There’s little more fulfilling in life than finally meeting a wonderful new friend in person … and, within the same hour, giving the finger to a noxious bigot.
So it was today at Manhattan’s Theatre 80 Saint Mark’s, where I finally embraced the gregarious, witty owner of the establishment, Lorcan Otway, as well as flipped the bird to Gilad Atzmon, the absurdly anti-Semitic musician and pseudo-intellectual who was hosting his own vanity panel discussion there. Yes, there was also a protest outside that featured folks who were vehemently opposed to Atzmon’s nauseatingly bigoted viewpoints, which have included the support of violence against Jews and the collective ascription of villainous traits to the faith and its adherents. Yes there was arguing, particularly when some members of the protest got into a heated dispute with one very deluded intolerance-nik, who naively didn’t seem to understand what all the fuss was about. Yes, some of the protesters appeared to be fringe folks who erroneously (and offensively) equated Zionism with fascism—a sign that was held up was particularly naive in this regard. And yes, there was Atzmon himself, strutting about with his cell phone, talking to the few friends of his who had ventured out to attend his event, and trying to shake my hand … again.
Boy, did he seem disappointed when I refused.
Otway—whom I disagree with on the issue of whether it was right to allow Atzmon to speak there yet who argues beautifully on the merits of free speech and is an advocate for everyone getting together and just resolving their differences through discussion—tried, in typically gracious fashion, to initiate the hand-shaking. I declined, as I have no desire to share physical contact with a prejudiced imbecile such as Atzmon, but I did shake Otway’s heartily, and we will meet again in a less politically charged environment soon to discuss the events of the day, as well as, hopefully, theater and all its wonders. For the record, Otway said he was “pissed” over Atzmon’s recent scribbles on his website that attacked me, as he is a man of great integrity. We may agree to disagree. Yet that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.
Oh … did I tell you I was able to creep up behind Atzmon—twice—to give him the two-fingered “cooties” sign above his head? A number of onlookers chuckled. That sure as heck felt good, too.
So what can one take away from this complex, vociferous gathering? Well, we can safely reiterate the fact that Atzmon is a bigot and will pay to voice his silly opinions—presumably because he’s having a hard time finding anyone who will pay him for the same reason, owing to his propensity for disseminating hate speech. We also can continue to vouch for the transcendent nature of friendship, which breaks all boundaries and obstacles while fostering a bond between individuals … in this case, Otway and me. And we can take heart in the comfort of knowing that people will keep speaking out against anti-Semitism and what’s wrong and villainous in this world until their last breath, which makes those who spread hate, such as Atzmon, less important than they think they are. We truly can be pleased about that.
But I think the biggest takeaway is the point that freedom is for everyone, good and bad. In my country, it’s a given. That means people can protest other people who are just as free to speak narrow-minded nonsense. Likewise, those people can utter their words on a stage in a bustling neighborhood. Everybody is free. Everybody can talk.
That some talk right and others talk wrong is par for the course. It is, however, my nation. It is, overall, my country.
And I’m happy to say that nobody—not Atzmon, the authorities, not President Trump himself—can take that away.