The Jewish Problem (Cont.)

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Theodorakis plays the Palestinian anthem for me twice. Once in a vocal rendition, once in an orchestral rendition. And he bangs out the beat of the march on the floor with his walking stick. The beat of a justified struggle for liberation. And he tells me how Arafat pressured him for years to write an anthem for the Palestinians. And how, when he brought the tape with the anthem to Beirut, the members of the revolutionary council rose and cheered and cried. He composed the anthem based on a Greek partisan song. Based on a song of sacrifice sung by fighters against the Nazi regime.

Mikis Theodorakis, on several occasions, when criticizing Israeli policy, you used the Nazi analogy. Criticism of Israeli occupation is justified. But why use terms such as "Israel's Nazi mentality" or "Israel's Nazi barbarity"? "To me it seems very natural to make this comparison because Israel is very much connected with Nazism. I wrote this to you this morning: After the Holocaust, the Jew is the anti-Nazi. Forever. You are condemned to be that. Six million voices are calling on you. They are calling out, never again camps. They cannot even imagine that Israel would adopt similar methods. There is no need for Israel to create the gas chambers. If you kill women and children, it's a similar thing."

Israel is doing wrong in the West Bank and Gaza. No argument about that. But why not compare it to the French in Algiers or the Dutch in Indonesia. Going for the ultimate analogy of evil seems to prove an inability to accept the Jews as gray. If they are not white, they are the darkest black. If they are not victims, they are murderers. "Until the Holocaust the Jewish people were victims. One day they said, I don't want to be a victim any longer. I'll create a state. I'll show that I'm strong. The question is whether this is not a historical trap. If you didn't embark on the road to revenge."

What do you mean? "After World War I, the Germans were victims. The Germans felt they were victims. They felt they were just. Others did them wrong and they were just. That was the seed of Hitler."

So the Jews of today are like the Germans of the twenties and thirties? "Hitler, too, said we are not going to be victims any more. We'll arm ourselves and we'll have revenge. Look where it led. That is something that could happen to Israel."

That's exactly my point. You want us as sheep. You even love us as sheep. But you cannot come to terms with the idea that we may use force like any other nation.

"The Jews escaped from the wolves' teeth. And you got on boats to go to the land of your ancestors. Who wasn't with Israel then? I was. We all were. You took a barren land and you turned it green. You created the kibbutz, which is the only successful example of democratic communism. You created a civilized nation. And when we saw you defend yourselves after half of you remained in the gas chambers, we were with you. You were David and we stood by you.

"But this changed. Israel became a superpower. It has nuclear arms. It is very strong. And whom are you fighting? A million women and children and poorly trained Palestinians. So you are Goliath now. Palestine is David. And I am with David."

But it goes further than that? You think there was a dramatic transformation here. You think the Jews were transformed from being the Nazis' victims to being the new Nazis.

"It was a gradual process. The fact that the Jews were led to the gas chambers in a peaceful way, almost like lambs, troubled them deeply. They wanted to show that they are not sheep. That they can become wolves.

"Up to a point this is natural. It's human. But you should have become wolf dogs, not wolves.

"I think there is an element of racism here. You Israelis begin to think that you are superior to the Arabs just because you have financial power and a strong army and an alliance with the superpower."

Do you think we developed a Nazi-like superiority complex? "When you go and blow up houses, what is it? It's similar to Nazi behavior. When you uproot trees, what is it? It's Nazi behavior. When you order people out of their homes within an hour, what is it? It's Nazi behavior. It's Nazi mentality."

Let's leave politics aside. When you look at us Jews as a whole, what do you find impressive and what is intolerable? "When I was in Israel, I loved the madness of the people there. The brains. The joy of life. The drunkenness. A normal person gets drunk when he drinks wine. A Jew gets drunk without wine. You too. You don't have to drink at all. You are drunk already.

"I also loved the girl in the kibbutz who would wake up in the morning to work the land and have her gun with her. She knew how to protect her country and fight for her country. I found that very attractive. She was a beautiful girl. Like honey, and when she was holding the gun, she was even more beautiful. I was much younger then. I was attracted to the heroism of Israel. The Jews are a historic phenomenon that attracts me enormously. I am envious of it. I don't think anyone can be indifferent to it."

And what don't you like about us? "On a personal level, nothing. You are not different to me or anyone else. But what I don't accept in the Jewish people is what I don't accept in the Freemasons. The Masonic Lodge is a group of people who help each other just because they are members of that lodge. That happens among the Jews as well. Especially in sensitive areas like art and music. I don't accept that."

The Jews have too much power? "In certain areas - yes. I don't like these small groupings that support one another. I view them as expressions of a racist approach. National or religious or Mafia clans are cancerous growths."

What troubles you is that Jews maintain a ghetto attitude even when they are not weak anymore. When they are powerful.

"Yes. I ran into it in music, but it happens elsewhere. Especially in finance. And in the mass media. This is what makes the Jews unattractive."

You think there is a Jewish tendency to dominate? "To dominate? Yes. And it comes with a superiority complex."

So the sense of superiority and the tendency to control are a feature of the Jews? "Yes. Yes. I think that the Jewish religion that teaches a child from a very young age that our God is very strong gives him a sense of security. So there is a contradiction there: The people that were historically the most fearful, are mentally the less fearful because of their religion. But now, when they have great power, this attitude becomes dangerous."

Learning from the Greeks From the point of view of the Israeli peace camp, Mikis Theodorakis' practical political views are at least reasonable. He recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. He believes in a two-state solution. He also thinks that the Palestinians should learn from the experience of the Greeks, and understand that return is impossible. About 2 million refugees from Asia Minor were absorbed in Greece in the 1920s, including the family of Theodorakis' mother.

As opposed to a significant proportion of his colleagues on the European left, Theodorakis doesn't think that Zionism is a colonialist movement. He is aware that the Jews needed a country of their own, which had to be established in their homeland. Since he is a romantic Greek, he says, he has a romantic weakness for the romantic dimension of Zionism. In his eyes, the fact that the Children of Israel returned to the historical womb from which they emerged is very beautiful.

In the future, when the occupation comes to an end, he will support Israel's joining the European Union. Europe has a moral obligation to the Jews, he says. From a cultural point of view as well, Israel is part of Europe. Therefore, Israeli membership in the EU will be only natural.

One night he wrote me a letter. The conversations between us had aroused thoughts that caused him insomnia. In his handwriting, in pencil, in cramped Greek letters, he wrote that he's afraid of the rise of a new Nazism. That he thinks the role of the Jews is to come out against the new Nazism. And that therefore, Israel stands today at a critical crossroad. It must choose Europe rather than America. Peace rather than war. It must be faithful to its historic destiny.

Afterward he admitted that his relationships with Jews are love-hate relationships. And again he described to me the audience that hung from the rafters of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv in the early 1970s. And he played the song that the Israelis most liked to hear. And translated the words for me (So profound is the sorrow). And played the requiem that he wrote after the death of his father. Said that he wanted to die after his father's death. Until suddenly the sounds of this religious music came to him. That's how he started to compose: Every Sunday he would write a new work for the church choir. Just like Bach, he laughs. And that's why now, after the death of his father and the death of his mother and the death of his brother, he has found some consolation in this Passion. Because although he isn't religious, he has some religion in him. He doesn't believe in the Church, he doesn't believe in an afterlife, but he loves Jesus' love. Is moved to tears when he thinks about Jesus' sacrifice. His sufferings on the cross.

With your permission, I'd like to go back to your upbringing. To what you were taught at a very young age. How do you explain your grandmother's fear of the Jews?

"I think it came from religion. From the priests."

It had to do with the killing of Christ?

"Yes. My grandmother was not a well-educated woman."

I am trying to understand her. Not to judge her. Perhaps the fear of the Jews had to do with the fact they killed the son of God. If someone has the power to kill the son of God, he has enormous power.

"I think that the attitude of the Greeks toward the Jews has its roots n the way the Jews behaved themselves. In small communities like ours, there were no secrets. We knew that among the Jews there were secrets they did not share with us. They wanted to be different. To keep separate. I understand that. It comes from a need for self-defense."

Can you give me examples?

"Very often there were love affairs between Jews and Greeks. But the Jewish families did not want their young to marry Christians. But this closeness and secretiveness, it provokes. They never invited me to a Jewish home. I had Jewish friends. They came to my house. But I was never invited to their homes. I wanted to go in and I was not allowed. So I began wondering why not. What's happening there. The Jews paid a price for trying to keep their Jewishness. Their closed society."

Were there other reasons for the special attitude toward the Jews?

"Yes. There was something else. When a Jew progressed, especially to control commerce or to have economic power, it provoked envy. You have that kind of envy for successful Greeks as well. But in the case of the Jews, the perceived wisdom was that he became rich not because of his talent but because he was a Jew. And the Jews could pull strings to help one another to progress."

So for you it was the secretiveness and closeness of the Jews that was the most troubling. Not the role of the Jews in the Jesus story.

"At that time, that story did not interest me. For the Greek Orthodox Church, it was important. Anyway, during the war the Jews were chased like animals. And we in the progressive movement saved tens of thousands of Jews. The Jews of Thessaloniki were the victims of the rabbis who didn't let them come and hide in the mountains with us. For us, the Jews of Greece were not different from the Greeks. They were entirely Greek."

Later you did become preoccupied with the Jews. Why? When? "When I started searching for the springs of humanity. I realized the importance of the two streams, the Jewish and the Hellenic. I realized that these are the two pillars of western civilization.

Judaism had two contributions to civilization. One was positive: morality. The other was negative: an autocratic mental structure. The idea that there is one God that we must obey comes from Judaism. Later it was exploited by secular powers. It created a society that is vertical. Hierarchical. Very different from the Hellenic democracy."

What are the consequences of this mental-autocratic structure of Judaism?

"You have traditions of pride. It derives from your religion. The belief that God loves you and you are the chosen people. This gave you the power to survive against all odds. Every time you emerged as heroes. But it also created a great danger. It gave birth to racism."

So we have to learn from the Greeks?

"In Greek mythology, there is no evidence of the concept of Hellenic superiority. In the Bible, you find the seed of the concept of superiority. Of Jewish superiority. The whole Bible wants to prove that God loves only one people, and that is the Jewish people."

Do you think that the seeds of Sharon and Bush lie in this biblical tradition? "It could be possible."

And what is the story that shaped your mind? Was it not the Jesus story?

"The myth of Christ inspired all big composers. In the end, the story of Christ is the most important. It's more important than the tragedy of Sophocles."

But the role of the Jews in the story is problematic. It is not pleasant.

"This is very strange. Christ was Jewish. But the Jewish people for some reason are against a Jew that all the others love. So the position of the Jews is very special. Very special. Suppose Christ was Greek, and everybody likes Christ but we Greeks don't. It's very strange. Very strange."

The Jews rejected the most important Jew?

"Yes. They are very special. The Jews are the most important. Millions and millions of Catholics and Orthodox believe in a Jew, Christ, whom the Jews don't like. I think this explains your position.

"The world is as it is because the Jews were not listening at the right time. It's difficult.

"Yes. It's difficult. This is the drama of the Jewish people in this world. You are against yourselves. I don't know why you are against the message of love of Jesus."

Mikis Theodorakis, this is a great moment for Greece. You are Greece's great cultural hero. And here you are, spending four days with an Israeli journalist. Why?

"I owe it to Israel. Especially to my friends in Israel. I know they are very upset. The false interpretation of what I said in November 2003 deeply wounded a whole people. The Jewish people."

And now, as we bring this interview to a close, would you say that you want a reconciliation with the Jews? Do you want to shake their hand once more?

"I never withdrew my hand. Throughout my life I paid a great price so I could always look at myself in the mirror. It would be tragic for me to remain an enemy of your people. It is unjust. It is very very unjust. I am a true friend of the Jewish people."

A life of acclaim and struggle Mikis Theodorakis was born on July 29, 1925. At the age of 12 he began to compose. In his youth, he belonged to a fascist youth group, but in 1942, after he was arrested by the Italian occupation regime, he became a communist. He took an active part in the struggle against the Germans, and in the Greek civil war. Time after time he was sent to jails, detention camps and remote islands. He was injured and tortured, and he fell ill. During all this, he didn't stop composing.

During the 1950s, Theodorakis studied in Paris. He composed classical music, wrote works for the ballet. In the early 1960s he returned to Greece and developed his unique musical style, which immediately enjoyed sweeping success. Theodorakis also composed music for many films. The most famous of them is "Zorba the Greek" (1964). After the murder of opposition leader Grigoris Lambrakis, Theodorakis became a political activist and a left-wing member of parliament. After the colonels' coup in 1967, he went underground, was arrested and detained on a remote island. Three years later he was released and left for exile in Paris.

During the 1970s, the exiled composer made a series of visits to Israel. His concerts in Caesarea, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem attracted huge crowds. Theodorakis became a favorite of Israel's upper crust, and an ally of the peace movement. Later on, when he identified with the Palestinian struggle, he was harshly criticized by right-wing circles. His visits to Israel tapered off until they stopped altogether.

In Greece itself, Theodorakis is considered a provocative public figure. His transition from left to right to left drew quite a lot of criticism. In spite of that, his name is still mentioned as a possible candidate for president. His status as the most important Greek musician is unquestioned. Even in France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, Theodorakis is a cultural figure of the first rank. Some consider him a person whose work and life embody the spirit of the contemporary European left.

In recent years, Mikis Theodorakis has adopted a militant anti-American approach. He criticized the NATO bombings in Serbia, and opposed the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. In 2002 he led the mass anti-Israel rallies in Athens and in Thessaloniki. In November 2003, he aroused an international furor when he was quoted as saying that the Jews are the root of evil. Since making that statement, Theodorakis has not agreed to grant an interview to any Israeli media outlet.



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