Simon Hardy Butler
Simon Hardy Butler

Theater for the Absurd

Want to see ludicrous anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon engage in dialogue with a few other fellas on “identity politics” in New York City?

No? Well, you’re not alone. I doubt very much that his few deranged supporters have the stomach or inclination to do so, either … given their scarcity at the last performance of Atzmon’s I attended in this wonderful town.

Still, there is the opportunity to jump right in if you wish to head on over to Theatre 80 St. Mark’s on April 30. And this little gathering ain’t gonna be cancelled—despite the fact that Atzmon has associated with known Holocaust deniers, has been banned multiple times from posting by Facebook for hate speech and has even advocated violence against Jews.

Theatre 80’s owner, Lorcan Otway, is a very reasonable man with an admirable perspective on freedom of speech. He and I communicated recently over instant messaging about our feelings on the matter; Otway—whose heritage includes a mixture of Jewish and Romani bloodlines, both targets of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust—expressed to me that he in no way supports Atzmon’s disturbing viewpoints and has in fact condemned them in the past. He did, however, cite as an example of the need to uphold free speech his father, who, as a writer, was blacklisted years ago by those who sought to stamp out his opinions. And in this light, he is allowing Atzmon to have his say.

I do have a question, though, that warrants further scrutiny: Does this adherence to freedom of speech include the right to accept Atzmon’s money?

Otway has indicated in public comments on Facebook that Atzmon paid for the use of the theater. Yet he could have rejected the idea of doing so, given the toxicity of Atzmon’s bigoted public rants in the past. A small businessman has the right to take payment from customers. Still, doesn’t he also have the right not to accept payment if the prospective customers engage in hate speech?

The problem is, by taking Atzmon as a customer, the theater is sending a perhaps-inadvertent message that what he says is worth talking about … and it’s really not. There’s no merit to the nonsense Atzmon spews; it’s just prejudice under the veneer of pseudo-intellectual navel-gazing. Because Atzmon paints with a brush that’s broader than the comedy in any Three Stooges short—he condemns Jewish values and various ideas expressed in Judaism, as well as myriad invented perceptions that he has culled from the vast wasteland of his soul. He insults an entire population. He verbally attacks people who belong to a particular culture. Just because of their culture.

That’s not cool.

I know Otway doesn’t intend to promote or disseminate this kind of idiocy, and I understand if there are legal obligations that preclude him from returning Atzmon’s money and saying he wants no part of this event. But I do think that in the ideal world, Atzmon shouldn’t have the chance to vomit his harangues in the future at this venue, and Otway, no matter what his beliefs about freedom of speech are, should take a stance against this. Giving a maniac a forum for any kind of bias is lamentable. It may be freedom of speech, but when you’re the owner of a theater, there’s also freedom of choice.

Ultimately, the onus is on us all to make the right one.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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