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Leonard Bernstein cared more about Israel than sex

Israel/Palestine
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Leonard-Bernstein-9210269-1-402Robert Gottlieb reviews a volume of Leonard Bernstein’s letters in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books:

[W]hat really mattered to him?

He’s not going to tell us, but the Letters, read in conjunction with Humphrey Burton’s excellent 1994 biography, Leonard Bernstein, suggest that there were three things that motored him: music, of course; his family, despite (or because of) the conflicts; his Judaism (and his belief in Israel). The money, the celebrity, the sex were front and center, but not, in the long run, central.

So Israel was a motor of Bernstein’s actions. But in the rest of this review, there is not another word about the place, and a lot about sex, music and family. We learn about Bernstein’s likely affairs with Aaron Copland and Dmitri Mitropoulos, about the understanding that his wife Felicia expressed to Bernstein after she married him in 1951 that he was gay and he was going to have affairs; and about his busting loose in the 1970s and leaving her for a young man and her cursing him to die a lonely feeble man.

Don’t get me wrong. This is fascinating stuff. But the omission is the psychological fallacy,  Jewish intellectual indifference to our political conditions alongside keen interest in our social ones. Here was an American celebrity who took Israel more seriously than his flings, who spent a lot of time going out to Israel even as he was hosting fundraisers for the Black Panthers back in the U.S. I’m interested. How do you support a Jewish state far from here that you don’t have to live in and that discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens and support a revolutionary black group in the country that you do live in? Bernstein’s stance is the essence of what is today a terrific malady in the Jewish community: PEP (Progressive Except Palestine). But Gottlieb and The New York Review of Books editors are in the bubble. Israel’s a great good thing established long ago and it’ll be here forever, and meanwhile let’s gossip about other members of the elite. (The review contains delicious morsels about Martha Gellhorn, Jackie Kennedy, Paul Bowles and Ernest Hemingway.) When actually we live very much in history, and Bernstein knew it, and he figured it out wrong. And that’s a problem.

P.S. The article is very hard on Bernstein and contains a great line about Bernstein’s mysterious psyche worth taping to the wall: “The confusion between genius and narcissism, heroism and self-pity, generosity and exploitation remains unresolved.”

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About Philip Weiss

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62 Responses

  1. hophmi
    hophmi
    December 4, 2013, 11:09 am

    “How do you support a Jewish state far from here that you don’t have to live in and that discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens and support a revolutionary black group in the country that you do live in? ”

    I’m curious. How do you not support a democracy that offers greater rights for its minority citizens than any state in the Middle East but not condemn the other states in the region where nobody, including minorities, has civil liberties?

    The answer? You’re not fighting for human rights. You’re fighting against Jews having what Muslims and Christians have many times over. That you would reach back to Bernstein to make this kind of ridiculous point (especially since in Bernstein’s time, Israel was a cause celebre amongst progressives for its socialism) shows how far off your moral compass is.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      December 4, 2013, 12:34 pm

      “How do you not support a democracy that offers greater rights for its minority citizens than any state in the Middle East”

      But it doesn’t treat them equally to the Jews, nor does it treat the population — as numerous as israel’s own — which it has held as serfs for three generations, in any humane, legal way. You’re whatabouttery is evil, because you don’t give a damn about those minorities, you only care to protect israel.

      “…but not condemn the other states in the region where nobody, including minorities, has civil liberties?”

      Oh, baloney. You’re just slandering people out of whole cloth.

      “The answer? You’re not fighting for human rights.”

      Nope. That libel is what you WANT to believe, so that you can justify to yourself being in favor of an ethno-religious supremacist and apartheid state that you would be wholly opposed to if Jews were the victims and not the perpetrators.

      • hophmi
        hophmi
        December 4, 2013, 3:14 pm

        As usual, when I call out the hypocrisy, you ignore it.

        “Oh, baloney. You’re just slandering people out of whole cloth.”

        Please tell me which states in the Middle East offered civil liberties to their citizens during the time Bernstein was supporting Israel. The answer is none, and right now, it’s close to none.

        “Nope. That libel is what you WANT to believe, so that you can justify to yourself being in favor of an ethno-religious supremacist and apartheid state that you would be wholly opposed to if Jews were the victims and not the perpetrators.”

        Not at all. It’s the truth, and I don’t feel the need to apologize for supporting a Jewish state in a region with nearly two dozen Muslim states in a world with nearly five dozen Muslim states and just as many Christian ones.

        You just don’t want to acknowledge the hypocrisy in your extreme position.

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        December 5, 2013, 6:59 am

        “Please tell me which states in the Middle East offered civil liberties to their citizens during the time Bernstein was supporting Israel.”
        You obviously know nothing about Lebanon (where I grew up member of a minority group) and Syria, to name just two. You’re just parroting a meme without the slightest intellectual curiosity to check if true. You’re a documented fraud.

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        December 5, 2013, 7:18 am

        Let’s talk about civil liberties in Israel.
        “Israel Court Fines Woman Over Not Circumcising Son”
        (I don’t think you’d get a fine in Lebanon (or Syria) for such a ridiculous “crime”)
        http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/israel-court-fines-woman-circumcising-son-21041276

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 5, 2013, 10:59 am

        “As usual, when I call out the hypocrisy, you ignore it.”

        LMAO. You called out nothing. You made up a boogie man in your head.

        “Please tell me which states in the Middle East offered civil liberties to their citizens during the time Bernstein was supporting Israel.”

        What are you talking about? Israel wasn’t offering civil liberties to its citizens during the time Bernstein was supporting it, as it kept people under martial law for 20 years simply because they weren’t Jews, and after that, it didn’t offer civil liberties to the people under it’s government and doesn’t today.

        “The answer is none, and right now, it’s close to none.”

        Then he (and everyone) should be opposed to all those states, including israel.

        “Not at all.”

        Oh? So if a state were to treat Jews like the Jews have treated the Palestinians for the past 70 years, you would be okay with it?? Liar.

        “I don’t feel the need to apologize for supporting a Jewish state…”

        No, but you should apologize and feel great shame for supporting a state that violates human rights en masse, as has for three generations the way that israel has, regardless of whether it’s a Jewish state, a Muslim state, a Christian state, a secular state or otherwise. That’s the bigotry that you are so immersed in that you don’t see. The fact that it is a Jewish state, to you, excuses the fact that it violates civil rights on a second-by-second basis. Yet you don’t care, because, to you, the only thing that matters is that they’re Jews. That’s hypocracy. That’s the pathology of zionist ideology, where the end result is not the maximization of human happiness, freedom and welfare.

        “You just don’t want to acknowledge the hypocrisy in your extreme position.”

        HA! My position is I support human rights for everybody. (Oh, how EXTREME.) You are the hypocrite because you are okay with Jews violating others human rights because they’re Jews.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 5, 2013, 11:07 am

        “‘Israel Court Fines Woman Over Not Circumcising Son'”

        Court-ordered genital mutilation. How repulsive.

      • hophmi
        hophmi
        December 5, 2013, 1:06 pm

        Syria. Syria offered civil liberties to its citizens? This must be the alternative universe Syria, not the one that has suffers coup after coup and has been Ba’athism since 1966.

      • asherpat
        asherpat
        December 6, 2013, 4:39 am

        @thankgod – I think that you forgot to mention something from the linked article that “Rabbinic courts …decisions are binding for families that agree to take part in them, though…There is no law requiring circumcision in Israel”

        I wonder why you forgot to mention this.

      • annie
        annie
        December 6, 2013, 6:00 am

        asherpat, could you elaborate on ” for families that agree to take part in them.”
        when does that agreement take place? when a couple gets married? wiki states ” The courts have exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce of Jews and have parallel competence with district courts in matters of personal status, alimony, child support, custody, and inheritance.”

      • asherpat
        asherpat
        December 6, 2013, 6:17 am

        @Annie,

        Wikipedia is wrong in such case. what it shud have said is that the [Rabbinic] courts’ jurisdiction is over matters of religious orthodox nature, ie if a couple wants to be registered as married in accordance with the Jewish orthodox tradition, then the Rabbinic courts have jurisdiction over it. If someone insists on being buried in a Jewish cemetery, Rabbinic courts will decide who is eligible and how. But if you insist on living together or a have civil marriage, then Rabbinic courts have no say in any way and they cant impose anything. Only if you accept them.

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        December 6, 2013, 7:31 am

        Hophmi
        You said: “How do you not support a democracy that offers greater rights for its minority citizens than any state in the Middle East”
        I pointed out to you that minorities in Lebanon and Syria have the same rights as everyone else unlike in Israel where discrimination is inscribed in law. There are the Jews at the top of the chain and, apart, there is everyone else. When an Arab becomes a judge in Israel it becomes big news as something extraordinary and you keep bringing it to the fore as a proof there’s no discrimination. In Lebanon or Syria the same rights, though obviously limited in certain areas, I never claimed they’re perfectly democratic but at least laws are the same for everyone.

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        December 6, 2013, 7:49 am

        When you mention that Israel is a democracy you fail to add that it’s the case for Jews only.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 6, 2013, 8:34 am

        “I wonder why you forgot to mention this.”

        asherpat, Probably because it’s irrelevant. The barbarity here is in someone — anyone — ordering someone to ritually mutilate her child’s genitals is the issue, not the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

      • annie
        annie
        December 6, 2013, 8:56 am

        thanks for the explanation asherpat.

        if a couple wants to be registered as married in accordance with the Jewish orthodox tradition, then the Rabbinic courts have jurisdiction over it.

        for clarification, is it when the couple marries that they agree for the rabbinical courts to then have future exclusive jurisdiction over their marriage? and is there an alternate court/option for orthodox couples in israel (if they or one later changes their mind) or is it a requirement for all orthodox jews to accept the jurisdiction of the court if they want to remain in the orthodox community?

        also, in the US is there something similar here for orthodox jews? i think i heard there was, i’m just not clear how this segues with our court system.

        and if an orthodox married person in israel wanted a divorce would they be prevented the option of going to civil court because of how they were married?

        so for example, if an orthodox jew wanted to marry a non orthodox jew, in israel one of the pair would have to change their religious status, is that correct? and is that also correct in the US?

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 6, 2013, 9:09 am

        “But if you insist on living together or a have civil marriage, ”

        There is no civil marriage in israel.

      • Walid
        Walid
        December 6, 2013, 9:42 am

        “Please tell me which states in the Middle East offered civil liberties to their citizens …” (hophmi)

        Is Israel back to considering itself as being in the Middle East? That’s a positive first step.

      • miriam6
        miriam6
        December 6, 2013, 11:04 am

        There is no civil marriage in israel.

        Get it right Woody

        Neither is there in Lebanon ,Syria nor Jordan. Mixed couples from Lebanon and Israel must travel to Cyprus to obtain civil marriages.
        On return to Israel the state must accept those marriages as a fact whether the state likes it or not.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 6, 2013, 12:05 pm

        I did get it right, miriam.

        There is no civil marriage in israel. If one wants one, one must go elsewhere to get one.

      • Walid
        Walid
        December 6, 2013, 12:40 pm

        “Neither is there in Lebanon ”

        There is now, miriam. In the summer of 2012, a sharp Lebanese lawyer dug up an obscure French law from 1926 that permitted couples that didn’t belong to one of the 17 constitutionally-sanctioned religions (Israelite is one of them) or that were simply atheists, to apply to the protonotary of their district to marry them in a civil ceremony. A more recent law enacted about 5 or 6 years back, permitted people to have struck from the legal registers, their stated religion, thereby making them legally without religion. So last summer, this is what one couple did and with their new “religion-less” IDs they applied and were married. The couple in question that created a first in Lebanon, had their first baby last month. So technically, there are now civil mariages in Lebanon, but couples still have to first go through the circus of having their religion struck from the civil registers, but there are still lots of unresolved issues attached to civil marriages performed locally such as divorces, custody of children, laws of inheritance and so on. While there are currently legal systems and courts in place of each of the 17 religions or sects, there are none for people that aren’t part of one of them.

      • miriam6
        miriam6
        December 6, 2013, 2:47 pm

        [email protected];

        All very interesting Walid – but the state in Lebanon and religious institutions in Lebanon are clearly still intent on interfering in the lives of Lebanese citizens as they do in Israel.

        Why should people have to make a public show of abandoning their religion on order to get married anyway?
        Religious affiliation and whom one marries is no business of the state.

        In any case about ten months ago I saw an Al Jazeera documentary on mixed couples in Lebanon who were still having to travel to Cyprus in order to marry.
        Was the Al Jazeera documentary wrong or simply out of date do you think?

        Finally isn’t ‘civil marriage’ itself something of a lesser form of actual marriage?

        Gays in Britain were allowed civil partnerships rather than marriage until recently.

      • asherpat
        asherpat
        December 6, 2013, 4:55 pm

        @Annie, if a couple wants that their marriage to be recognised by the Rabbinical establishment, then they have to abide by the establishment rules and indeed, there are stupid rules, such as preference of men in case of attempted divorce. But in theory and more important, in practice, there is no legal requirement for the woman to live with a man if she doesn’t want to. If she is stupid enough to be so religious that she obeys the rabbys, then it’s her CHOICE, never a legal obligation enforcible by law.

      • miriam6
        miriam6
        December 6, 2013, 5:05 pm

        [email protected];

        I did get it right, miriam.There is no civil marriage in israel. If one wants one, one must go elsewhere to get one.

        But once those couples obtain their civil marriages in Cyprus and return to Israel the authorities have to accept it right?
        I mean they cannot throw such couples in jail.

        So we are both half right.

        Anyway – here is to love and marriage and the general good it all represents for the well being of individuals and wider society – and to folk marrying who they want to marry without state interference!

      • annie
        annie
        December 6, 2013, 5:06 pm

        Finally isn’t ‘civil marriage’ itself something of a lesser form of actual marriage?

        what’s your definition of ‘actual marriage’?

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 6, 2013, 5:19 pm

        “…whom one marries is no business of the state.”

        Baloney. Marriage is the creation of a relationship at law. Given the benefits that flow from it, it is very much the business of the state.

        “Finally isn’t ‘civil marriage’ itself something of a lesser form of actual marriage?”

        Only to a religious bigot.

      • annie
        annie
        December 6, 2013, 5:20 pm

        asherpat, the reason i got into this conversation was you commented the article about ‘Israel Court Fines Woman Over Not Circumcising Son’ mentioned there is no law requiring circumcision in Israel and then said

        I wonder why you forgot to mention this.

        and i’m wondering why you think it’s even important? they don’t need to have a law about something the court will control anyway. most people do not expect to get divorced when they get married, so the system is set up where a couple wishing to get married in their religion basically gives up their future choice to decide later how they want to proceed with family matters or they can’t marry within their religion. show me one example where the rabbinical court has allowed a person not to circumcise their kid? so who needs a law about it? the state doesn’t care whether people who are not jewish are circumcised and for the ones who are the rabbinical court is in control. so what difference does it make if someone mentions there’s no law on the books demanding the circumcision?

      • Walid
        Walid
        December 6, 2013, 6:13 pm

        Miriam, civil marriage is still in its infancy in Lebanon. The first couple that got it had to wait about 4 months for the Minister of the Interior to approve registering the marriage because he still wasn’t sure that the law hadn’t been broken. So marriages in Cyprus are still as popular as ever but one of the reason behind this popularity is that it permits a couple to get married without having to incur the socially acceptable but very exhorbitant cost of a huge wedding reception. Blaming the religious roadbumps for Cyprus is a convenient way of getting married on the cheap and still coming out of it smelling like roses; in the old days, they used to go around that hurdle by eloping as that too saved lots of money on weddings. The main reason civil marriage is being blocked is due to pressure being applied on politicians to keep it blocked by the clergy of all religions because if civil marriages are legalized, they’d stand a sure chance of being hit hard financially by it; so it’s really about the money.

        As to your question about civil marriages being a lesser form of actual marriages, there are countries where the “real” marriage is the civil one much more so than the religious one but in which the clergy by marrying the couple under religious ritual is also authorized by the governement to be marrying them under civil law simultaneously with the ritual one. That’s what the signing by the married couple and their witnesses of the registers after the weddings are about. After the wedding, the clergy have to complete the official forms and forward them to the government to legitimize the wedding.

      • Walid
        Walid
        December 6, 2013, 6:23 pm

        Annie, about circumcision, what became of the California proposal to put up for referundum, the issue of making circumcisions in California illegal? This will have direct religious implication on Jews and Muslims.

      • miriam6
        miriam6
        December 6, 2013, 7:07 pm

        what’s your definition of ‘actual marriage’?

        I got the distinct impression from the Al Jazeera doc that civil marriage was somehow a lesser type of marriage that mixed couples could obtain in Cyprus but not in Lebanon ( or Israel – the Al Jazeera doc only mentioned the experiences of Lebanese couples )

        I suppose now I think that it is a question that a civil marriage obtained in Cyprus would be recognised by almost everyone else as a ‘real’ marriage but not by religious/state authorities in Lebanon ? and in Israel ? too that would be the case I would imagine.

        Anyway Walid’s comments here about civil marriage in Lebanon have shed some light on the matter for me now.

        The Lebanese seem to be making more progress in the matter of civil marriage between mixed faith couples than the Israelis are at present.

        Marriages can be performed in a secular civil ceremony or in a religious setting via a wedding ceremony. The act of marriage usually creates normative or legal obligations between the individuals involved, and any offspring they may produce. In terms of legal recognition, most sovereign states and other jurisdictions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples or two or more persons of opposite gender in the gender binary, and a diminishing number of these permit polygyny, child marriages, and forced marriages. Over the twentieth century, a growing number of countries and other jurisdictions have lifted bans on and have established legal recognition for interracial marriage, interfaith marriage and most lately, same-sex marriage.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage

        Countries with no civil marriage
        There is no civil marriage in many Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Syria,[7] Jordan,[8] UAE,[9] Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Mauritania, as well as in Indonesia,[10] Iran and Israel, among others; all marriages are conducted by religious authorities, and are registered by civil authorities only after having been registered by authorities of officially approved religions (Egypt, Israel and Lebanon all recognize Christianity, Islam and Judaism; in many Arab countries, a majority of citizens are Muslim), or, having been registered abroad. This yields particular problems for those who are refused divorce by their spouses, or couples in religious traditions that forbid divorce altogether.

        Civil marriage – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_marriage

      • piotr
        piotr
        December 6, 2013, 8:11 pm

        My understanding is that there is NO civil marriage in Israel, although there is recognition of foreign marriages. Moreover, the powers of the religious courts are non-negligible. I read that a religious court can decree that a man should agree to a divorce, and if the man does not agree, he should go to prison. Then the non-religious authorities keep the guy in prison. It used to be that there was a limit of 10 years, but now there is no limit.

        It is totally weird in many ways. If they think that there should be a divorce they should grant the divorce to the woman, or the state should recognize that she is not married and allowed to marry again etc. But for the state to keep people in prison on the decree of priests? By the way, the fine for not agreeing to the circumcision was also a fine from a religious court that can also regulate custody and division of property after the divorce or separation. In this fashion a women was fined something like 20 thousands dollars for whitchraft — her share of property was decreased as the penalty for that evil practice. Definitely big progress from the time when she could be burned at a stake.

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        December 7, 2013, 7:03 am

        Syria had its first civil marriage precisely this week. Can’t link on my phone, sorry. Check it out.

      • Walid
        Walid
        December 7, 2013, 9:46 am

        TGIA, if the one in Jazeera, in happened in the Kurdish-controlled part of Syria that appears to be on its way to becoming “Kurdistan al-Suriah” ;here it is:

        “… Kholoud Sukkarieh, one half of the first couple to obtain a civil marriage license in neighboring Lebanon, told Al Jazeera she was alerted to news of Syria’s first civil wedding when activist group Civil Marriage in Syria tagged her in posts about it on Facebook. She called the new marriage law “a great step forward.”

        “It is so courageous and brave to do such a thing during this sectarian war in Syria,” said Sukkarieh, who had her Sunni sect designation struck from her official identification so that she could marry a Shia in April. She and husband Nidal have since welcomed Lebanon’s first sect-less baby into the world.

        “I hope this blood-shedding country will soon end up a civil country,” she said.

        http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/3/syrian-kurds-celebratewartorncountrysfirstcivilmarriage.html

      • annie
        annie
        December 7, 2013, 4:57 pm

        ok, re your impression from AJ “civil marriage was somehow a lesser type of marriage”, i just thought i’d point out from your wiki link:

        Civil marriage is a marriage performed, recorded, and recognized by a government official.[1]…..Marriage is regulated by state law in the United States, and all states (as well as the District of Columbia) require a marriage license issued by local civil authorities.

        iow, here in the US, an “actual marriage” requires it to be a civil marriage. you can have another kind, religious or whatever, but it won’t be recognized as an actual marriage in the US, without the civil recognition.

      • annie
        annie
        December 7, 2013, 5:08 pm

        But once those couples obtain their civil marriages in Cyprus and return to Israel the authorities have to accept it right?
        I mean they cannot throw such couples in jail.

        what’s your definition of ‘accept’? you mean do they have the same rights as other couples? not if one person is a palestinian with the wrong permit.

    • lysias
      lysias
      December 4, 2013, 5:00 pm

      I remember when apartheid South Africa was defended as offering a better life even to its blacks than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa.

    • valency
      valency
      December 7, 2013, 9:33 pm

      I’m curious. How do you not support a democracy that offers greater rights for its minority citizens than any state in the Middle East

      Because, of course, this state enjoys the luxury of having ethnically cleansed most of the Palestinian majority and thus has successfully exluded them from the benefits of “citizenship.” Israel does not and cannot offer citizenship to the stateless people of the west bank, because given the birth rate they would overwhelm the Jewish population and be in a position to vote themselves their state or establish a binational state that would no longer be Jewish in character.

      Do you really think you’re fooling us with this zionist bullshit? You’re on Mondoweiss, not some campus board full of doe-eyed 18 year old political neophytes.

  2. Walid
    Walid
    December 4, 2013, 11:16 am

    Bernstein was a great musician; what else do you want of the guy? So he loved Israel, but this didn’t make him any less great. It was his Saturday morning concerts on CBS that got me hooked on classics. He spoke about music with the same electrifying passion that Carl Sagan spoke about the stars.

  3. Marco
    Marco
    December 4, 2013, 11:22 am

    Sure it makes him less great *as a person* not as a composer.

    It suggests that either he was morally inconsistent in his support of the Zionist project and of radical black groups like the Black Panthers or that he only supported the latter for self-serving reasons – such as an expression of the sort of attitude seen in Jodi Rudoren’s husband’s artistic efforts.

    • Walid
      Walid
      December 4, 2013, 11:44 am

      Marco, what do I care about his religion or his sexual preferences or politics. I listened to the guy’s music because it’s good, not because of who the man was outside his music. And not to forget how much his music influenced jazz greats like Thelonious Monk. His love for Israel or sex never adversely affected musically anyone. Had he ran for political office, I would have never voted for him. The guy’s been dead for 23 years, so what’s this about?

      • hophmi
        hophmi
        December 4, 2013, 3:14 pm

        It’s about finding reasons to attack famous American Jews.

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        December 4, 2013, 4:02 pm

        what do I care about his religion or his sexual preferences or politics.
        His religious belief is a personal choice that doesn’t affect other people. His sexual orientation is irrelevant unless you are keen on him. Also, all orientations are equally good. His political views, however, do matter because they affect other people.

  4. Krauss
    Krauss
    December 4, 2013, 1:21 pm

    How do you support a Jewish state far from here that you don’t have to live in and that discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens and support a revolutionary black group in the country that you do live in? Bernstein’s stance is the essence of what is today a terrific malady in the Jewish community: PEP (Progressive Except Palestine).

    It’s ethnic nationalism. For me it is in some ways quite logical. If you’re an ethnic nationalist, but at the same time an ethnic minority, you have a self-interest in keeping the country you live in liberal and diverse. It is easier to live in a country where no major ethnic group dominates, and as such it becomes harder to be discriminated against.

    The measure of progressivism is not how you act when you’re a small minority and have a consistent self-interest in keeping the liberal politics as strong as possible.
    The question is: how do you act when you’re in the majority.

    Bernstein showed quite clearly that he, like many others who claim to be liberal, are not that liberal when his group is the one who stands to lose their demographic grip. But this is not just a Jewish phenomenom. If you look at Chinese people, it’s the same. It’s a universal human character trait; a lot of people are ethnic nationalists by nature. And in a situation when you’re a minority, the most logical thing from an ethnic nationalist standpoint is to weaken everyone else and to affirm a liberal foundation, that keeps you safe. When you’re in a majority, and you’re not a liberal and an ethnic nationalist, the way to proceed is to control the demographic majority of that country and if that clashes with liberal values; so be it.

    I’ve long held out that non-white(which I define as white gentile Christians in this case) ethnic nationalism is an issue the left has never dealt with. Although it may be uncomfortable to ask, we should also ask how many Palestinians who are now asking for liberal democracy in Israel – and I mean genuine liberal democracy, would be comfortable with the same in Palestine? I remember Ahmed Moor, for example, saying he’s fine with ethnic nationalism in Palestine. Well, that’s problematic. And in some ways a PEP syndrome itself, but from the Palestinian side.

    So it’s not just a Jewish topic, and not just related to Palestine, there’s a lot of people being hypocrites with their liberal values as soon as they are in the ethnic majority, even if it’s about a country they don’t live in at the moment but could consider living in the future. (I’m sure aliyah crossed his mind more than a few times).

    • lysias
      lysias
      December 4, 2013, 5:10 pm

      It’s a universal human character trait; a lot of people are ethnic nationalists by nature.

      It may be a universal trait, but some peoples and countries do resist the temptation. My own people, the Irish (I’m Irish-American) are, I think, one counterexample: after Ireland became independent, the Protestants were given equal political rights and were allowed to retain their privileged economic position. A lot of Protestants did leave Ireland after independence, largely because they found it hard to accept that they had lost their position as the group with political power and resented the privileged position that independent Ireland gave the Catholic Church. But to a large extent the Protestants themselves were responsible for this situation. Had Northern Ireland not seceded and had Ireland therefore retained a large Protestant minority, their interests would have had to be taken better account of in newly independent Ireland.

      Then there are the WASPs in this country. While they were still ascendant here, they created a situation that allowed their eventual displacement from dominance.

  5. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    December 4, 2013, 3:20 pm

    Lenny Bernstein was a man of contradictions, whether in his marriage and lifestyle (gay affairs) or in his politics. I once saw a film of Bernstein conducting classical music at an Israeli locale (some outdoor Roman amphitheater). It brought him great joy to play for the people who represented the renewed Jewish life that had sprouted in Israel after the devastation of WWII. Of course if he had seen it through the eyes of the Palestinian refugees, he would not have played. But he viewed it as an affirmation of Jewishness, his Jewishness and his audience’s Jewishness. How to accomplish Jewish affirmation without treading upon Palestinian rights (let alone affirmation) is something that Israel has not discovered. But why dismiss Lenny’s affirmation of his own Jewishness?

  6. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka
    December 4, 2013, 3:31 pm

    “Of course if he had seen it through the eyes of the Palestinian refugees, he would not have played.”

    You can’t say that. You don’t kn0w. For all we know, he did see it through the eyes of the Palestinian refugees and didn’t give a crap because they weren’t Jews.

    “How to accomplish Jewish affirmation without treading upon Palestinian rights (let alone affirmation) is something that Israel has not discovered.”

    Because so long as the zionists decided to do that “affirmation” on someone else’s land — namely, the Palestinians’ land — it’s impossible.

  7. Philip Munger
    Philip Munger
    December 4, 2013, 4:23 pm

    Leonard Bernstein was, above all else, one of the great music educators of the 20th century.

    His own music, which I’ve studied closely over the past 50 years or so (I’ve taught his three “Mippy” pieces to my brass students, as I accompanied them on piano), has many bright moments garnished with gems, but he was never the composer he probably hoped to be.

    His conducting itself was less important than the works his baton brought to light, often out of undeserved obscurity. He led the way in bringing Mahler’s symphonies and songs to the forefront worldwide. Not very many people knew of Charles Ives before Bernstein began force feeding audiences with the iconoclastic majesty of that great master. Bernstein’s lecture on Ives’ The Unanswered Question is one I love to share with my serious students.

    He was with Israel from before the very beginning, conducting there before independence, during the 1948 war, and hundreds of times from then until his death. He may have been the first conductor to bring the Israel Philharmonic (which he initially conducted under its earlier name, the Palestine Symphony Orchestra) to an almost first-tier level. From the scores of anecdotes I’ve heard over the years, from people associated with him, about Bernstein and Israel, he was an ardent Zionist, with no misgivings.

    But his compositions informed by his view of Judaism never seemed to cross the line some Zionist composers traverse, of mixing Israel as a physical place or moral imperative with Judaism itself. And, perhaps sadly, possibly giving us an unintended message, his musical Judaica is not among his better work, with the possible exception of the Chichester Psalms. However, Chichester was impelled by an ecumenical commissioning, for a commemoration at a Christian cathedral.

    My most recent memorable experience with Bernstein was about a year ago, as I was trying to grasp how I could pull off such a difficult work as Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony with my humble orchestra. I discovered a performance of it led by Bernstein that took all the tempi I thought I could not get away with – somewhat slow, and very expansive. Our performance of it ended up being within seconds of his in terms of timings, but sounds considerably different. And it worked.

    Thanks, Lenny.

    • Walid
      Walid
      December 4, 2013, 4:46 pm

      Thanks, Philip.

    • philweiss
      philweiss
      December 4, 2013, 11:38 pm

      Thanks Philip, I didnt know any of his Zionist history.

      • Philip Munger
        Philip Munger
        December 6, 2013, 2:21 am

        His Zionist legacy might make for a good essay, maybe even a book. But it is no more of a subject of importance, compared to his overall impact, than a host of others.

        My comment above wasn’t meant to undo your interest in NYRB’s peculations. Even in Alaska, I had been a subscriber to that news sheet for over 30 years, until 2011, when I broke faith with the magazine, and failed to once more renew.

        I sometimes miss holding the NYRB’s pages in my hands over breakfast or in a cafe, but they lost their sense of purpose some time ago.

      • Walid
        Walid
        December 6, 2013, 3:54 am

        “But it is no more of a subject of importance, compared to his overall impact, than a host of others.”

        Bernstein’s Zionism was certaily not, Philip M., it would be more worthwhile to debate the contradiction of Barenboim’s Zionism in light of his anti-occupation stance. At least, the guy is still alive.

      • Philip Munger
        Philip Munger
        December 6, 2013, 9:35 pm

        Walid,

        I’ve come to regard Dan Barenboim as an aging opportunist. Not ready to detail that now, but I probably will some time in the future.

      • Walid
        Walid
        December 7, 2013, 5:32 pm

        “but I probably will some time in the future”

        Will look forward to reading it, Philip M., especially from your musical appreciation angle.

  8. DaveS
    DaveS
    December 4, 2013, 5:35 pm

    For those interested, here is a fascinating video of Bernstein recording the music to West Side Story. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjxWKL6jhC4 He’s quite a perfectionist and gets a bit testy at times.

  9. DaveS
    DaveS
    December 4, 2013, 5:45 pm

    On the one hand, Bernstein’s pro-Israel stance was quite the norm in its time, and viewed in that perspective, hardly deserves retrospective derision. Ahmed Moor made some great points about this in his essay the other day.

    On the other hand, it does underscore how clueless so many people (including myself) were decades ago. How is it that we were blind to why the Zionist project would be rightfully resisted by the indigenous Palestinian population? Nowadays when hasbarists accuse people of anti-Semitism for voicing support of equality for all regardless of ancestry, it’s becoming pathetic and laughable. I suspect that if Lenny were alive today, his position would have evolved.

    • German Lefty
      German Lefty
      December 4, 2013, 6:01 pm

      Bernstein’s pro-Israel stance was quite the norm in its time

      “The others did it, too.” – That’s not a legitimate defense. Besides, the pro-Israel stance is STILL the norm among Jews and Western politicians. Without Western support, Israel couldn’t exist.

      How is it that we were blind to why the Zionist project would be rightfully resisted by the indigenous Palestinian population?

      Perhaps because there was no internet?

    • philweiss
      philweiss
      December 4, 2013, 11:40 pm

      My point here is not aimed at Bernstein, but at NYRB/Gottlieb, for finding the Zionism so unremarkable. To the point that it remains entirely unexamined in the article. I mean if you like we could say that sexual habits of the 70s were conventional and predictable, too

      • Marco
        Marco
        December 5, 2013, 12:37 am

        Lenny Bernstein was a deeply intelligent man? Far more intelligent than I, frankly. Why shortchange him?

        I take him at his word – he lived long enough to know the plight of the Palestinians. He made a choice.

        His choice was to prioritize tribal interests in Palestine while promoting universalism in America.

    • MichaelSmith
      MichaelSmith
      December 5, 2013, 5:28 pm

      Bernstein did sign a petition against a Gush Emumim settlement on the West Bank in 1979. I think. It’s hard to find out now on the Internet who signed what protest and when. Whether and how Bernstein’s position would have evolved had he lived longer is something we can only speculate about.

  10. RoHa
    RoHa
    December 4, 2013, 8:08 pm

    And I thought my love life was pretty unremarkable.

  11. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    December 6, 2013, 3:23 pm

    Accepting that Israel is “the” Jewish question of the post WWII period. Accepting that Israel as it is today and as it has treated the Palestinians certainly since 1948, has failed in its primary test (after survival), I understand that Lenny is considered a moral failure because he played a concert in Beersheva in the fall of 1948 while the war was still raging, that because he played a concert on Mount Scopus attended by Ben Gurion in 1967 and enjoyed being in front of the Western Wall that he failed by the standards of the lack of justice between Israel and its neighbors and its nonJewish population and its occupied population.

    Yet, there is the sense that Lenny enjoyed unfurling his flag, exhibiting himself as himself (despite the marriage and its contradictions). He was a performer who let it all hang out. And part of what he let hang out was his Jewishness and the way he expressed that was through Israel.

    This web site allows itself to let it all hang out. But there is nothing about Jewishness that causes this website anything but agita, contradiction and questions. Lenny felt something positive for being Jewish and he expressed it through Israel.

    • Walid
      Walid
      December 6, 2013, 4:26 pm

      “… Lenny is considered a moral failure because he played a concert in Beersheva … he played a concert on Mount Scopus …enjoyed being in front of the Western Wall ….(Yonah )

      Hey, everybody keeps forgetting that the guy was Jewish; it was only natural that he’d do these things. I’m finding that Jews are worse than Arabs at complicating the most simple things; another WOW issue was Barenboim playing Wagner, and in Israel of all places. Somehow, the sky did not fall and the world is still spinning on its axis. Bernstein was a fine musician, leave it at that.

  12. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    December 6, 2013, 4:27 pm

    @ Phil:
    How do you support a Jewish state far from here that you don’t have to live in and that discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens and support a revolutionary black group in the country that you do live in? Bernstein’s stance is the essence of what is today a terrific malady in the Jewish community: PEP (Progressive Except Palestine).

    Remember what you said in an interview: “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a little mind.”
    So, what is it? Should people be consistent or is it okay to contradict oneself?

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