What also interested me about it, though, is how close it is, its bizarre features notwithstanding, to some of the 'shufflings' one hears these days from serious people who should know better. ]
As I ponder this socio-psychologically complex and illuminating discussion, one small point does puzzle me a bit. Theodorakis tries to "clarify" one formulation in his original November 2003 speech by drawing a linguistic distinction whose significance is not immediately obvious (at least, in English):
"No, but it's important for me to emphasize that I never said that the Jews are the root of evil. I said they are at the root of evil."
It's clear that Theodorakis believes that saying the Jews are "the root of evil" and saying the Jews are "at the root of evil" is different in some significant way, and that the second formulation is somehow more benign. If I understand correctly, the "root of evil" in the world today is the Bush administration--and the Jews run the Bush administration (along with everything else). If so, then can Theodorakis really be unaware that this kind of claim is an example of classic political anti-semitism? But this is partly speculation.

Of course, whatever he has in mind, no possible "clarification" of this line affects the anti-semitic drivel that pervades his entire discussion. But I can't help feeling curious. It might help to have the original speech in Greek. (Not that I know Greek myself, but I could show this passage to people who do--including my wife.) Have you seen a copy of the original speech in Greek, by any chance?

Jeff Weintraub
Harry's Place (a mostly-British democratic-left group weblog)
Posted by Gene at August 30, 2004 12:10 AM | TrackBack

August 30, 2004
Theodorakis and the Jews

Last November I linked to a report on a bizarre antisemitic rant by the famous Greek composer and anti-fascist Mikis Theodorakis.

Now, on the occasion of the Athens Olympics, Haaretz writer Ari Shavit has met with Theodorakis for a series of interviews. The result is, in many ways, even more troubling than the original report.

Theodorakis basically reaffirms his antisemitism while protesting his innocence of it and proclaiming, "I am a true friend of the Jewish people."

There's something about this sneaky mixture of love and hate, admiration and resentment of "the Jews" that is even more infuriating than flat-out antisemitism. And, I suspect, far more common.