For me it started a few years ago, in 2006, when the Anti-Defamation League and its progressively more senile leader Abe Foxman complained to Sacha Baron Cohen about "anti-Semitic" images in the movie Borat. "C'mon," I said to myself, "have you completely lost your sense of humor?" Of course, I was assuming that somewhere in the bowels of this strange organization there might actually be a sense of humor to be misplaced.
The last few weeks have put the icing on the cake for me. When the ADL came out -- at an absolutely decisive moment -- against placing the Cordoba House (or as I sometimes snarkily call it, the "GZMM" -- "ground zero mega-mosque") in its proposed location, I knew that the ADL had rendered itself a dead and irrelevant organization. No one could any longer take this once venerable and respected organization seriously, because in one fell swoop it had undone all its good work. At a moment of national insanity, the ADL had aligned itself with the crazy ones.
Yesterday came more icing on the cake. Abe decided to issue a condemnation of Roger Waters' current production of "The Wall Live" tour, a live on-stage performance of Pink Floyd's wonderful rock opera. Waters, as we know, was the leader of the band, and has been an observer in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Waters, it might be remembered, came to Israel in 2006 for a concert as the cultural boycott frenzy was just picking up steam in Britain. He had the temerity to visit the security barrier/separation wall and graffitied on it "Tear Down this Wall." "It's a horrific edifice, this thing," he told reporters at the time. And so a man who wrote a grand and global condemnation of "the Wall" in 1979, turned into a live-action and animated feature film in 1982, comes to give a concert in Israel in 2006 at a village devoted to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and encounters a real-life crystallization of all he bemoaned 27 years earlier, and calls it a horrible thing. Oh my! How this must have put Waters on the radar screen of the ever-vigilant morons at the ADL.
During the on-stage version of "Goodbye Blue Sky" (one of the most powerful visual animations in the 1982 movie), a new animation, clearly an extension and update of the 1982 version, was shown. I've only found one video of the current animation, and it is not very clear, but you can see slow-motion formations of B-52 bombers carpet-bombing red symbols on a desolate, already devastated landscape. Look at it yourself, from the Toronto show. You will see the following sequence: B-52s opening their payload doors to reveal, and eventually drop -- 1. crosses; 2. hammers & sickles; 3. crescents; 4. stars of David; 4. dollar signs; 5. Shell Oil emblems; 6. Merecedes Benz corporate symbols; and finally, a hodge-podge of all 6 symbols. The message is simple and as moving as the original 1982 vision, which concentrated exclusively on the cross-symbol: we are killing each other because of all these symbols, all derived from deadly forces in modern society.
But here goes crazy Abe (the lie now repeated on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Israel's Ynet):
It is outrageous that Roger Waters has chosen to use the juxtaposition of a Jewish Star of David with the symbol of dollar signs. While he insists that his intent was to criticize Israel's West Bank security fence, the use of such imagery in a concert setting seems to leave the message open to interpretation, and the meaning could easily be misunderstood as a comment about Jews and money.
Is this serious? Abe Foxman, rock critic? Am I to believe he is an aficionado of AOR? (Daily Show -- are you listening?)
I've said it before (actually quite recently, to the local head of the regional ADL) -- if the ADL is to save itself from complete and total irrelevancy for the future of America's civic debates about race and prejudice, Abe Foxman has got to be put out to pasture. How can you tell a one man show to simply shut the fuck up?
UPDATE 1: October 8: In a bizarre twist, recent viewers of performances of "The Wall Live" tour have noticed that Roger Waters, who categorically denied any anti-Semitic intent in the sequence of animations, has indeed changed the sequence, so that after the Stars of David, Shell Oil and Mercedes Benz symbols are displayed. The ADL pronounces itself satisfied. But OMG! What of the long standing anti-Semitic canard that all Jews are communists, and the other accusation that Islam is simply a variation on the Semitic religion of Judaism? If hammers & sickles and crescents precede the Stars of David, isn't this another horrendous anti-Semitic slur that requires the entire ADL organization to burn the midnight oil? Shades of Father Coughlin! And surely some nut somewhere thinks that the Jews run Shell Oil and Daimler AG. Where's Abe to protect us now that there is a new, vile sequence of symbols???
My point is: we have reached a preposterous state in the quality of civic discourse and the critique of art when a blowhard (about to publish a book entitled Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype, btw - won't this whole episode be just dandy for advanced sales!) can decide on his own, and with apparent persuasive credibility, to force a creative artist to alter a thoroughly benign artistic image that does not have the slightest hint of anti-Semitism.
Congratulations, Abe! But where were you when we needed you? Dig way back deep into The Kinks discography. Listen to a song entitled "When I Turn Off the Living Room Light." I expect a letter and press release to be immediately issued against Ray Davies.