Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A rabbi based in Southern California who is running for U.S. Senate has come under fire for anti-Islamic comments that were captured on video.
In the video, Rabbi Nachum Shifren, who is known as the “Surfing Rabbi,” was seen telling a cheering audience in San Mateo, “I am an Islamophobe, and everything we need to know about Islam we learned on 9-11.”
Responding to a call from an interfaith coalition led by the California branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA), Republican leaders have since disavowed Shifren’s candidacy.
“Anyone who espouses hatred, we don’t have room for them in our party,” San Mateo County Republican Party Chairman Chuck McDougald told the Forward.
A spokesman for the California Republican Party also disavowed Shifren’s candidacy, the Forward reported.
In his bid for Senate, Shifren is one of more than 20 candidates, including 14 Republicans, attempting to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. The California Republican Party endorsed Elizabeth Emken, but under California’s new “top two” system of elections, the two highest vote-getters in the open primary on June 5 will advance to the general election in November.
Shifren does not appear to be mounting much of a campaign. According to the Federal Election Commission website, Shifren’s campaign has not yet declared any financial activity.
Shifren has run for public office at least twice before. He ran for California State Senate in a special election in 2009 and again in 2010.
In support of one or both of those bids, Shifren claimed to have received endorsements from well-known Republican elected officials, including two sitting congressmen and three members of the California State Senate.
On a still-active page of the website from his 2010 campaign for State Senate, Shifren claimed endorsements from Rep. Tom McClintock, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, State Sen. Bob Huff, State Sen. Tony Strickland, Assemblyman Chuck Devore and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovitch.
Other sections of Shifren’s earlier campaign website include language similar to the remarks seen on the recent video.
In a 2009 post, Shifren urged voters to “declare a war to the death on ‘multiculturalism,’” describing it as “nothing but propaganda and inculcating our youth to hate America, while yielding to the forces of Islam and radical activists whose target is middle class America and it’s [sic] values.”
CAIR-CA, Jewish Voice for Peace, Progressive Christians Uniting and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace released a joint statement condemning Shifren’s comments.
“There should be no place for hate speech of any kind in our nation’s political discourse,” the statement read. “Whenever one faith or ethnicity is targeted by hate, it is our duty as Americans to challenge that hatred and to instead promote mutual understanding and tolerance.”
Jason Aula, director of communications for Shifren’s campaign, rejected the idea that the candidate’s comments constituted hate speech.
“He’s entitled to say what he wants to say,” Aula said.
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May 16, 2012 | 12:29 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
For anyone who missed the debate on May 15 at UCLA between Reza Aslan and Hussein Ibish over whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved by creating a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one or by creating a single bi-national state, here’s the basic report of what went down.
As expected, Aslan argued that the two-state solution is “dead and buried,” and that everyone (the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Americans and other international bodies) should instead start investing resources and energy to create a single bi-national state with “soft borders.”
Ibish, meanwhile, rejected the idea that the window to create two states for two peoples has closed, and instead held out hope for the possibility that such a conflict-ending resolution could be reached in the region.
While they disagreed about what final resolution to aim for, a careful listener would have realized that Aslan and Ibish agreed on almost everything else about the conflict.
Both scholars assigned blame for the failure of the peace process to many parties, but set the lion’s share of the blame at Israel’s feet. Both Ibish and Aslan saw the Israeli policy of settlement expansion as the primary reason for the failure of the peace process to progress in the nearly 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed. Both acknowledged that, while most Israelis and most Palestinians (and most Americans, for that matter) want to see a two-state solution achieved, the likelihood of it being achieved anytime soon is very slim.
As one student in the audience put it afterward, “They’re on the same page, but they have different views.”
But confronted with the question of how the parties should proceed in resolving this seemingly intractable conflict, the two Muslim scholars parted ways.
“I’m advocating the one-state solution for one simple reason: there is no other solution,” said Aslan, calling the prospect of two states for two peoples “a sham” and “a charade.”
Pointing to the 600,000 Israelis who are currently living beyond the so-called green line that divides pre-1967 Israel from the territories it conquered during the war that year, Aslan argued, in no uncertain terms, that the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank had simply crowded out any possible space for a second state.
“There will never be a Palestinian state,” he said. “Ever. That is the truth.”
Ibish disagreed. “The majority of Israelis are, rather strongly, in favor of two state solution; the majority of Palestinians are in favor of a two-state solution,” he said. “So it’s a question of political will.”
With that political will, Ibish said he believed that the Israelis would dismantle West Bank settlements in order to achieve peace, and cited the examples of Gaza and the Northern West Bank as evidence of their willingness to do so.
“Walls go up and walls come down,” Ibish said.
Throughout the debate, Ibish sounded both hopeful and pragmatic when compared with Aslan, and never more so than when Aslan described the bloody process by which he believed a single, bi-national state could actually come about.
“If you want me to be honest with you,” Aslan said, “I think that what we are going to see is a process through which the demographic balance [between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea] tips into apartheid, ethnic cleansing, until finally you have international mediation that leads to confederacy.”
“If,” Ibish responded, “I wanted to exercise a radical dystopian imaginative leap of that kind, if I wanted to be Hieronymus Bosch of Israel and the Palestinians, sure, I can arrive at your conclusion after all this horror. Well I’m not willing to go there.”
“Even if it turns out you were right,” he continued, “I would be proud to stand here and tell you that I am not going to acquiesce to making that happen.”
Despite falling during the week of mid-terms, about 80 people, most of them students, came to UCLA’s Humanities Building to hear from Aslan and Ibish.
“I think settlements can be overturned and stopped,” Ajwang Rading, a second year political science major, said after the debate. He is taking a course about the Middle East this term, and found Ibish’s argument the more convincing of the two. “It’s hard, but I’m a believer in that option. There is hope that it is possible.”
Benjamin Wu, a second-year student at UCLA studying economics and political science, also recoiled from the one-state solution. “Even though it’s probably more realistic, I thought it was too cynical,” he said. “Whereas Dr. Ibish, I thought he was much more optimistic. At least he was proposing a solution to the problem.”
Tuesday night’s debate was part of the Olive Tree Initiative’s Month of Ideas, and a second panel of Jewish participants will address the same topic on May 29. For more information, go to http://otiatucla.com/month-of-ideas/.
May 14, 2012 | 1:32 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Looking at the central program of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) at UCLA’s “Month of Ideas,” a two-night event called “Perspectives on Partition: A 1-state vs. 2-state debate,” it seems pretty clear that the only people who are invited to speak about whether to partition the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in the polite setting of a student-sponsored event are those who support the idea of a two-state solution, at least in principle, even if they have declared that a one-state solution is, practically speaking, the only possible outcome in the region, given the current state of affairs.
Why the group decided to convene two separate panels, one with only Muslim panelists and one with only Jewish ones, is a question I haven’t yet had the chance to ask the organizers. But it seems clear that, as a result, there will likely be less internal disagreement at each of these two events than there would have been at a single panel with Jews and Muslims both participating.
But enough about what won’t happen.
On May 15, two Muslim speakers will address the subject. Reza Aslan, an associate professor of creative writing at UC Riverside who wrote “No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” will almost certainly express some variant of his position that the two state solution is “dead and buried.” His co-conversationalist, Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, can be expected to defend the idea of two states. Professor James Gelvin of UCLA’s history department will moderate.
Two weeks later, the Jewish panel, whose positions are a bit more difficult to predict and could be harder to differentiate, will take the stage.
Director of the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies Dr. Arieh Saposnik, who in 2010 revoked the invitation of a speaker who tried to speak about the failure of the two-state solution (he said it was because the speech was not “academic”), last year addressed a breakfast hosted jointly by Americans for Peace Now and Meretz USA on “Arab Recognition of Israel’s Right to Exist.” Seems pretty safe to assume that he’s a supporter of the two-state solution, at least in principle.
UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, back in 2003, taught a class designed to “give the students a perspective on the necessity of compromise and the need to reject violence as an option; in concrete terms, the pursuit of a two-state solution.” Has his position changed 180 degrees vis-a-vis a two-state solution in nine years? That seems unlikely, though it would be understandable if he’s become more pessimistic in the years since then.
And Jewish Journal President David Suissa, who might be expected to take the most right-leaning stance in this conversation, has shown that he, too, supports the idea of a two-state solution. At a debate last year, he seemed to agree with J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami when it comes to what a Palestinian state should look like.
If all of these speakers believe that a two-state solution is a desirable ideal, how strongly will any of them argue that a single, binational democratic state is the only practicable resolution that could happen, given the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian problem?
I’ve seen Aslan take on challenging audiences before (including a prickly crowd at Sinai Temple last year), and I’d wager that he makes a strong push for the “one-state” solution at UCLA tomorrow night. Whether Suissa—who has said that he “isn’t holding his breath” waiting for a two-state solution to actually be achieved—will end up playing a similar role on the Jewish panel is something that will be interesting to watch for.
I’ll also be listening to see where the participants in these two dialogues stand in the broader context of the Israeli-Palestinian debate. And because Jews and Muslims won’t be sharing the same stage, doing that will involve assessing just how much disagreement there is at each event.
Voices on the anti-Muslim right, who believe that a two-state solution is just a temporary step on the way to a one-state solution that would mean the destruction of Israel, have said there’s no difference between Ibish and Aslan, dismissing both as “Jew-hating terror apologists.”
But what of the Jewish panel? If OTI had been looking for a professed Jewish one-stater, they could’ve asked someone from, for instance, the Zionist Organization of America to speak. Will there be a perceivable difference between the positions of Saposnik, Saidler-Feller and Suissa? Or will they simply be dismissed as “apologists” of another type?
Complete event details can be found here.
April 6, 2012 | 12:57 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
When Peter Beinart proposed of a boycott of goods coming from the occupied territories, the most widely read responses came from American Jews—among them Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, Gary Rosenblatt of the New York Jewish Week and Barry Shrage of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
I wrote about the response of the American Jewish establishment to Beinart, which has been a combination of, “Jews don’t boycott other Jews,” and “A boycott would only reinforce the settlers’ idea that they’re under attack, and therefore wouldn’t work.”
That last response came from J Street’s Founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami, among others. But Israelis on the left have, for at least the last year, been promoting a boycott of goods from the areas beyond the pre-1967 borders of Israel without taking a hostile position vis-à-vis the settlers who live there, and even if American Jews can’t do the same, it’s instructive to see how they’ve managed to pull it off.
The Israeli left-leaning NGO Peace Now, which has been opposing Israel’s settlement of the West Bank since at least the 1980s, recently instituted its own boycott of settlement goods. When I asked Hagit Ofran, who has been tracking construction in the West Bank as director of the group’s Settlement Watch project since 2006, about their boycott, she pointed out that the group only started the campaign (which, like Beinart’s, doesn’t extend to the Golan Heights) in 2011, when the Knesset passed a law against such boycotts.
“If that’s the law,” Ofran said, recalling the group’s thinking at the time, “then we will dafka [specifically] call to boycott settlements.”
Even the slogan the group uses to promote their boycott—“Sue me, I boycott settlement products”—emphasizes the anti-boycott law’s role as an inspiration. The law, which would allow Israeli settlers to sue other Israelis who promote such boycotts, has not been invoked since its passage, Ofran said.
Beinart’s position—that the continued occupation of the West Bank threatens Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state—is widely accepted among left-leaning Zionists in the United States and Israel. But it’s clear that despite holding this position, Israelis in the peace camp feel a connection to the settlers whose actions they so vehemently oppose.
“Ironically we have the same obsession about houses and construction,” Ofran said, talking about the settlers whose activities she tracks. “They and I think it’s crucial for the future of the state of Israel.”
But this position—simultaneously supporting an anti-settlement boycott while also expressing a kind of kinship and fellowship with the settlers—hasn’t been available to American Jews who support Beinart’s boycott.
Consider the JTA op-ed published in late March by Lara Friedman, the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, a US-based group that supports the activities of the Israeli NGO.
“If American Jews want to save Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy, they need to act. And that means, for a start, showing at least as much courage as Israelis by differentiating between Israel and the territories,” Friedman wrote. “Publicly declaring an intention to ‘buy Israel but boycott settlements’ sends a powerful message to Israelis living in both.”
While Ofran’s position about the occupied territories and the settlers is something akin to, “Don’t hate the players, hate the game,” Friedman’s full-throated endorsement of Beinart’s boycott sends a different, less nuanced message.
Ofran isn’t the only dovish Israeli to profess this kind of peculiar fellowship with the settlers.
Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Israeli Navy and its secret service Shin Bet, as well as a former member of Knesset for the Labor party, has long been an advocate of the Geneva Initiative, a peace plan drawn up in 2003 by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators that would see two states created roughly following the pre-1967 borders of Israel.
And in an appearance with J-Street’s Ben-Ami in November 2011, Ayalon made clear that an essential ingredient of the plan is for Israel to bring those settlers living beyond the security fence erected by Israel in the last decade back into pre-1967 Israel. And in addition to the assistance and subsidies that such a policy will require, Ayalon said Israel needs to offer those Israelis official recognition that they settled where they did in the service of the country.
“We sent them,” Ayalon told the audience at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. “They are our pioneers. And suddenly they realize that they are fighting for nothing. That it [the areas of the West Bank beyond the fence] will not be the state of Israel, and they tell us, ‘Bring us back.’ And we owe them, morally.”
In his speech last year, Ayalon didn’t talk about boycotting settlement goods—it wasn’t part of the conversation at the time. And it’s entirely possible that Beinart’s support for a boycott signals a broader shift in the position of left-leaning Zionists in Israel and the United States vis-à-vis the settlers.
But it’s also possible that this dual message—a strong opposition to the occupation of the West Bank coupled with a policy of supporting the settlers when they return to the areas that would remain in Israeli hands under a Geneva-like two-state agreement—could be very useful for American Jews uncomfortable with the continued occupation of the West Bank.
Beinart, in defending his boycott, has repeatedly said that Jews boycott other Jews all the time. Perhaps he should have followed the lead of Israelis who haven’t focused on the boycott’s impact on people and instead have pointed to the support they are prepared to offer those very same settlers upon their return.
April 4, 2012 | 11:14 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
“How do vegans do Passover?”
That was the subject line of an email I got in my inbox last week, and I couldn’t ignore it.
I once tried to cut animals from my diet—it was just before Passover—and the effort ended on the holiday’s first night. As an Eastern European Jew who doesn’t eat lentils, beans or rice during Passover—the very same good, protein-rich legumes that can sustain non-meat-eaters for the rest of the year—going vegetarian during this holiday felt like a strange kind of cleanse.
So it was with some measure of anticipation that I asked Gary Smith, who runs Evolotus Public Relations with his wife, what he, a committed vegan and advocate against all types of animal cruelty, did last Passover:
Last year, my wife and I decided to start a new Passover tradition for our friends: a “veder,” or vegan seder. All of the traditional dishes were served - matzoh brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzoh ball soup, kugel and macaroons - in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs,” Smith wrote in an email. “This included discussing the slavery of farmed animals such as egg-laying hens, cows, and pigs as part of the Passover story.
As Smith broke down what went into the meal, it quickly became apparent that the veder menu was rather unorthodox. Vegan matzah balls and matzah brei depend on using egg substitutes, like Ener-G Brand egg replacer, which doesn’t appear to be kosher for Passover. The same goes for macaroons and other baked goods.
Gefilte fish made of faux lump crab is simple enough, and vegetable soup (sans matzah balls) could work, but Smith’s “seitan ‘roast’ made of wheat gluten, mushroom and onion and vegan beef broth,” which looked rather appetizing in the picture he sent me, is about as forbidden for Passover consumption as any food item can be.
Hametz, the very stuff forbidden to Jews on Passover, is any mixture of water and either wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats that is allowed to stand for 18 minutes or longer. Seitan is made of vital wheat gluten flour mixed with vegetable broth, shaped and then baked for at least 20 minutes. The recipe might as well be called “How to make hametz.”
But if the veder is a bit more vegan than it is kosher for Passover, it made me wonder if there’s anything particularly wrong with that.
Jews go to great lengths in their urge to purge their houses, cars and other possessions of hametz before Passover, and the reason given is usually quite simple. The punishment for eating hametz on Passover is karet, or God-driven excision of a person from the Jewish people.
Imagine being banished from your people—for all time—because of something that you ate: You can see why some Jews vacuum every pocket of every jacket they own.
But it turns out that to actually earn that severe punishment takes some work.
In a lengthy rumination laden with the kind of terminology that only rabbis and true scholars understand, Rabbi Aaron Alexander explained that karet only applies in certain very specific cases:
“To receive the punishment of karet one has to:
a) Eat a significant amount (olive’s worth) of full fledged hametz (not a mixture).
b) do it with intention to sin, be-meizid. (See MT, Laws of Hametz, 1:1-7)”
Alexander is associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinics at American Jewish University and he’s not telling people not to clean their houses with care and exactitude. He doesn’t even want people to stop talking about the severe punishment of karet—only to address it to the situations where it actually applies.
Here’s his final concluding thought:
I find the spiritual and physical transformation from slavery to freedom to be quite compelling and religiously powerful. Consciously moving from human-enacted slavery to God-enacted freedom service (slavery) is essential to this holiday. The fact that the Torah itself has so many ritual laws (not counting sacrifices… more than any other, I think?) concerning the journey to, and life in, freedom service - it exclaims something quite profound. Transforming our homes and what we eat elevate this idea with limitless potential. Freedom isn’t anarchy. Religious freedom is a conscious, intentional, and free-will submission to something greater than ourselves. But it has to be reasonable, grounded, attainable, and as potentially inclusive as our hearts demand it to be.
Which brings us back to the veder.
I am certain that Alexander, as a member of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, won’t have any seitan on his seder table. But in our modern age, when you can find a haggadah for every flavor of Jew or non-Jew in the world, is the idea of having a consciously vegan Seder such a bad one? If Smith’s idea of slavery extends to the animals we put to our service laying eggs and making milk, isn’t his elimination of food products from his diet and his table, on this night (and all others) an equally “conscious, intentional, and free-will submission to something greater than ourselves?”
I’ll sign off with the traditional greeting for this time of year:
Chag Kasher v’sameach.
May your Passover be liberating, happy, and—in some sense or another—Kosher.
March 20, 2012 | 10:37 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Update: An editor at Little, Brown, the publisher of The New American Haggadah, emailed me today to say that, although the first print run “quickly” sold out, the haggadah should (thanks to “two large reprints”) be back on virtual and actual shelves in time for Passover. So fret not.
In recent days, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble’s online arm and other web-based booksellers have experienced shortages of The New American Haggadah, a new version of the text used by Jews at Passover published at the beginning of this month.
The new volume, edited by Jewish American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, was on backorder until March 24 at Amazon.com at the time of this post. BarnesandNoble.com, which had been sold out of the Haggadah a day ago, had it listed as available for shipping “within 24 hours.”
Book Soup, a brick-and-mortar bookseller on Sunset Boulevard, had the haggadah listed as the ninth-best-selling nonfiction hardcover title during the week of March 12-18.
The book’s brisk sales could perhaps have been predicted. Safran Foer seemed to be featured on every media, occasionally accompanied by fellow novelist Nathan Englander, who contributed a new translation of the Hebrew text to the new volume. Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic, managed to get a copy into the hands of President Obama (even if POTUS wouldn’t agree to use it at the White House seder.
But the single-most important reason the New American Haggadah appears to be selling rapidly could be the one identified by comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert earlier this month.
When Foer appeared on The Colbert Report, he told Colbert that customarily, every person around a Seder table will have his or her own copy of the haggadah text.
“Cha-ching,” Colbert said.
March 20, 2012 | 12:28 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
You know what’s better than a dentist who converts to Judaism just for the jokes?
An Orthodox Jewish plastic surgeon who hires a Jewish punk rock band to write a song promoting nose jobs that trucks in Jewish stereotypes, then hires a Jewish director to direct the music video that features a boy in a kippah, and then hires a PR firm to promote him as the “Controversial Jewish Doctor” behind the song and video for “Jewcan Sam.”
Did you follow all that?
The media savvy plastic surgeon, Dr. Michael Salzhauer, hired The Groggers, a Queens-based punk band, to write a song about nose jobs, then flew them down to Miami to shoot a video for it. The video was directed by Farrell Goldsmith. According to the Huffington Post, the doctor, band and video director are Orthodox Jews.
The good doctor himself appears in the slickly produced video –which stars The Groggers’ lead singer, Doug (L.E.) Staiman, who got a free nose job in addition to the $2,000 fee paid to the band. It has been viewed over 100,000 times in the last month.
That’s according to the doctor’s Massachusetts-based publicists, CWR Partners, who Salzahauer hired to help promote the video.
Nothing like a little controversy to sell a few nose jobs, right?
The post continues after the jump.
But what controversy there is doesn’t focus on anti-Semitism. When Good Morning America reported on this last week, the ADL didn’t return requests for comment.
The only group up in arms about the video (which features more than a few boys in kippahs) seems to be the one representing the nip-and-tuck crowd. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) is investigating whether Dr. Salzhauer violated its code of ethics.
“This is just disturbing that a doctor would play into the frailties of the human condition,” said Dr. Malcolm Roth, president of the ASPS.
Salzhauer could face decertification as a result of the video, ABC News reported.
Salzhauer does have a knack for getting his message out in unusual ways. In 2008, he wrote a children’s book called “My Beautiful Mommy” to help patients explain their transformation to their children.
And while that book made frequent use of the “caterpillar-to-butterfly” metaphor, the “Jewcan Sam” draws more widely, with references to Pinocchio and to wishing he “looked more like tom Cruise and less like Adrien Brody.” The chorus ends with the line, “I will love you till forever / if you get your nose circumcised.”
March 18, 2012 | 1:42 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
For anyone who hasn’t already heard about this weeks’ episode of This American Life (“Retraction”) that retracts and debunks many of the details presented in an earlier TAL episode (“Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”), I won’t rehash too much of it here.
In addition to learning that Mike Daisey, whose monologue performance piece, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, was excerpted to create that first TAL episode, is a big fat liar, what we saw today was a major distinction between journalism and theater.
But it’s not the one that Daisey wants to focus on. For him, the main difference is that journalists aren’t allowed to make stuff up for the sake of a good story, while folks in the theater can.
I think the most interesting difference is to be found in the reactions of those in the journalistic profession to the radio show’s screw-up as compared to the reactions of the theater world to the revelations of Daisey’s fabulism.
For journalists, this week’s TAL episode was a pitch-perfect illustration of what to do when you mess up. In one hour of radio, TAL host Ira Glass owned up to his mistake, gave a platform to one good and resourceful journalist (Rob Schmitz) to show how he sniffed out a fake story, interviewed Daisey—with an amazingly deft touch but without pulling punches—to allow him to try to explain why he lied about having witnessed things he did not witness and why he still thinks what he does is okay in theater but not in journalistic outlets, and then brought a New York Times reporter into the conversation in order to hammer home the point that, despite Daisey’s fabrications, most of what he said about the factories that make Apple products in China is true.
That’s the—nuanced, multifaceted—journalistic response to the revelation of fabrication.
But the theatrical response? Daisey’s response appears to be winning the day—which is effectively a shrug of the shoulders, a statement that says, “This is how we do it here,” and a turning inward, away from the rest of the world. The previously scheduled shows of Daisey’s show at the Public are going on, and he will reportedly be performing at theaters across the country, too.
Indeed, by saying saying that his one mistake was taking his monologue onto This American Life, Daisey is effectively saying that the stage, where he reaches hundreds of people in a night, is the only place that can support his brand of performance. The platform through which he reached tens (if not hundreds) of times more listeners, meanwhile, is somehow too strict in its definition of what is or is not true to support a performer like Daisey.
I’m a fan of This American Life—and a journalist myself—so I’m curious what the theater folks have to say about this. Specifically, I wonder what the effect on other theater professionals is if Daisey’s vision—that theater is allowed to lie in order to tell a greater truth—is allowed to stand.
Doesn’t he risk making himself and all those who employ similar methods—artists like Anna Deveare Smith, David Hare, Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, to name some of the better known ones—less able to participate in a conversation about real events going on in the real world? Did a guy who few had ever heard of before this January just ensure that most won’t ever hear from him again?