The Jewish Problem, According to Theodorakis

When the Olympic torch was about to arrive, Mikis Theodorakis placed his hand on mine. And said look how beautiful. Look how beautiful. And just as Goethe wrote: It's like frozen music, the Acropolis. It dominates all of Athens like frozen music.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

ATHENS - Twenty-four hours before the opening of the 2004 Olympic Games, we sat on the penthouse roof. The Acropolis hovered above us. A white security blimp hovered above the Acropolis. And when the burning August sun disappeared in the west, when the orchestra began to play, when the Olympic torch was about to arrive, Mikis Theodorakis placed his hand on mine. And said look how beautiful. Look how beautiful. And just as Goethe wrote: It's like frozen music, the Acropolis. It dominates all of Athens like frozen music.

Afterward he spoke about his music. How his music comes to him. He hears notes in his sleep. He turns on the light and jots down the notes on a piece of paper. He turns out the light and goes back to sleep, until more notes awaken him. So that toward morning, he gets up and gathers the pile of papers from the night. And when the silhouette of the Acropolis emerges from the darkness, he sits at his desk and tries to understand the main thing. The dominant idea. And he checks himself on the grand piano. Slowly but surely he carves out the proper shape from the chaos. The musical structure that will remain.

I'm close to the German spirit, says Theodorakis. Very romantic, but very disciplined. Swept up completely in great feelings, but hard-working and orderly. I admire Beethoven and Wagner, have reservations about Schoenberg. I don't believe in intellectual music. I don't believe in what is cut off from myth, from religion, from human pain. From the terrible pain of death.

Does he think about death a lot? Every day. Every day. Only when he is into music does he feel immortal. But he doesn't delude himself. He celebrates this life, because beyond it there is no other life. And in recent years, his body's betrayal distresses him. Insults him. All his life he was so strong, and suddenly he needs this walking stick. Suddenly he has to lean on me when he rises slowly from his chair.

He is still very tall. He still has his mane of hair as well. A little sparser, a little grayer, but still there. And in his eyes the mischievous glint of a young boy. The self-deprecating humor. And the strong desire to take advantage of every moment. Every thought. Every living thing. Even his great love of women refuses to die. They're so beautiful, your women, Theodorakis whispers to me. Like in the Bible. Flowing with milk and honey.

The root of evil Question: Mr. Theodorakis, on November 4, 2003 you said in this house the words that shocked Jews and non-Jews across the world. You said that the Jewish people are at the root of evil. What did you mean?

Answer: "For me the root of evil today is the policy of President Bush. It is a fascist policy. I cannot understand how is it that the Jewish people, who have been the victims of Nazism, can support such a fascist policy. No other people in the world support those policies but Israel! This situation saddens me. I am a friend of Israel. I am a friend of the Jewish people. But the policy of Sharon and the support for the policy of Bush darkens the image of Israel. I am afraid that Sharon is going to lead the Jews - just as Hitler led the Germans - to the root of evil."

Even today, 10 months later, you don't think you made a mistake when you uttered those words?

"No, but it's important for me to emphasize that I never said that the Jews are the root of evil. I said they are at the root of evil."

So you have no regrets?

"No. And I was very much hurt by the Jewish reaction to what I said. It was not a civilized reaction. I got hundreds and hundreds of poisonous e-mails from Jews all over the world. I couldn't understand this hatred toward me. I fought against racism all my life. I was for Israel. I wrote "Mauthausen." After all that, how could I become from one day to the next an anti-Semite?"

Let me explain to you the context for this reaction. Many Jews have a renewed fear of Europe. We are afraid that there is a new kind of anti-Semitism in Europe. So when you said what you said there was a feeling of thou too, Brutus. There was a feeling that even our old friend Theodorakis turned against us.

"I don't believe there is anti-Semitism in Europe. There is a reaction against the policy of Sharon and Bush. I think it's artificial to think there is a new anti-Semitism. It's an excuse. It's a way to avoid self-criticism. Rather than ask themselves what is wrong with the policy of Israel, Jews say the Europeans are against us because of the new anti-Semitism. Because they don't love us. And even Theodorakis says we are at the root of evil. This is a sick reaction."

Why? In what way is it a sick reaction?

"Because this kind of reaction is relevant to the psychopathology of the Jewish people. They want to feel victims. They want to have this comforting feeling. We are in the right, we are again victims. Let's create another ghetto. It's a masochistic reaction." The Jews are masochists?

"There is psychological masochism in the Jewish tradition."

Is there sadism as well?

"I'm certain that when Diaspora Jews talk among themselves, they feel satisfied. They feel that now, when we are so close to the greatest power in the world, no one can do anything to us. We can do whatever we like. This is why the claim of new anti-Semitism is not only a sick reaction, it's a sly reaction as well."

In what way is it sly?

"Because it really allows the Jews to do whatever they want. Not only psychologically, but also politically, it gives the Jews an excuse. The sense of victimhood. It gives them a license to hide the truth. There is no Jewish problem in Europe today. There is no anti-Semitism."

Tales of childhood Let us go a bit deeper. Let us go back in time. When you were a child, before the Holocaust, what were your impressions of the Jews?

"The Jews of Greece were not different from the Greeks. They were entirely Greek. They loved their work and loved their family. At school they were the best. Good friends, good neighbors. No problems."

But there must have been something problematic as well. They were the other. They were different.

"The Jews were picturesque. I remember that for the old women, the Jews were the ones that crucified Christ!

"In 1932 I was in Ioannina. There was a very big Jewish community there. I played with the Jewish boys all the time. My grandmother was very religious. She had a room full of icons. She sang psalms. Much of my music was influenced by her religious singing. And I remember that in springtime she said to me: Now that it's Easter, don't go to the Jewish quarter. Because during Easter the Jews put Christian boys in a barrel with knives inside. Afterward they drink their blood."

Was this story imprinted in your young mind?

"It was a very powerful image. Years later, before I became a communist, I was a member of a fascist youth movement. It was a state-sponsored movement during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. We walked up and down the streets in uniform and heiled all the time. It was a bit like the Hitler Youth but comical. One day they gave me an assignment: to talk the next day about communism. I went home and asked my mother what is communism. She said she didn't know but she thinks it's something evil. What kind of evil, I asked. Evil like the Jews, she said. So I asked her if the communists also put little boys in barrels with knives and drink their blood.

"What do I want to say by telling you all this? These things exist. I wasn't aware of it before, but now, through your questions, I realize it is there."

Would you agree with me that for Christian Europe the Jewish people is not just another people. The Jews have a unique role in the inner theater of the European mind.

"I don't know about Europe. It's different than Greece. Different religion, different culture. We don't have religious dogmas. We are not fanatic."

Do you think the Jews are fanatic?

"Something that is very negative can also be positive. If the Jews didn't have fanaticism, they wouldn't have existed. There is no evil without good. The Jews need this fanaticism. What one might call Jewish fanaticism has more to do with self-defense. It was through their religion that Jews were interconnected and kept together."

You seem to be fascinated by the Jews. Why?

"To be a community that disregards all dangers and remains true to its origins - that's a mystery. Look at France, for example. There is a huge community of Jews in France where there is a great civilization. But do the Jews become French? No. They speak the French language perfectly. They succeed in their work. But they are not French. They always think of going back to Jerusalem."

So there is something unique about the Jewish way of existence?

"It's a metaphysical phenomenon. It cannot be explained."

In your opinion, what is it that holds us Jews together?

"It is the feeling that you are the children of God. That you are chosen."

Do you think Jews have a feeling of superiority because of this intimate relationship with God?

"There is that element too. Not all Jews have it. But very religious Jews do."

Is there something a bit arrogant and aggressive about the Jews?

"Yes."

Do you see in Sharon's Israel an expression of that element of the Jewish psyche?

"No, I wouldn't say that. But this question of superiority is not just a feeling. Because in the Jews' battle for self-defense they became distinguished. There are 200 Jews who won Nobel prizes. Christ, Marx and Einstein were Jewish. The Jews offered so much to science, art and music. They hold world finance in their hands. So it's only natural that they would see themselves as very strong. This gives them a feeling of superiority."

The Jews have international finance in their hands?

"They control a great deal of the world's finances."

So today's globalized capitalism is controlled very much by the Jews?

"Since we speak frankly, I will tell you something else. The Jewish people control most of the big symphonic orchestras in the world. When I wrote the Palestinian national anthem, the Boston Symphony was planning a production of my work. It is controlled by Jewish people. They didn't allow the concert to go on. Since then I cannot work with any great orchestra. They refuse me."

You ran into this problem with other orchestras too?

"Wherever there are Jews. Wherever there are orchestras controlled by Jewish people, they boycott my work."

You really feel Jews control much of the music world?

"Yes."

And the same applies to world finance?

"In America the Jewish community is very strong. It controls much of the economy. Certainly the mass media.

"Let me make myself clear: When the State of Israel was established, we were on the side of Israel. There was great sympathy toward Zionism because of what they suffered in the war. This is one side of the Jews. But the international Jewish community is also a negative phenomena. The Jewish people now appear to control the big banks. And often the governments. So whatever bad or evil comes from the governments, it's natural for ordinary people to associate that with the Jewish people."

You yourself think that the Jews, the international Jewish community, have control of the banks, Wall Street, the mass media?

"Yes."

And you say that now, through its influence on Bush, it has control of world affairs?

"Yes."

What is the Jewish influence on the Bush policy?

"I believe that the war in Iraq and the aggressive attitude toward Iran is greatly influenced by the Israeli secret services."

The Jews have so much power that they can direct the policy of the world's only superpower?

"There is a group of Jews who surround Bush and control the policy of the United States."

So the Jews pull the strings behind Bush?

"No. They are in the front."

America, the great superpower, is actually controlled today by the Jews?

"Yes."

What are the intentions of the Jews who control President Bush?

"The main front is the Arabs. They believe that by hitting the Arabs they could help Israel survive. They give a military solution to the problem of the future existence of Israel."

But the present American policy is a reaction to 9/11. It's a response to the threat of bin Laden.

"First you have to ask who is bin Laden. There are peculiar things here. He worked for the Americans in the past. Even when 9/11 happened, he could have been working for the U.S. secret services.

"I don't want to say that those who hit the Twin Towers were Americans themselves. It would be madness to say it. But American technology was used in 9/11."

Is it possible that it was a provocation?

"In the U.S., there are many forces. There are super patriots there. I think the part bin Laden played is suspicious."

What you are saying is that there was some sort of American conspiracy here.

"I don't believe that these barefoot men of Afghanistan did it. That's a joke. Not even Japanese technology could do it. Not even German technology."

Is it possible that the Mossad played a part in 9/11?

"The Mossad has the technology. But even they are not a superpower. American controls everything."

Divulging the family secrets After a few hours of conversation, he was already Mikis. I was Ari. He asked about my son and my daughter, told me about his son and daughter. Entrusted the greatest family secrets to me. And when he tired of talking, he said now we'll hear some music. And when he sat in the leather armchair, his feet on the footrest, Theodorakis enthusiastically conducted the stereo system by means of the remote control in his hand. When the powerful sounds flooded the room, when the hymnal music filled everything with profound, heart-shattering emotional pathos, the interviewee smiled excitedly. And he turned and stared with wet eyes at the Carmel-like landscape outside: dry pine trees, dusty cypress trees, the ancient rocky soil of Athens.

I don't understand, he said angrily. I don't understand why God has to be such a strict judge. Why is the Judeo-Christian religion so judgmental? And why does it try to implant fear in man? Why does it cause him to feel that he was born in sin? Is making love to Eve a sin? Love is the most beautiful thing there is. And if there is a God, he gave us our lives so that we would live them. Live them with our bodies. With our eyes, with our ears, with our sexual organs. And so we could celebrate this life, which is so short. And so we could say thank you for this life. Let's thank God and dance with the women.

I look at him. He's impressive, he's full of life, he's totally lucid.

Although only two days ago he left the hospital to which he is scheduled to return, he is gaining strength before my eyes. As though these conversations are doing him good. Are lifting some heavy burden from him. And when he lectures me on his thoughts about life, about love and about death, something in his presence emanates a profound human warmth. Emanates existential density. Maybe even greatness.

But this charismatic man he says the things he says about the Jews without any sense of how they sound. How they reverberate. And to the strains of the music that he plays for me, the entire matter becomes clear. All that lies there between Christian Europe and its Jews. This profound tragedy. This perverted intimacy. This 1,000 year saga of loving hate. Of hating love.

Theodorakis cuts me off. He says that he misses the Israeli audience very much. That there's no audience in the world like the Israeli audience. Once, after a performance in Caesarea, a senior army officer approached him and said: If you tell us now to march into the sea, we'll march into the sea after you. And he asks about Yael Dayan. He really loved Yael Dayan.

And he tells me about Moshe Dayan. How Moshe Dayan offered him help on the day of the colonels' coup in Athens. He also speaks of Yigal Allon. About the heart-to- heart talks that he had with Allon on the shore of Lake Kinneret. And how it was Allon who sent him to Arafat. Sent him with a message of peace and determination to Arafat.

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