February 18, 2010

Israel not enlightened by work of art

Spanish artist Eugenio Merino won't get the support of the Israeli foreign ministry. That support is for artists who know who holds their leash, how not to bite the hand that feeds them, and many other commonplaces.

See why?

The Israeli embassy issued a statement saying that this is "offensive towards Israelis, Jews, and certainly others".

No, it isn't. For example, I'm sure that almost none of the over 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians are offended (oh, but do these citizens of Israel also count as "Israelis"? Good question! Must ask His Excellency.)

As for Jews, they ought to be offended that Israel put Jewish symbols on its apartheid state buildings. On the other hand, Jews who agree with Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi Kook's words that tanks and arms are "holy vessels," surely can't be offended by this. Unless what offends them is not the content of the work but the knowledge that the Spanish artist gets it. Indeed, I've never seen a work of art that captures the spirit of Mercaz Harav so succinctly. They should commission Merino to redecorate all their synagogues. Here! Let's hear it from the Uzi worshipers themselves:

Strange that the uzi ... has become the symbol of the greatest transformation in Judaism since the destruction of Jerusalem about two thousand years ago. Rabbi Finklestein has taught us that objects take on profound meaning in the context of their use...If you are a post holocaust Jew and see an uzi, it evokes not images of crime, but hope and salvation. The instrument of violence becomes a symbol of hope...

...Even our humor reflects this transformation. I enjoy telling the story of the Exodus on Passover (the revised version). The little girl comes home from Hebrew school and mother asks “what did you learn today?” She answers “we learned about the Exodus.” “Oh, tell me what your teacher said.” “OK, Moses led our People out of Egypt but Pharoah and his army were in hot pursuit. When Moses got to the Red Sea, he ordered his communications officer to call ahead. Then a squadron of Israeli jet fighters appeared in the skies and bombed the Egyptians while the combat engineers constructed bridges so the People could cross over the water. “Is that what your teacher told you,” asks the mother incredulously? “Not exactly, mommy, but if I were to tell you what she told us, you’d never believe it!”

...The uzi represents both the blessings of a homeland, rich in energy and creativity, and the risks incurred by its defense and ongoing security. Each of us, when we completed basic training were given both an Uzi and a Bible. We understood that without the uzi, the values and visions of our Torah would remain dormant in a pagan world; we also knew that without the Bible the uzi would be just an instrument of violence. So, rabbi, is there a blessing for the uzi? (Saul Goldman, The Jewish Magazine, 2000)
This was written only a few month before the Israeli army shot 1.3 million bullets in the first few days of the Second Intifada, not against the army of Pharaoh, but against unarmed demonstrators.

Which Jews are therefore offended? The hypocrites. The religious Jews who worship the Uzi like a Torah scroll (or more accurately, like a golden calf) but are offended when someone else calls attention to that. The secular Jews who count the babies of religious Jews in trepidation but are happy to use religious symbols as propaganda weapons. Finally, are offended those who make a living, and a very good one indeed, from being offended. Good for all of them! Hardly the first work of art to be condemned as an offense to hypocrisy.

Besides, Merino's Uzi can no longer shoot. While Merino didn't turn the gun into a plowshare, the transformation that the weapon undergone, into a sculpture, has been no less peaceful than the one imagined by Isaiah. Perhaps the Ambassador of the state known for beating plowshares into gunships could turn his immense capacity for being offended towards what the state of Israel does every day with fully functioning weapons.


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