Sarah Silverman, a stand-up comedian


Hugh Fitzgerald

Sarah Silverman is a stand-up comic who makes much, in her routines, of being Jewish. It’s part of, it’s a major part of, it’s far too much a part of, her shtick; what isn’t about being Jewish is about sex. I find her treatment of both topics distinctly unfunny. She is critical of Israel in an offhand, careless sort of way; she repeats what she’s heard elsewhere, without looking into the matter herself. Lots of people she knows “support BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) so, in her ditzy way, she does, too. She does not understand the real intent of that sinister movement. And she knows nothing, it is clear, about the history and travails of modern Israel. A report on her latest podcast vaporings about Israel and BDS is here: “Jewish Comedian Sarah Silverman Explains Why She’s ‘Not Against BDS,’ Accuses Israel of Occupation in New Podcast Episode,” by Shiryn Ghermezian, Algemeiner, January 11, 2021:

Sarah Silverman supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as long as it protests Israel’s government and its “occupation,” and not the country’s citizens, she said Thursday.

During the Jan. 7 episode of “The Sarah Silverman Podcast,” the show’s host, 50, told her listeners, “I’m fine with BDS, as long as it’s clear that you are boycotting a government and not a people. When that line gets muddy, that’s when it’s a little scary as a Jew.”

But if the Israelis overwhelmingly support the building of settlements in Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank), and they do, believing them to be built on land that belongs to Israel as a matter of international law (see the Palestine Mandate, especially Articles 4 and 6, and the Mandate maps), and recognize that those settlements – a half-million Israelis now live in them – help solidify Israel’s hold on territory that both belongs to it by right and, at least in part, is necessary for the nation’s defense. Those who “boycott the government” are, pace Silverman, also boycotting the majority of Israelis who support the settlement policies of successive governments, including the present one.

Silverman, who lists her Twitter location as the “state of Palestine,” [now that’s not exactly a good sign] then citied the boycott movement against the South African apartheid in the 1980s, saying, “I think divesting from South Africa made a real difference in ending apartheid. I’m not against BDS. I’m against ‘Jews are pro-occupation.’ It’s absurd. Not all Jews are for the occupation.”

In the context of discussing the “boycott” of Israel that Silverman supports, to mention the boycott movement against South African apartheid is to obliquely suggest that Israel itself may practice apartheid. This is flatly untrue. In Israel, Arabs serve in the Knesset, sit on the Supreme Court, go abroad as ambassadors for their country. Jews and Arabs study in the same universities, work in factories and offices together, are treated in, and provide care in, the same hospitals, play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras. The only difference is that Israeli Arabs may serve in the IDF if they so wish, but unlike Jews, they are not required to do so.

As for BDS, it is not the innocent movement that Silverman imagines it to be. Its co-founder and leader, Omar Barghouti, has openly declared that he works for the dismemberment of the Jewish state, to be replaced by an Arab-run “Palestine.” His words: “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” Silverman ought to read what critics of BDS have to say about the group. David Schwimmenthal of the American Jewish Congress, for example, has these observations:

The German Bundestag, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and former British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are among a growing number of political players to recognize the BDS movement’s bigoted nature.

And yet, not everybody seems to understand that when the world’s only Jewish state is singled out for de-legitimisation and worse, we are dealing with the latest mutation of the world’s perhaps oldest hatred.

Some of the difficulties of recognising BDS for what it really is stem from the fact that the movement has been skillful in obscuring its motivations and intentions behind the misuse of human rights language and the distortion of such lofty concepts as “justice” and “peace.”

But their ultimate goal is far from a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution. Occasionally, they drop their mask and admit that their real objective is the end of Israel as we know it: “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” BDS co-founder and leader Omar Barghouti freely admits.

BDS claims that it advocates for only non-violent steps, most importantly the “return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper. But let’s not be confused. First, the end result of such a policy would be the same–the dissolution of the world’s only Jewish state. And second, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the Middle East knows that if the BDS movement’s dream ever came true, it would quickly turn into a nightmare for the Jewish population. In a majority Palestinian state–which given current societal trends would most likely be under an Islamist leadership such as Hamas–the fate of the Jews would be anything but peaceful. This is a region where minorities are either massacred, oppressed or driven out. Those who therefore claim that Jews could live in security and dignity in a majority Palestinian state are just hiding their cynical intentions behind fanciful language of so-called justice.

The question whether BDS or anti-Zionism is antisemitic is doubly absurd. How could the call for the dismantling of the world’s only Jewish state not be antisemitic? And second, even if one could create some artificial distinction between denying Jewish individual rights (antisemitic) and rejecting their collective rights (supposedly kosher), we are still talking about politicide. BDS ultimately seeks the de-facto dismemberment of a UN Member State. Irrespective of whether that state in question is Jewish or say, Irish, to call for its end cannot possibly be considered a “legitimate political position.”

That should provide a salutary corrective for Sarah Silverman, with her dreamy misinformation about BDS, and make her think again about lending her support to that movement.

She noted that there are “myriad” Jewish-led organizations that “fight the occupation everyday” and said, “I hope for a peaceful end to [the] occupation. Unfortunately, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, also have to want an end to the occupation … It ain’t just Israel that benefits from the occupation in various ways. And that seems to be a well kept secret.”

So there are many Jewish organizations that “fight the occupation every day.” Yes, of course there are: J Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, and so on and so dismally forth. But being “Jewish” does not exempt them from charges of ignorance, illogical, bad faith. There are far more Jewish organizations whose members know the history of modern Israel, recognize the sinister nature of the BDS movement, and reject the impermissible use of that loaded word “occupation” and fight BDS and its willing collaborators, like ditzy Sarah Silverman, every day.

When Silverman uses the word “occupation” she reveals that she has no understanding of modern Israel’s history. Its founding document is the League of Nation’s Mandate for Palestine (1922). In that document, the international community of that time recognized that the Jews, just like the Arabs, deserved to have a state of their own. Lands that were formerly part of the Ottoman Empire were assigned by the League of Nations to different mandates, by which the Mandatory Authority would prepare their peoples for statehood. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and (somewhat more complicatedly) Jordan, all became, under the guidance of French and British Mandatories, independent states. The Mandate for Palestine was set up for the sole purpose of creating the Jewish National Home, which would then become the Jewish state of Israel. The Mandatory for Palestine, Great Britain, was to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “encourage…close settlement by Jews on the land.” (Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine). Which land, Sarah Silverman might ask? Oh, the land that was set aside for the Palestine Mandate. That territory extended from the Golan in the north to the Red Sea in the south, and from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean in the west. That was all supposed to be included in the Jewish National Home. But after the 1948-1949 war, large parts of Judea and Samaria were held by the Jordanians, who continued to hold that land until the Six-Day War in 1967. Jordan was never more than the “military occupier” of the West Bank. When Israel won the territory in 1967, it could at long last exercise its right under international law (the Mandates system was a recognized part of international law) and take lawful possession of the West Bank.There was no Jewish “occupation” of land that had always been assigned to the Jewish National Home.

It would not take more than a few hours for Sarah Silverman to read, and make sense of, a half-dozen of the most devastating critiques of the BDS, its unsavory aims and methods, in attempting – “peacefully” — to snuff out the life of the one Jewish stare. The BDS movement has failed to make a dent in Israel’s economy, which goes from strength to strength, but it has won another victory. It has helped to blacken the image of Israel and of Jews, so grotesquely depicted as persecutors of the Palestinians, and “stealers of their land.” Reading those detailed criticisms of the BDS Movement would constitute Homework Assignment #1 for Sarah Silverman.

Homework Assignment #2 should be equally enlightening for Ms. Silverman. She should study the history of modern Israel, beginning with the First Zionist Congress of 1897. Then she might study the early Zionists who arrived in Ottoman Palestine, where they bought land, often at greatly inflated prices, from absentee landlords in Beirut and Constantinople.. It’s important for Silverman to understand that the Zionist settlers did not seize, but always paid for land, often at very high prices. In 1941, Jews were paying as much for scarcely arable land in Mandatory Palestine as was then being asked for the richest farmland in the world, in Iowa.

Sarah should then study — this above all else — the Mandate for Palestine, especially the Preamble, and Articles 4 and 6 that called for the holder of the Mandate, Great Britain, to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “encourage close settlement by Jews on the land.” She should also understand that the Arabs acquired four independent nations – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan – through the Mandates system. The Arab people are more richly endowed with states (there are now 22 of them, possessing more than five million square miles of land) than any other people on earth. Meanwhile tiny Israel – scarcely visible on world maps — consists of only 8,500 square miles, or about 1/600 the land area that the Arabs possess. Study, Sarah, that map of Mandatory Palestine, and compare it to a map of the entire Arab world. And while Israel, until just a few years ago, had no natural resources to speak of – now it has discovered undersea natural gas fields – the 22 Arab states have been, and remain, collectively more richly endowed with fossil fuels than any place on earth. The Arab oil states have already received, since 1973 alone, some 30 trillion dollars from the sale of oil and gas, in what must surely be the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. All this constitutes Homework Assignment #2.

Homework Assignment #3 for Sarah Silverman is about refugees. She should find out – she surely does not know – the conditions under which Arabs left Mandatory Palestine, and then Israel, just before and during the 1948 war. Is she aware of how many were urged to leave by Arabs broadcasting from abroad, who assured the Arabs in Palestine that they should leave, get out of the way of the invading Arab armies and when the fighting ended, as it soon would, with an Arab victory, those Arabs who had left could then return to their homes and also seize whatever land and property the massacred or fleeing Jews would have left behind. In this atmosphere, approximately 700,000 Arabs left, only to discover later that the five Arab armies that had attacked the nascent Jewish state had not been victorious.

Silverman should find out about the efforts by some Jews, including Shabtai Levy, the Mayor of Haifa, to convince Arabs in 1948 not to flee. Then she should investigate that too-rarely discussed other group of refugees – the 900,000 Jews who were forced to flee Arab lands in the wake of the 1948 war, leaving behind many billions of dollars in abandoned property. Let Silverman learn when, and why, both the Arabs in Israel, and the “Arab refugees” elsewhere began – after the Six-Day War – to be referred to quite deliberately as the “Palestinian people.” Hint: Sarah, start by googling “Zuheir Mohsen” and “Palestinian people” for more. You’re welcome.

Homework Assignment #4: Sarah Silverman should be asked to do a little research, to see if she can discover why, out of all the hundreds of millions of refugees created around the world since World War II, it is that only one group – the Arabs of Palestine – have been allowed to pass on to their progeny, as an inherited trait , their status as “refugees,” thus making the roll of refugees entitled to UN economic and political support ever-lengthening. We now must endure the spectacle of the great-grandchildren of Arabs who left Palestine in 1948, who are considered to be, and receive generous benefits as, “Palestinian refugees.” There is no end to this.

On Saturday, Silverman shared on Instagram a short clip of her talking about Israel and the BDS movement from the Jan. 7 podcast episode. In the episode she also said “I agree 100 percent that criticizing Israel is not antisemitism” and claimed that “people like their Jews suffering.”

She agrees “100 percent that criticizing Israel is not antisemitism” is idiotic. It depends on the nature of the criticism. Is it rooted in fact, or does it consist of sinister maligning of the Jewish state and, by extension, of Jews. A great deal of criticism of Israel is antisemitic. See the remarks on Israel by Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Louis Farrakhan, Jimmy Carter, Mahmoud Abbas, Khaled Meshaal, Ayatollah Khamenei. See what Omar Barghouti, who leads the BDS movement that Sarah Silverman has no quarrel with, has to say about Israel’s right to exist (Hint: it has no such right). Silverman ought to have said something else: “Criticism of Israel is not always antisemitic. But let’s not be deaf and blind – it very often is.”

This is serious, Sarah Silverman. You have, I gather, a large following.They listen to you. They know you are Jewish, and if you support BDS that movement must be okay. If you want to talk about Israel, Sarah, get your facts straight. You know: see above. The Mandate for Palestine. Read it. Study those Mandate maps. Find out when and why Judea and Samaria became the “West Bank.” Find out when the Arabs who left or stayed in “Palestine” in 1948-49 were renamed, nearly 20 years later, “the Palestinian people.” Learn why the “Palestinian refugees” are treated differently from every other group of refugees. Just complete the homework assignments that have been given to you above. They will open your eyes. You have some free time, while sheltering in place.

Sarah, perhaps you’ve heard the remark “Whereof we do not know, thereof we should not speak.” The man who said that wasn’t a stand-up comic but still, it’s a remark worth heeding. Try, Sarah. Please. Try to take it in.


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