Featured Post

Considering the source

Apparently people listen to the rich and famous -- and if Emma Thompson and Günter Grass can do it, why not me?

I’ve decided to become a celebrity. It makes no difference what “field,” as long as I’m a celebrity.

I won’t be in it for the money. I don’t need or want the headaches and pressures that go with having too much of that (although being out of overdraft is a very nice thought).

Nor am I looking for recognition wherever I go. Not only would I hate the loss of privacy, but I also tend not to be so photogenic.

I want it because celebrities undergo a Fantasy Island-esque magical transformation into officially recognized international experts, on pretty much anything and everything. When celebrities talk, people listen. Period.

We have recently seen two prime examples of this phenomenon.

On April 1 it was reported that Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson was one of three dozen actors, writers and directors wishing to exclude Israel’s Habima Theater from a British festival featuring Shakespeare’s 37 plays, each in a different language. These well-intentioned (I hope) artists cited Habima’s refusal to boycott a cultural center that opened in the settlement of Ariel in 2010. In a letter to festival organizers they wrote that “by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with [Israel’s] policies of exclusion,” and that by doing so, organizers were “complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonization of occupied land.”

I won’t go into the hypocrisy of these same “principled, peace loving” artists, who apparently had no objections to the involvement of theater troupes from Turkey (serious discrimination against the Kurds) and China (horrendous human rights record in Tibet), as well as Iranian and Palestinian delegations (need I say more?).

The point is that Emma Thompson’s “deep” understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian situation was not based on any experience in Israel, or a study of the history and intricacies of the conflict. Rather, her authoritative judgment stemmed from the fact that she is an actress, albeit an excellent one. But how does a person with the talent to pretend to be someone else become so knowledgeable about the Middle East? It must be the magical transformation that comes with fame.

Make no mistake: I am all for stars putting their celebrity to good use by raising awareness for causes. But that is not the same as using the platform awarded them for their artistic talents as a soapbox from which to preach and teach the world geopolitics and morality.

It is possible that Emma Thompson’s heart is in the right place (even if her common sense is not), but she is simply misguided. The same cannot be said for poet, playwright and author Günter Grass. On April 4, the German Nobel laureate published the poem “What must be said,” in which he wrote about Israel’s wishes to annihilate Iran (the president of Iran has publicly shared his hope to destroy Israel). He also wrote in the poem that Israel is the threat to world peace. (The UN and majority of the international community has expressed extreme concern over Iran’s nuclear program and its ramifications.)

For all that I can accept the possibility of Emma Thompson’s good intentions, with Grass that is much harder. Grass’s personal history, which includes a stint in the Waffen SS, the combat unit of the SS, during WWII, belies his alleged “good” intentions. The SS ran the death camps and carried out mass executions of political opponents.

That Grass, who was once a part of an attempt to eradicate the Jewish people, is turning a blind eye to a similar attempt today should not surprise us. In Germany, many demonstrated in support of him and his poem. For many Germans he is the prodigal son, the former Nazi-turned-pacifist. He is their poet, their Nobel laureate. Grass can possibly understand the Iranian mindset that is so close to his own activities nearly 70 years ago, but how does he claim any real knowledge or understanding of Israel’s history or current political realities? But, he is a poet, writer, even a sculptor. The fame of being a celebrity gives him the authority to pontificate about world politics.

Of course, this is not new. For years we have bestowed “authority” upon actors, singers and writers on non-artistic issues. Israelis are guilty of this as well. If Amos Oz or David Grossman make a public statement about policies in the territories, their words make headlines.

I have never understood why we attribute more weight and authority to the words of these stars than we do to those of the average man in the street. What is it about writing, or acting, or being naturally gifted with a wonderful voice, that gives people a deeper understanding of the issues than you or me?

Preferable, though almost non-existent, is the approach of former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, who refused to answer political questions when he performed here in 2010. He simply said that, as a singer, he didn’t know politics. Imagine that! A singer claiming it’s not his place to preach about things he doesn’t understand. Instead, he uses the stage and microphone just for singing.

But Ozzy is the exception, not the rule. For years visiting celebrities have been meeting with the prime minister, meetings news reports in Israel usually describe as “to discuss the current situation.” One can’t help but to wonder about the wisdom stars such as Madonna and Jon Voight have shared with our leaders regarding Israel’s security and our relations with our neighbors. The most absurd instance was last April, when Prime Minister Netanyahu was set to meet with then-17-year-old pop star Justin Bieber (the meeting was cancelled).

So, I want to get people to understand that celebrity status does not immediately translate into having something to say worth hearing.

In order to get my message out there, I need to become a celebrity. But then I’ll have a problem. If people listen to me, as a celebrity, when I say not to automatically listen to celebrities, won’t they then start listening to me again?

I should probably ask Justin Bieber…

About the Author
Asher Zeiger grew up (well, sort of) in North Carolina and moved to Israel in 1988. He lives in Modi'in with his wife and two daughters, and works as freelance writer, editor and translator. In his spare time, he tries hard at not taking himself or life too seriously (successfully) and at unwrapping himself from around his daughters' little fingers (not so successfully).