I have lost count of the number of times since when trips to the centre of London have been spoilt by either anti-Israel demonstrators trying to stop cultural events with Israeli connections or anti-Israel propaganda disguised as art. I have blogged about this on numerous occasions such as an exhibition at the Saatchi gallery last year. The extent to which the demonisation and deligitimisation of Israel has infiltrated British consciousness has now reached epidemic proportions and I was confonted by an especially pernicious example today at the Serpentine Gallery, a small gallery in the centre of Hyde Park.
First of all it is important to note that entrance to the Serpentine Gallery is free because it is funded by you and me the UK taxpayer. Indeed, the Arts Council Website confirms the following information about funding:
Serpentine Gallery will receive £904,499 in 2008/2009, £928,920 in 2009/2010 and £954,001 in 2010/2011.
The current exhibition at the gallery is the work of the veteren British artist Richard Hamilton. To give you an idea of what it contained, here is the centre-piece:
Yes, that's a map (more on this later) that is intended to highlight 'Israeli occupation'; and to give a feel for the extent to which routine anti-Israel sentiment is accepted and promulgated by the intellectual elite, here is the glowing description of the work in The Times:
As if to prove how pertinent he remains, the new works at the beginning are concerned with the outrageous behaviour of Mossad, the Israeli secret service. In 1986, Mossad kidnapped the Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu in Rome, after he had revealed in this newspaper that Israel had developed an independent nuclear deterrent and was sitting on a stockpile of 100 nuclear warheads. Tried by a secret Israeli court, Vanunu managed to write the details of his kidnapping on the palm of his hand and thrust it against a car window in front of passing photographers. This is the image that Hamilton, for some weirdly prescient reason, has chosen to repeat, just as we Brits are feverishly checking our passports to see if we too have been to Dubai.
Hamilton doesn’t lecture or rant or orate. Instead, he identifies a telling image, then lets it ripple through your thoughts of its own accord. The fuzzy picture of Vanunu is accompanied by a pair of maps, one showing the boundaries of the state of Israel as fixed by the UN partition of 1947, the other showing them as they are today. Stan Laurel has turned into Oliver Hardy.For those of you who have witnessed any of the Hamas/Hezbollah love fests masquerading as 'pro-Palestinian' demonstrations in the last few years you will see straight away that the above 'artwork' is in fact simply the map used by these groups to deligitimize Israel. Here it is as advertised on one of many anti-Israel websites:
The map is a lie and/or misleading in several respects, which are laid out in the appendix below.
To present it as 'art' demands some answers from the Serpentine Gallery and the Arts Council, especially as we the taxpayers are paying for it and visitors at the gallery are not given either relevant information about the context or reasons why the map is wrong/misleading.
In the broader context I'd like to know why, with everything going on in the world, only tiny Israel's existence seems to inspire the rage of the artistic and cultural elite. Islamists are massacring Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews but most of all fellow Muslims, on a daily basis all over the world but especially in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, India, Somalia, Yemen, Thailand, Indonesia, Philipines, Lebanon, Egypt, Kenya, Russia - to date over 15,000 deadly terrorist attacks by Islamists just since September 11, 2001 (see Religion of Peace website for a complete listing of them all). Countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iran have ruthlessly used massive force to crush internal rebellions and external enemies usually killing more people in a single operation than Israel has killed defending itself in all its wars put together. All of those countries (along with the rest of the Muslim world) also indoctrinate their population with anti-semitic hatred and practice openly apartheid policies (even in Jordan, which actually has a peace treaty with Israel, it is illegal for a Jew to be a citizen). Only last week the President of Turkey threatened to expel the entire Armenian population as a reprisal for the Americans finally recognising the Turkish (i.e. Islamist) massacre of Armenians in 1915. None of that stirs the feelings of the artistic elite. Only Israel's attempts to do defend itself from relentless terrorist bombardments and threats to its existence inspire their anger.
To give another flavour of this same argument, I found something very illuminating in the latest issue of the Jewish Chronicle magazine. There is an interview there with the Jewish comedian David Baddiel about his new film "The Infidel" (about a Muslim who discovers that he is Jewish). One question asks:
What can the film teach audiences?Baddiel answers: "The main Muslim characters in the film are not suicide bombers or fundamentalists, they are just ordinary people and the film tries to show them as such".
OK, but the very next question is:
What does being Jewish mean to you religiously and culturally?Baddiel answers: "Probably the key speech in the film is when the rabbi, played by Matt Lucas, doesn't let Mahmud in to see his father, who is dying, because he can't say the Shema. That is the definition of Judaism."
Obviously Baddiel does not see the irony of his determination to portray Muslims as 'just like us', but to portray Jews as religious fanatics. In his own naive way he is no better than Richard Hamilton.
Appendix: Why the map is a lie and/or misleading
- Above all the map suggests that, prior to 1947 there was an Arab state of Palestine. There was not. In fact the Palestine that was promised to the Jews as part of the Balfour declaration was the British mandate territory that includes what later become the state of Jordan:
The most accurate sequence of maps showing Israel's changing size is not the one in the Hamilton/Hamas propaganda but rather the following that shows a somewhat different narrative:
(see more here about this map)
- Only the Jews of Palestine considered themselves Palestinian before 1948. The Arabs - most of whom had come to Palestine from Egypt and Syria because of the economic opportunities opened up by the Jews - considered themselves to be Syrian.
- Despite the fact that 80% of mandate Palestine (not shown at all on the exhibition map) had already been granted to the Arabs exclusively to become the new state of Jordan, the Jews of Palestine accepted the UN partition plan of 1947. The surrounding Arabs states did not accept it and launched a war of annihilation against the Jews (during and after which some 1 million Jews from Arab countries were forced to leave - most of them came to Israel).
- The result of the war that was intended to murder every single Jew in Palestine was that the invading Arab armies were defeated and the Jews controlled slightly more territory overall than was part of the 1947 plan; however, they also lost some territory such as the Jewish quarter of East Jerusalem (including Judaisms's holiest sites such as the Wailing Wall) and Gush Etzion that even the 1947 plan had not considered to be under Arab control.
- The UN accepted the 1949 armistice line as defining the borders of Israel, while calling for East Jerusalem (now under Jordanian occupation) to be 'internationalised'.
- The Arab states refused to recognise the State of Israel and have continued to this day to try to destroy it. The Jordanians who occupied East Jerusalem in 1948 expelled every Jew and destroyed every synagogue in the old city. Not a single Jew was allowed to enter Judaism's holiest sites until 1967 when, after the Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians launched another attempted war of annhiliation, Israel regained control over the old city and other areas.
- Israel offered to withdraw from all the newly gained territories in return for peace but the offer was rejected by the Arab countries. With the exception of Jewish East Jerusalem Israel has essentially made the same offer over and again ever since but it has always been rejected. Despite this Israel has returned the whole of Gaza and most of the West Bank to Palestinian control. But the Arabs continue to demand the destruction of all of Israel.
- The map that would have truly shown the context necessary is the one that shows Israel in the context of the Arab and Muslim world (click to enlarge):
- The tiny strip of land that is Israel is less than the size of Wales; just counting the 22 Arab Muslim countries that surround it (i.e. ignoring the 36 other Muslim countries in the world) the land mass of the Arab countries is about 700 times as great.