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Casting Stones at Oliver Stone

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Though less consequential by orders of magnitude, recent attacks on Oliver Stone, following an interview he gave to The Times of London, recall the attacks on Jeremiah Wright. Wright was sometimes over the top - for example, when he suggested that the government introduced AIDS into the black community - but most of what he was attacked for saying was true. It is much the same with Stone.

Stone got into trouble mainly for saying that Jews dominate the media. This is arguably true for some media, Hollywood especially, but it is also largely irrelevant for explaining what he reportedly said it does: why the Nazi Judeocide of 1942-5, the "Holocaust," figures so prominently in our political culture. This has little to do with who calls the shots in Hollywood.

Implicit in Stone's remark was the idea that, unlike serious investigation of this period of European history, Holocaust mongering is politically tendentious. He is right. It should go without saying that pointing this out is hardly "Holocaust denial."

In America and Europe, Holocaust mongering serves the empire by functioning as a marker for absolute evil. With that understanding fixed, the ordinary atrocities we "good guys" commit pale into insignificance. Holocaust mongering also helps justify the blank check the U.S. confers on the Jewish state; and the belief, pervasive there, that it is entitled to unconditional American support.

However it is debatable whether Israel is still a strategic asset. There are many who would say it has become a liability; even the vaunted General Petraeus once ventured that view. Stone is on the side of those who think Israel a liability. He should realize that, if he's right, it will be impossible to keep the status quo going indefinitely regardless of the ethnicity of Hollywood's moguls, and no matter how hard the Israel lobby fights.

Most of what both Stone and Wright were castigated for saying is, in fact, obvious and, for that reason, not particularly interesting. What is interesting is the reaction their remarks stirred. In Wright's case, the reaction showed how unable African-Americans still are to register their narrative in the mainstream culture, and how ready Barack Obama was (and is!) to adopt a mainstream identity by explaining away black rage. In Stone's case, it illustrated how pathologically vigilant representatives of mainstream Jewish organizations can be.

Their vigilance might be justified if Holocausts were still a danger for the Jewish people. Plainly, they are not. With only one exception, there is now no place on earth where Jews are endangered for being Jewish. That place is Israel, where the danger has nothing to do with eternal anti-Semitism. It is the inevitable consequence of decades of ethnic cleaning and brutal occupation.

No doubt, the machers making the stink over Stone think otherwise. But, whether they realize it or not, what moves them is not fear for the physical safety of the Jewish people, but fear that Jewish identity is in the process of becoming extinct. Their shrillness gives them away, as does their exaggerated silliness.

For American Jews, assimilation has rarely been a deliberate objective. Nevertheless the process has been inexorable. Still many assimilated Jews are desperate to retain a Jewish identity. This is why political entrepreneurs can gain traction. By conjuring up fears of anti-Semitism, they bolster support for the Israeli ethnocracy.

And why not? For sustaining a sense of identity, religion is a non-starter and ecular Yiddish culture has withered away. Israel, however, is a "godsend." Thus, in America, Jewish identity has slowly morphed into Israeli identity or rather, since hardly anyone wants to live in the Promised Land, Israeli identity once removed.

There is a better way. It is still possible to be what Isaac Deutscher called a "non-Jewish Jew," an heir of those enlightened Jews who, drawing on Jewish experience, eschewed all vestiges of tribalism and its associated "faith," advocating universal and secular values in their stead. This sensibility transcends Zionist horizons.

Stone plans to make a documentary that would challenge some of the justifications Zionists propose for their own purchase on Jewish identity. Since his cinematic concoctions are powerful stuff, anxious Jewish "leaders" sense an "existential threat."

But those who are now attacking Stone are playing a dangerous game If they succeed in their larger project -- identifying not just anti-Zionism but all serious opposition to what Israel does and all serious investigation of Israel's self-justifications with anti-Semitism -- then as what Israel does becomes increasingly reprehensible, they will have effectively made anti-Semitism not just respectable but morally obligatory. This is a far graver threat to Jews than a film director's intemperate remarks.

The Anti-Defamation League once waged the good fight against anti-Semitism, but in recent decades it has become little more than an agent of Zionist folly. Its leader, Abe Foxman, in the news currently for opposing construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero, is leading the charge against Stone. He has many helpers. But if their goal really is to end anti-Semitism, their machinations are counter-productive. Their doings, not Stone's, are the danger.