A Lost, Prophetic Austrian Film from 1924 that Parodies Anti-Semitism

June 12 2018

Released in 1924, the silent film A City without Jews, based on a book of the same title, imagines the expulsion of Jews from Vienna under a radical anti-Semitic government, and was intended to be a satire of the contemporary mood in Austria. While the movie’s existence has long been known to historians, only in 2016 was a complete reel discovered. Renee Ghert-Zand writes:

A Jewish man is beaten up on the street. Jewish husbands are separated from their non-Jewish wives and children and deported on trains. A Jewish community, led by rabbis carrying Torah scrolls, marches down a dark road as it is banished from town. . . .

Although [the original] book has characters clearly based on political figures of the day, the film is a bit looser in its characterizations. Yet, it is clear in the film that the Christian Socialists, [a real and influential anti-Semitic party] have come to power led by the fictional Chancellor Dr. Schwerdtfeger, a fanatical anti-Semite. Convinced that the Jews are ruining the republic, he has the National Assembly pass a law forcing all Jews to emigrate by the end of the year. The Jews—religious and assimilated alike—leave, taking with them whatever belongings they can carry with them.

Soon, everything starts to fall apart. Commerce slows down, the cosmopolitan cafés revert to seedy taverns, and the national currency goes into free fall. Realizing the terrible mistake that has been done, the National Assembly decides to pass a law welcoming the Jews back. . . .

The fate of [the book’s] author, Hugo Bettauer, is one reason why the book and film have not been forgotten. A Jew who converted to . . . Christianity, [Bettauer] was lethally shot by a Nazi named Otto Rothstock. He died on March 26, 1925 at age fifty-two. . . . The film’s director, [however], went on to join the Nazi party.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Austria, Austrian Jewry, Film, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Vienna

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times