Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Crude anti-Israel propaganda at the Saatchi gallery London

When I first started writing this blog in the summer of 2005 it was as a result of going to see a play called “Arab-Israeli Cookbook”. Instead of the pleasant evening out I was looking forward to I was subject to a barely disguised piece of brutal anti-Israel propaganda. The Israeli characters were all based on the classic stereotypes of militaristic or heartless immigrants from New York, with no culture of their own; in contrast every Palestinian character was warm, sympathetic and with rich culture deeply ingrained in the land now ‘usurped’ by the Jews.

Last Sunday I experienced the further extent to which the demonisation and deligitimisation of Israel has infiltrated British consciousness. I was at the Saatchi gallery in London to see the special exhibition of new art from the Middle East. A very fine exhibition and overall experience was totally spoiled by a vicious, nasty and unsubtle piece of anti-Israel propaganda posing as art called ‘Qalandia 2067’ by the artist Wafa Hourani. The piece is a very large model. As you approach it from the normal direction you see an intricate and impressively realistic reconstruction of a chaotic Arab village, full of life, diverse culture and even music coming from the houses. But at the end of the village is a very large wall of mirror with a soldier standing on top of it pointing a gun. As you walk round this wall you realise that it is supposed to be the Israeli security fence. But, there is no attempt to leave any doubt about what lies on the other side. In contrast to the vibrancy and ‘authentic’ life of the Arab village this is cold militaristic Israel whose only culture is American imports. Unlike the Arab village, the Israeli side is abstract and unscaled. Just in case anybody fails to notice the Israeli flags and large El Al sign, the artist has helpfully placed an enormous Star of David on a stand ‘protected’ by a soldier (who is of course much larger than any of the Arab figures) and tanks pointed at the Arab side. The only other objects on the Israeli side are an airfield with warplanes (all helpfully emblazoned with the Star of David) and a large abstract reconstruction of an eerily cold restaurant (with the obligatory Israeli flag on top) made from what appears to be coloured sweets - to laboriously emphasize that Israeli presence is alien in this land. A large ‘menu’ pinned to the model helpfully lists only American imports on offer.

The model manages to encapsulate just about every anti-Israel stereotype currently permeating our media, even to the extent of ignoring the context in which Israel’s security fence was built (Qalandia has been a notorious breeding ground for terrorists who have committed dozens of suicide attacks and shootings against Israeli civilians; only since the construction of the security fence have fatal attacks from Qalandia been largely avoided). It also portrays Israelis not just as lacking in humanity, but actually being not human at all. This is much like the way the Nazis portrayed the Jews in order to create the mindset necessary for their annihilation. Make no mistake, the anti-Israel propagandists now have the same end game in mind and they clearly feel they are winning with prominent exhibits like this (I understand that art critics have praised this piece as the outstanding work in the exhibition).

But what I cannot understand at all is why the Saatchi gallery – opened, named and presumably at least part-financed by the well-known Jewish philanthropist Charles Saatchi - should allow this piece to be displayed. Is he aware of the offence this causes to (the still large number of) people who are sympathetic to the State of Israel and the Israeli people? The large Star of David in this context is especially disturbing wince it borders on pure anti-Semitism.

It is also curious that an exhibition of new art from the Middle East fails to feature a single Israeli artist. Perhaps the owners of the gallery know that, if an Israeli artist exhibited a piece that was in any way politically sympathetic to Israel, the usual anti-Israel renta-crowd would have been protesting not just outside the gallery but would have destroyed the work itself as part of their openly stated campaign to boycott all Israeli culture. So why is the Saatchi gallery supporting those kind of people and their propaganda?

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