Tokyo Olympics: An Old Holocaust Joke Is No Reason to Fire the Opening Ceremony Director

Carolina Landsmann
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Hiroshi Sasaki, Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games executive creative director, displays a portrait of Olympics opening ceremony show director Kentaro Kobayashi during a news conference in Tokyo, 2019.
Carolina Landsmann

How do you say “driver” in Japanese? Well, in Hebrew the old joke is ishimoto, man with an auto. It could be that I’ve just dug my own grave, and in 23 years people will demand my dismissal.

Or maybe it will happen at the beginning of this week, simply because sensitive readers can’t bear the mortal injury to the Japanese people and the ridicule of their culture and language that drips from my joke. No sushi for me.

Israel goes to the Olympics with high hopes, American ringers and no Arabs. LISTEN

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But it seems ishimoto is alive and well and working as the president of the Organizing Committee for the Olympics, which began Friday. More precisely, her name is Seiko Hashimoto, and on Thursday she announced the firing of the director of the Games’ opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, because of a Holocaust joke he told in a comedy act in 1998.

In a clip that’s now going around, Kobayashi proposes to the person next to him: “Let’s play the Holocaust,” as if it were a game show.

“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Hashimoto said. “We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country.”

Hashimoto, don’t ask what woes and worries Kobayashi’s joke caused us here in Israel. Like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings that unleashes a tornado, a Holocaust joke told 23 years ago on Japanese television triggered the fourth generation after the Holocaust and its children. A true Kobayashi effect.

It’s still too early to know if we’ll have no choice and be forced to demand reparations from the Japanese government for the reawakening of our grandparents’ trauma that collapsed the national mental-health system. Munich 1972, Tokyo 2020 has your back.

Either way, Hashimoto, what’s done cannot be undone. You have no idea who you’re dealing with if you think we’ll be satisfied with just the firing of Kobayashi. No way, Hashimoto. We won’t settle for less than hara-kiri. The revenge will be served cold like a carton of Ben & Jerry’s. As soon as we deal with the antisemitic ice cream parlor we’ll organize a terrifying intergalactic boycott of sushi.

And now, in all seriousness, Hashimoto, tell us. Have you gone crazy? Here for example is a joke about the Holocaust in the comments section of an article on Kobayashi’s ouster in Haaretz – the oldest daily newspaper in the nation-state of the Jewish people. “Do you know why Hitler committed suicide?” a reader named Efraim asked. Shmul answered: “Because he got the gas bill.”

A few readers gave it a like, and nobody pressed the button to report it as an offensive content. I recommend that you look over the comment thread to realize that the people for whom – in their name – you fired a man for a 23-year-old joke were not offended. On the contrary, they’re much more worried about the “cancel culture” that more deserves the name “cancellation of culture.”

It’s clear to me that this isn’t Japanese craziness. Judging by the repercussions that “cancel culture” receives in the media, this lunacy is spreading throughout the world at a pace that would make the coronavirus envious.

The problem is that when in the name of offending Jews they fire a Japanese man who told a joke, only the Jews are allowed, if even they are, to come to his defense. All the others who defend him will be accused the same way. They’ll be denounced and risk being fired.

That’s why decent Jews must raise a cry that can be heard as far away as Japan: We weren’t hurt! We don’t care about a joke told in 1998, we’re not a shoji room divider made out of paper. Bring back Kobayashi and climb down from the rooftops.

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