Tuesday, April 2, 2024

MAGA Antisemitism; Candace Owens' Dog Whistle Gets Louder


Image source the New Yorker

MAGA antisemitism part two.


As previously mentioned, as my book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype makes clear, you can't understand antisemitism in Poland unless you understand antisemitism period. If you want to understand how accusations of antisemitism against Poles are treated in the West, you have to understand how accusations of antisemitism against any group, for example blacks or Trump supporters or black Trump supporters are treated in the West.


In a previous post entitled "Candace Owens, Antisemitism, and American Conservatism," I talked about Candace Owens' antisemitism. Since that post, Candace Owens has posted a new post that I would like to discuss here.


On April 2, 2024, Candace Owens tweeted, "President Zelensky sure is behaving like a Bolshevist. How many more Christians will he conscript to death?"


Here Candace Owens is repeating a very ugly and deadly antisemitic trope.


It goes like this.


First, this trope is a reaction against the reality of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was very, very bad and very ugly. Witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust, even in just a newsreel or a book or a museum, made many antisemites think twice about their beliefs. Wow, this is where hate leads, they realized. Six million innocent and defenseless men, women, and children murdered just because of their identity. Bad!


To keep antisemitism alive in the face of such horror, antisemites came up with a counter narrative. In this counter narrative, which is not true, and this is the idea of antisemites, as they would put it, "Communism is Jewish. Communists murdered Christians. This murder took more lives than the Holocaust. So this Communist massacre of Christians cancels out any respect due to the Holocaust."


This narrative is false. Yes, at times and in places – but not at all times and not in all places – Communism was disproportionately Jewish. But most Communists were never Jews, and most Jews were never Communists.


Remember, Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB, was once a Polish Catholic nobleman. Joseph Stalin received a scholarship to study at a seminary to be an Russian Orthodox priest. Lenin's devout father had him baptized. Mao, who murdered more than Stalin, was not Jewish. The Khmer Rouge, whose genocide took the lives of 21% of the entire population of Cambodia, were not Jewish.


Marx was of Jewish ancestry, but there were Communist thinkers and doers before Marx. So, no, Communism is not Jewish.


"Communists murdered Christians" is only partially true. Communists murdered Jews. Communists murdered Muslims – see for example, here. The Khmer Rouge persecuted Buddhists. In short, Communists persecute anyone who has an identity that might interfere with Communist power. And sometimes Communists persecuted people just because they are in the way of some Communist boondoggle. Bieganski cites an article that talks about Communists in Poland oppressing windmill operators. Why windmill operators? Why not? People who wear glasses, people who collect stamps – all have been persecuted by Communists.


Yes, Communists murdered Christians. Communists murdered a lot of others, too.


There's one more antisemitic trope in Owens' tweet. "President Zelensky sure is behaving like a Bolshevist. How many more Christians will he conscript to death?"


Owens' tweet relies on an understanding of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky as not Ukrainian. As an outsider. As a deadly force. As an enemy of Christians. Why does Owens understand Volodymyr Zelensky that way? Because, in the mind of an antisemite, Zelensky is Jewish, and, therefore, he is an outsider, he is a deadly force, he is Communism personified, he is an enemy of Christians. This is a sick, evil, false and dangerous antisemitic trope. Owens should be required to renounce it, or to be excluded from decent society.


Why do I associate Owens' tweet with MAGA? Because antisemitism has been a feature of MAGA. Because any visit to online discussion boards reveals that the Venn diagram that shows overlapping populations shows that many of the folks who believe the above antisemitic trope are also Trump supporters, although they feel that Trump has not gone far enough.


No, not all Trump supporters are antisemites. Probably most Trump voters are not antisemites. And yes, there is plenty of antisemitism on the left, in the Democratic Party, in Christianity, etc. This post addresses one slice of antisemitism, that is, a kind of antisemitism found among some, not all, Trump supporters.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

An Irish Movie and a Lesson for Poles

Happy Easter. 

On March 15, 2024, the New York Times published an article. 

Back in 1927, MGM released "The Callahans and the Murphys," a comedy that relied for humor on negative stereotypes of Irish people. 

According to the NYT article, Irish people protested AND THE MOVIE DISAPPEARED FOREVER. 

You can read the full Times article here.

The lesson for Poles is obvious. If you don't like how media depicts you, unite, organize, and change things. 

At least partly because Poles have not done that effectively, negative stereotypes persist.  

Below is an excerpt from the article. 

Several Irish American organizations lodged complaints about the depiction of Irish life as one long, intoxicated slugfest. MGM blithely defended the film as good-natured fun, only to realize that an intractable Hibernian grudge was taking hold, as this internal studio telegram  reflects:


Worried about its investment, MGM made several cuts and changes to stem the growing outrage among the country’s Irish Catholics — who, it should be noted, already felt under attack by a resurgent and powerful Ku Klux Klan that mocked their faith and questioned their patriotism.


Friday, March 29, 2024

Jon Stewart's Daily Show Polish Joke Was Not Anti-Polish


In February, 2024, Jon Stewart, after returning to the Daily Show, told a Polish joke.
Some, not many, Polish people protested.


Their protest is wrongheaded.


Jon Stewart is a comedian. One does not take at face value what comedians telling jokes say.


In the same show, Stewart said he would welcome tutoring in how to be a successful media figure from Tucker Carlson. He calls Carlson "sensei" and "master." Stewart hates Tucker Carlson. He is saying one thing. He means something else. That kind of communication is typical for comedy.


Stewart is in fact identifying Tucker Carlson as a menace. He criticizes Carlson for not resisting Vladimir Putin saying that "World War II was Poland's fault because they forced Nazi Germany to invade."


Clearly, Stewart is horrified by Carlson's refusal to take on an evil man who is threatening Poland and currently attacking Ukraine.


Putin, interviewed by Carlson, says, "Hitler asked for Gdansk amicably but they refused." Carlson nods and says, "Of course."


Carlson's position is grotesque. THAT is what Jon Stewart is criticizing.


Stewart insists that it is absurd to say that Poland started World War II. "Poland's navy had submarines with screen doors." That is a Polish joke. It is ridiculous and passé. Stewart is saying that Carlson's agreeing with Putin's statement is as ridiculous as an outdated and not very funny Polish joke. Stewart is not endorsing the Polish joke.


In case there are some who don't understand what Stewart is doing, he breaks from his normal delivery and provides historical context to the history of Polish jokes. He is making clear that he is not endorsing Polish jokes. He is mocking Tucker Carlson's absurdity.


"Poles are as smart as anyone and did not deserve to be invaded by the Germans," he explains.


Minutes later, Stewart makes an Italian joke. He's not endorsing Italian jokes. He's continuing his criticism of Tucker Carlson's absurdities, as Carlson praises a Moscow subway station and a supermarket, two sites that do not in any way reflect the lives of average Russians, many of whom don't even have indoor plumbing.


By the way, some Poles protesting against Jon Stewart's performance make sure to identify him by his birth name, "Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz." They do this to emphasize that Jon Stewart is Jewish. In this instance, that emphasis is antisemitic. It doesn't matter what ethnicity someone is in this circumstance. Stewart was not being anti-Polish in his February Daily Show performance. Many of us got that, and most Polish people did not protest.

"Moving Past Pierogi: The New Face of Polish Cuisine" Saveur

Saveur published "Moving Past Pierogi: The New Face of Polish Cuisine" on March 22, 2024. 

Saveur reports, 

"When someone says 'Polish food,' what dishes come to mind? If you’ve conjured up images of hearty gołąbki, kiełbasa, and bigos, you’re not alone—as proven by one look at the 71,000-strong Facebook group I Love My Polish Heritage. But back in Poland, people’s eating habits are changing rapidly, and today those traditional dishes are more the exception than the rule. 'Polish people don’t eat pierogi with farmer’s cheese and potatoes, or cabbage rolls, or schabowy much anymore. These dishes do appear on our plates but don’t dominate our diets,' says Michał Korkosz, author of Fresh from Poland: New Vegetarian Cooking from the Old Country, and Polish’d: Modern Vegetarian Cooking from Global Poland. What’s more, meat-and-potatoes is certainly not what’s currently being served in Warsaw’s top restaurants, where a quiet revolution is taking place."

This interesting article includes a bit of history of Polish cuisine along with commentary on how Polish cuisine has changed in recent years. 

Thank you to Piotr for sending this in. 😀

La Presse, a Montreal Daily, Publishes Antisemitic Cartoon of Netanyahu


La Presse, a Montreal daily, published the above antisemitic cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu. I wonder if they have ever published a comparable cartoon of a Muslim terrorist mass murderer? 

La Presse depicted a Jew as a vampire. Vampires drink blood. The blood libel has been used as an excuse to kill Jews for hundreds of years. La Presse is shameful. 

Reports are that La Presse has removed the cartoon. 

Candace Owens, Antisemitism, and American Conservatism


My book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype shows that one cannot understand antisemitism in Poland or Eastern Europe without also understanding antisemitism anywhere else. Singling Poles or other Eastern Europeans out as "the world's worst anti-Semites" distorts rather than clarifies. It is morally corrupt, and it is cowardly. Demonizing Eastern Europeans harms, not helps, any efforts to address antisemitism. If we want to resist antisemitism, we must begin in our own backyards, and then address the rest of the world. Antisemites worldwide tend to have more in common than not.


The Candace Owens antisemitism scandal highlights a problem on the American right. Under Trump, the right abandoned traditional values like intact families, personal responsibility, and lower taxes. The right embraced a convicted rapist, business cheat, and foul-mouthed bully. In its support for a demagogue, the right opened the door to horrors, including misogyny, xenophobia, and antisemitism. Of course there is antisemitism on the left, but under Trump, antisemitism on the right is becoming more prominent. Candace Owens is just one manifestation of that.

One Life and Nicky's Family: Two Films Dramatize WW II Rescue of Refugees from Prague


One Life and Nicky's Family
Two films depict the rescue of over six hundred children from Nazis


The 2023 biopic One Life concludes with a very moving scene. An elderly man is surprised by a televised celebration of heroic deeds he performed when he was young. I could not resist the scene's power. I cried. I made sniffling sounds. I didn't even try to apply the emotional brakes.


If only the rest of the movie were as good as that final scene.


One Life dramatizes the life of Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE. When he was 29 years old, Winton participated in an effort to save Jewish children from oncoming Nazis. His heroism warrants an uplifting, inspirational, unforgettable film. I was worried when I saw that One Life would be released in the US on March 15. Early March is part of the "dump months" when movies that haven't tested well are released.


One Life is not a bad movie. It's just not good enough. I'd give it a six out of ten, but, given that the subject matter is so important and so appealing, I will nudge that up to a seven. Nicky Winton deserves an eleven out of ten.


As I left the theater, I asked, "Who was Nicholas Winton? Why did he perform these heroic acts? How did he perform them?" One Life didn't answer those questions for me. I spent hours reading about Winton. I stumbled across a movie I'd never heard of before. Nicky's Family is a 2011, English language, Czech and Slovak documentary. It is currently streaming for free. Nicky's Family moved me deeply, answered my questions, and worked for me.

Friday, March 8, 2024

The Boys in the Boat, The Peasants, and The Zone of Interest: Three Terrific New Films

 The Peasants is the single most beautiful film I've ever seen. The Zone of Interest is a Holocaust film. Both were shot, at least in part, in Poland. The Boys in the Boat tells a World War II story. 

The Boys in the Boat, The Peasants, and The Zone of Interest:
Three great films best seen in a theater


Friend, I beg of you. Go to a theater and see three great movies sometime soon: The Boys in the Boat, The Peasants, and The Zone of Interest.  


Leopold Staff, a Polish poet who survived the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, said that "Even more than bread we now need poetry, in a time when it seems that it is not needed at all." Movies are democratic. They are accessible and they are communal. It's fashionable to declare one's superiority by sneering at popular culture. It's harder to sneer when you remember that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fearless counter-jihadi, was inspired by Nancy Drew novels, and that Top Gun and Saving Private Ryan drove military recruitment. Politics is downstream from culture. The culture we support with our ticket-buying dollars is as important as the candidates we support with our votes.


We get something from publicly watching a movie together with our fellow citizens. The Major and the Minor is a 1942 screwball comedy. I'd watched it a couple of times at home, alone, on a small TV screen before seeing it for the first time in a jam-packed, Greenwich Village art house theater. In that crowd of rollicking laughter, I suddenly realized what a very naughty movie The Major and the Minor is. Its double entendres had flown right over my head. While watching Gone with the Wind, a loud and spontaneous sigh erupted when the camera zoomed in on Rhett Butler's handsome face (see here). Gathering in the ladies room after a movie like that is a genre of psychotherapy. While washing your hands you ask complete strangers, "Do you think Scarlett and Rhett ever got back together?" You comfort and enlighten each other and the world is warmer, more connected, less lonely and tense. Mel Gibson's The Passion depicts Christ's torture, crucifixion, and death in grisly detail. Three Muslim guys took seats directly behind me. They were joking sarcastically. Clearly, they were in the theater to mock. After the film ended, I turned around to check on them. One was doubled over, distraught. His companions were rubbing his back and speaking softly to him.


The loss of public movie-going erodes not just community, but also art. Ali's well is a famous, eight-minute scene in Lawrence of Arabia. Most of what we see is a completely flat, lifeless, tan desert landscape against a blue sky unbroken by any cloud. Two men draw water from a desert well. A tiny dot appears on the horizon. Slowly we realize that that dot is a man approaching on a camel. He shoots one of the men to death. As we wait, and wait, and wait for the approaching man  to arrive, we experience a fraction of the desert: the emptiness, the boredom, the terror, the sudden and irrational violence, the value system so very different from our own. That scene could never move us in the same way on a small screen. And, when we are watching alone on a small screen, we can fast forward through the parts we don't like, like, say, the grim depictions of the Holocaust in Schindler's List.


My students, trained on media that rushes and delivers jolts of violence and sex aimed at the lizard brain's reward-squirting mechanisms, lack the ability to sit through a scene like Ali's well. They also have trouble sitting through a complex lecture on current events, or a long story of personal struggle told by a friend. Movies, like all art, have the potential to train us to be our best selves.


The Boys in the Boat, The Peasants, and The Zone of Interest are three very different films, but they are all innovative, in different ways. Peasants is so innovative another movie like it may never be made again. Zone rewrote how the Holocaust will be treated in film, and how it will be understood. Boys is rebellious, counter-cultural filmmaking in ways I'll detail below. All three films have much to say about our current politico-cultural landscape. Each addresses community. Each, given their visual and auditory artistry and impact, should be seen in a theater.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Zone of Interest: Movie Review


The Zone of Interest 2023
A Masterpiece from a TV Commercial Director


Friend, please do something for me. Put this article aside and find the nearest theater showing The Zone of Interest. Walk into the theater knowing as little as possible about it. Then return to this article so we can exchange notes. I need to talk about this movie with others.


The Zone of Interest is going to generate a great deal of talk. There will be debates and podcasts. There will be university courses and peer-reviewed scholarly articles. There will be a backlash industry pooh-poohing every accolade the film receives. If you wait too long, your chance to have your own experience of the film may slip out of your hands. You may feel, "The Zone of Interest is its own industry. Seeing it would be too much like homework. I'd prefer the latest superhero movie."


You may be thinking, "Another Holocaust film. They're just are fishing for an Academy Award! Why can't we have movies about other atrocities? And I don't like watching people being tortured."


First, there is no torture, and almost no violence, in this movie. I cry at movies and I didn't cry while watching Zone. Days later, while merely thinking about it, I cried. I had nightmares. Even in my nightmares, there was no blood. There were merely well-groomed, clean people behaving in accord with their value system, their character, and their mental defenses. And we need Holocaust movies because the Holocaust was a big deal. And we can have movies about other atrocities, too, like Twelve Years a Slave and Killers of the Flower Moon.


Zone is universal and timeless, like W. H. Auden's poem "Shield of Achilles," which uses Jesus' crucifixion and Achilles' shield to discuss twentieth-century atrocity. Both Auden's poem and Zone say as much about slavery or the Cambodian Killing Fields or the Gulag as films directly addressing those topics.


I recommend Zone to every thinking adult. I say "thinking" because a subset of viewers are not getting this movie. There are some negative fan reviews online. These say that the film is "boring." "Nothing happens," they complain. "There is no plot." Bless their hearts.


Thinking adults are capable of observing. "To observe" implies an increase in cognitive activity from "to watch." If you know how to observe, you will get Zone.


Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, winner of four Academy Awards, said, that Zone is "probably the most important film of this century, both from the standpoint of his cinematic approach and the complexity of its theme." And if you are thinking, "Oh, this movie sounds too artsy-fartsy. I like more direct fare," don't let that stop you. Glazer got his start in that most democratic of forms, the TV commercial, where he depicted drinking a Guiness beer as tantamount to being a white stallion emerging from ocean surf. Glazer knows how to create images that penetrate to your lizard brain. He wields that magic here, not to sell beer, but to bring you closer to yourself, your own lowest fears and highest prayers.


In the article, below, I will summarize the plot, and then discuss the filmmaker, his approach, and the history he addresses. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Never Again Association Releases a Report on Grzegorz Braun

 The Never Again Association describes itself thus,

"The 'NEVER AGAIN' Association is an independent civil society organization founded in Warsaw in 1996. It has campaigned against racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia, for peace, intercultural dialogue and human rights across the world … The major objectives of the 'NEVER AGAIN' Association include:


 breaking the silence and raising awareness of the problem of racism and xenophobia;


building a broad and inclusive movement against racism and discrimination, for respect, inclusivity and diversity;


eliminating or marginalizing racist, xenophobic and antisemitic tendencies in various spheres of life."


The Never Again Association webpage is here.


In December, 2023, the Never Again Association released "Braun's Hate," a report addressing Grzegorz Braun's activities. The full, 29-page report can be read here.


The report begins,


"The 'NEVER AGAIN' Association has prepared a special report that documents several dozen examples of hateful actions and statements of Grzegorz Braun, Member of Polish Parliament from the far right Konfederacja (Confederation) party. The hatred expressed by Braun did not start with the infamous 12 December 2023 attack on the hannukiah in the Parliament, using a fire extinguisher. In fact, the Konfederacja MP has for years promoted conspiracy theories about Jews taking over Poland, mocked the victims of Nazi camps, called for violence against LGBT people, and boasted about tearing down Ukrainian flags."


Here are just a few examples from the report:


"On 2 April 2019, in an interview published on the YouTube channel of wRealu24, online TV, Grzegorz Braun demanded penalties for homosexuality. He said, 'Let's negotiate not the boundaries of tolerance, but of penalisation. … If someone comes up with a liberal bill introducing whipping of homosexuals, then we can discuss how to implement it whether through European Parliament or Warsaw's Parliament.'


On 9 April 2020, in an interview for the Panta Rhei channel on YouTube, Braun presented xenophobic conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID--19, 'Might it be simply an act of biological warfare? …Who might benefit from it? The Chinese, Americans, Muscovites, Jews, or all of them at once?'


Braun referred to modern Poland as 'a Russian German condominium under Jewish fiduciary government', adding that 'the Jewish fiduciary government has, of course, its guarantor and protector in the American empire'. He continued: 'Germans, Jews and sodomites must not re write our history and instruct us how to behave in our own home'"