Monday, April 06, 2015

Trevor Noah Learns The Hard Way That Joking About Jews Is Strictly Verboten


In the late '60s, when I visited Morocco for the first time, most travelers avoided the Rif Mountains of the north. People arriving by boat in Tangier from Spain usually either stayed put or headed south to Fez and Marrakech. Instead, my girlfriend, Martha, and I took a ferry from Spain to Ceuta, a tiny Spanish colony on the Moroccan coast, and headed in the opposite direction from all the other tourists. We went to the blue city of Chefchaouen, the gateway to the Rif badlands. And they really were the badlands back then. The Rif region is where all the local cannabis (kif) grows. Tourists were not encouraged. And we headed right into the heart of it: Ketama, Morocco's "wild west."

Just outside of Chefchaouen we picked up two American hitchhikers. Not just Americans-- Americans from New York, like us. Jewish New Yorkers like us. They were a chatty pair and within just a few minutes were entertaining everyone with comedy. Their repertoire of jokes quickly led to ethnic and racial slurs-- but strictly in good humor. Martha flipped out and whispered to me to get them out of the van. She had zero tolerance for racists. I felt a little queasy about dumping two Americans off in the Rif badlands.

I jumped in with a joke of my own. They had just told a silly Polish joke that had lampooned Poles based on stereotypes. So I told a similar joke about Jews. It wasn't mean-spirited, but it was based on ridiculous stereotypes. No one laughed; instead a thick silence fell over the car. They were confused that someone would ever, ever, ever say such a thing. The concept of a "Jewish joke" was unfathomable to them. They asked me to pull over and drop them off. Martha smiled quietly.

Even when it's ok to "joke around" about race and use ethnic jokes and stereotypes, for many targeting Jews in the same way is one step over the line. No one really cared that Trevor Noah, the newly named host of The Daily Show, made jokes denigrating women or other groups, but that he took aim at Jews... unthinkable! David Draiman, the singer of '90s Chicago heavy metal bad boys Disturbed-- and a libertarian-- flipped out over some old Noah tweets someone dug up to discredit him. He was interviewed by the Voice of Israel and said:
If he wants to go ahead and be a funny guy, go ahead, have me on your show. Go ahead and start spewing anti-Semitic or Jewish jokes while I’m on your show. Somebody’s gonna end up in the hospital and somebody’s gonna end up in jail, and I’ll give you three guesses who that’s going to be... The media continues to spin the State of Israel and Jews as war-mongering, evil people, which we are not. I think that’s it’s become something that, where people used to quickly rise to condemn it, they more and more are being very lackadaisical about it, and it’s becoming something that isn’t offensive to the mass public, which is very, very disturbing.
Appropriately enough, Draiman dug deeper on TwitLonger. In it, he muses that he's "a fan of pushing the envelope when it comes to art, music, film, and even comedy; but given the fact that anti-Semitic hate crimes are so rampant now, more than I have ever seen before in my lifetime, is now really the appropriate time for such 'humor'?" Here's an excerpt:
I am not someone who is easily offended; I’ve got big shoulders. Truth be told, I myself have been critical of the P.C. obsessed mob, those who seem to yearn for, and look for reasons to be offended by, seemingly anything from anywhere (I actually agree with Jim Norton’s piece in Time magazine regarding the Trevor Noah controversy to a certain degree, thank you again for the courteous back and forth Jim).

I am a staunch supporter of free speech and freedom of creative expression, even if the words spoken or manifested creativity is something I do not agree with, I will, as Voltaire said, "fight to the death for your right to say it."

However, many people confuse the right to “free speech” as being a license to say whatever they want without consequence. That simply isn’t reality. Your right to free speech prevents the government from being able to prosecute you for such words, but it does not, and should not, prevent the court of public opinion from then being able to judge you based on those words, to respond accordingly, and potentially even protest those words, in a peaceful/non violent manner. That’s true free speech, it’s a two way street. That’s true freedom.

As Winston Churchill said, “Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what that they like, but if anyone says anything back, it’s an outrage”. That simply isn’t true. Besides, if speech were suppressed, we may not know who some of the true wolves in sheep’s clothing are out there. People being allowed to speak freely, enables us to find out who they really are, and I would never trade that right for anything.

...Type the word anti-Semitism into your search engine, and see what comes up.

The results will shock you.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks that have been perpetuated over the past year worldwide is staggering. They are at levels I have not seen in my lifetime, and they are not only directed at “The State of Israel”, or “The Israeli Government”, or even “Israeli’s” in general. They are directed at Jews, all Jews, all over the globe, whether they are of Israeli descent or whether they support the State of Israel or not.

The horrific events of the last Gaza war have enabled sleeping anti-Semites all over the world, who have been relatively subdued for some time, to reveal themselves. Thanks to freedom of speech, we now know who many of them are (all they needed was an open door and an excuse to continue spewing their baseless hatred). I would never take away their right to expose themselves. I like it when people take their masks off. At least I know who is a threat and who isn’t.

So why then did I take such strong issue with the prospective new “Daily Show” host, Trevor Noah’s history of “Jew jokes”? Things like, “Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look before crossing, but I would have felt so bad in my German car!” or, “Muslims don’t hate Jews, Jews hate Muslims”, or “Behind every successful Rap Billionaire is a double as rich Jewish man” or, “South Africans know how to recycle just like Israel knows how to be peaceful."

Surely these aren’t the worst anti-Semitic slurs/jokes that I have ever heard, why take such offense?

Because I am tired of seeing the “tastemakers” of the world continue to perpetuate the anti-Semitic stereotypes and notions expressed in the “jokes” above. I’m tired of today’s youth thinking that it is “en vogue” to hate on the Jewish people. I’m tired of seeing people frightened, hiding their heritage for fear of anti-Semitic persecution.

Mr. Noah was picked to be the host of a widely watched television show, and with great power/reach also should come at least some responsibility. Many have said that since some of the statements were made years ago, that means they shouldn’t really matter; I wasn’t aware that there was an expiration date on hatred. If these were just “jokes” as everyone is insisting, let him also say publically that he denounces anti-Semitism and baseless hatred in all its forms. He had the right to say those things, he said them, shouldn’t people directly affected by them be able to respond to such statements with justifiable disdain? If you want to say that comedians are comedians, and that creative expression is absolute, and that no apology should be necessary for such statements (although friends sometimes mistakenly push things too far with one another/cross a line, apologize and move on), don’t these statements at the very least merit some explanation and clarification beyond saying that, and I quote Trevor here,

“To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian."

Is that enough? Does that convince anyone that he doesn’t truly believe the things he was implying in those “jokes”?

In this free society that we have created, some have insisted that people’s right to free speech justifies hate speech. Having the freedom to say it, and it being “justified”, are two entirely different things.

The recent rise of global anti-Semitism, people’s general “laissez-faire” attitude towards it, and the liberal Mainstream Media’s virulent anti-Israel narrative and agenda, has enabled it to spread and grow like wildfire. So in this troubling time, perhaps it is more prudent to avoid making “jokes” about it?
Katie Halper is a (Jewish) comedian and a writer. She's not buying into the claims that Noah is anti-Semitic, although she certainly agrees with Draiman that anti-Semitism is a real and growing threat. "When," she wrote, "it comes to themes that spark people’s most irrational, knee-jerk reactions, two stand out: humor and anti-Semitism. But when discussions center on anti-Semitism and humor at the same time, the level of analysis can reach an all-time low." She contends Noah, whose mother is Jewish, is not anti-Semitic. Fox News, of course, is exploiting it for audience share-- and Howard Kurtz has been chiming in as well. 

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At 3:12 PM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Did you hear the one about the apartheid state that stole land from the Palestinians and locked them up in a vast open-air concentration camp?

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Analogous to the attitude that only blacks can use the N-word, only Jews can be OK with telling jokes about each other. In both cases, no one else is allowed.

This isn't intended to suggest that my observation applies to all blacks or Jews as appropriate. Many of both don't care to indulge in these sorry topics. But for those Jews who do, can it be that the idea that they are God's Chosen People give them the idea that it's OK for superior beings such as themselves can put down inferiors with impunity?

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wingnut Likud supporters using rhetorical charges of 'anti-semitism' to counter any criticism of the dehumanizing political policies implemented by the Israeli governments, particularly over the past few decades, are as thinly veiled as the NYPD/PBA Patrick Lynch's cries of 'blood on his hands' and 'apologies' . When the 'good ones' fail to critIcize, and even defend the 'bad ones' out of some misguided loyalty, the 'good ones' lose their credibility.


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