by Zalman Shoval | JPost.com | September 20, 2011
Pulitzer Prize winner and Oscar nominee David Mamet (Pictured), who in the eyes of many is America’s greatest living playwright as well as a successful screenwriter and movie director (his better known plays and films include Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, Speed the Plow, The Verdict and House of Games) has published an important book called The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, in which, in a no-holds barred approach, he expounds his political and cultural beliefs on the world in general and America in particular.
Mamet, like many in the US today, though probably less so among the usual Hollywood and Broadway types, has in recent years come full circle from starry-eyed liberal to determined conservative, giving short thrift to most of American liberals’ “sacred cows,” in particular ridiculing many of the programs and policies of the current administration with regard to education, economics, health-care, multiculturalism etc.
Liberalism is understood in the US in a very different way than in Europe (and Israel). While in the Old World liberalism is a political philosophy which argues for freedom of the individual in all his activities, including economics, religion, etc. and in particular espouses limited government – in America it is nearly the exact opposite, connoting, among other things, a major role for the state in most of the above. In effect, American liberalism has a much closer relationship with European-style socialism than with classical liberalism.
But while some of Mamet’s polemics about the American political and social scenes may, in the view of some, be debatable or exaggerated, what makes his new book especially important, certainly for Jews, and what sets him apart from some other Jewish intellectuals, is his straightforward, clear-headed and clear-eyed approach to all things Jewish and Israeli. A proud and committed Jew, he closely identifies with the State of Israel, referring to its enemies as “our opponents.”
One of the main reasons why this book is so timely is that it consistently and logically establishes the nexus between the current wave of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism, especially in the West, including the attempts at denying Israel’s (and sometimes even the Jewish people’s) very legitimacy, and the socalled “Liberal” Left, including not a few leftist Jews like Noam Chomsky and his ilk (he could have included several Israeli writers and professors as well...). He points out that “the truly disquieting enormity of Israel is, to them, its existence, because of which a largely anti-Semitic world forces them to choose. They, as opposed to non-Jews, are forced to have an opinion on a difficult and dangerous topic; and they would rather not. They are angered neither at Israel nor at world anti-Semitism, but at ‘the Jews.’”
Mamet doesn’t mince words, e.g. “many Liberal Jews (are likely to believe) the statements of Hamas rather than those of Israel”; and “the State of Israel is, in itself, an incurable affront to the Left, for it is a demonstration of the possibility of choice... the free men and women of Israel persevere in spite of the Left’s casuist carping and bellicosity and displeasure, backing their convictions with their lives, an intolerable affront to those preferring equality to liberty.”
As Mamet explains further, “there is, historically, much rancor on the Left against the existence of the State of Israel, and frequent mention is made, and, more destructively, implied, of Israel's ‘aggression.’ But what does the State of Israel want? To be left in peace within its borders. What does the Arab world want? To destroy the State of Israel...!
“Western sympathy for the Arab cause, then, can only rest upon a sliding scale of Humanity – the Arabs, and, thus, their demands, being of a weight sufficient to nullify those of Israel, though the former want slaughter and the latter peace....”
Also, “while Israel is willing to concede any scant and still-disputed land, the Arabs want all of Israel.”
The question “what has Israel ever wanted except peace within its borders is greeted, largely, in the West, by the response: Shut up, I’m watching the news.”
He then explains that many Leftists feel they “may gain status by embracing the ‘Arab cause’” – with the Liberal West exhorting “the citizens of Israel to take the only course which would bring about the end of the disturbing cycle of violence – which they hear of in the Liberal press. That course is abandoning their homes and country, leaving with their lives, if possible, but leaving in any case.”
Mamet asks: “Is this desire anti-Semitism?” He replies: “You bet your life it is.”
Mamet’s book is not an optimistic read, but it should be required reading not only for Americans, especially American Jews, but also for many Israelis, not least in academia.
The writer is the former Israeli Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister's forum of USIsrael Relations.