Louis C.K. Is Condoning Israeli Policy With Jerusalem Show

Unless his show causes a major political scandal, I'm through with Louis C.K., writes Sayed Kahsua.

An illustration of Sayed Kashua walking away angrily from Louis C.K.'s face in a cloud.
Amos Biderman

Sometimes I watch television. Actually, I watch a lot of it – generally “SpongeBob Square Pants,” with my boys.

I have always made sure there wouldn’t be more than one television in the house and, according to the unwritten rules, the youngest is in charge of artistic programming.

Since summer vacation began here two weeks ago, we decided at last that we’d follow the Final Four basketball championship games. At first we were for Toronto in the East, or, more accurately, against the Cavaliers, because the Cleveland team knocked our Chicago Bulls out of the playoffs last year, but mainly because the scar left by David Blatt hasn’t yet healed. It’s not that I was against Blatt because he’s an Israeli, rather because he’s an Israeli from Maccabi Tel Aviv – the team with the money, the flags and the map. An Israeli who tried to present his job coaching the Cavaliers as a national mission.

Anyway, that’s about when I started to become fan of Golden State, which I imagined as a human rights organization doing battle against Israel’s government. So it happened that, for reasons of lack of equality, our household adopted Steph Curry as the substitute for a national leader.

Sometimes I watch American dramas, new and old, and occasionally discover gems. So it happened that a colleague’s remark got me onto “Friday Night Lights,” and from the moment I began watching the very first episode, up to the final episode in the fifth season, I couldn’t stop watching.

“You’ve become a true American,” a friend here said when he found out I was hooked on the series. Maybe if I’d watched it in Israel, or in a big city, I wouldn’t have been drawn to the substance and the images in it that convey the essence of the characters and the setting. The series is about the people in a remote Texas town, whose whole identity and sense of pride revolve around the local high-school football team. If I lived in a different place from the town I live in, I might have thought I was watching science fiction, with content totally unrelated to reality. It’s amazing, sometimes, how reality comes to resemble what’s on television.

Another terrific series whose first season I watched is “Better Call Saul,” a “Breaking Bad” spin-off. It centers around an incompetent lawyer who only studied law at a relatively advanced age, via an online school that no one has ever heard of, and who lives in the shadow of his brother – a successful lawyer who suffers from some sort of partly mental and partly physical disorder – in a godforsaken place in New Mexico.

In an early episode, a story develops about a model American family and a pretty conservative-looking official who steals public funds, although he and his wife are convinced that they are totally innocent. One day the whole family disappears; the police suspect they were taken hostage for the return of the money. Our lawyer, who wants to track down the family, is convinced they staged their own kidnapping. A tough attendant in the courthouse parking lot tells the lawyer that the family is probably not too far away, and the lawyer indeed finds them in a tent, mere walking distance from the house they were supposedly snatched from. The lawyer asks the tough parking-lot attendant how he knew. “It’s human nature to want to stay close to home,” the attendant says with absolute confidence.

Meanwhile, far from home, I am really angry at Louis C.K., who is “homeward bound”: He’s going to appear in Jerusalem. I wouldn’t go to his show, even though he does the kind of television I like more than any other kind. I wouldn’t go to his show, even though I can recite his stand-up routines by heart – with an accent, okay, but still by heart.

I remember many years ago seeing this young redheaded guy, whom I’d never heard of, being interviewed by Conan O’Brien in a show broadcast on Israeli satellite or cable TV, and then immediately searching for his material online and finding hardly anything more than a few interviews. Then I got hooked on his first television series, “Lucky Louie,” and afterward of course four seasons of “Louie,” and then “Horace and Pete,” which I now stopped watching halfway through.

How could he do this to me? And on top of it to make an announcement about his gig in Israel on the radio show of that shallow racist Howard Stern, who thinks that if he were Israel he would eliminate all the people in the Gaza Strip in five minutes. And who claims the Jews came to a completely empty place, an uninhabited desert. C.K. announces his performance in Israel on the program of a broadcaster who claims that if the residents of New Jersey fired missiles at New York, he would wipe them out within seconds. He forgets who’s flinging missiles at whom and forgets that the residents of New Jersey were expelled from New York and fenced in by the New Yorkers, who won’t let them out of the area marked off for them. And forgets that, in contrast to Tel Aviv, citizens from different religions and of different colors and ethnic origins live in New York.

My disappointment at the fact that Louis C.K. is going to Jerusalem isn’t related to the rules of the boycott – the fact is that if it were Howard Stern going, I wouldn’t say a word. Good for him. The problem is that I think of shows like this by American artists, including Louis C.K., as a form of performing before the troops – artists sent to entertain soldiers stationed far from home in order to lift their spirits. No way Louis’ show in Jerusalem is only a cultural event; it’s a political act that condones Israeli policy in general and in Jerusalem in particular.

I’m not sure about C.K.’s political views regarding Israel-Palestine. I’m familiar with his statements about racism in America, and also with a short “Saturday Night Live” monologue in which he relates to the Middle East as if it were a quarrel between his two daughters, the little one representing weak, battered Palestine, the older one likened to strong, U.S.-supported Israel.

Because the question of the boycott, in particular its non-establishment cultural and academic incarnation, is a fraught issue (according to the law, too), I have no choice but to stop watching “Horace and Pete” until C.K. gets back home. Only if he foments a political scandal that is written up in the local and world press will I forgive him. I don’t mean uttering words about regional peace and a hope for equality, but criticism of a kind that will compel the country’s leaders to enact new legislation barring the entry of artists who support freedom of speech. I will go back to watching “Horace and Pete” with love if the Jerusalem performance raises the spirit of the troops in Israel who are fed up with war and fed up with ruling another people.

Until then, Louis C.K. can forget about my $3 per episode.