A Play about a Great Yiddish Play Mangles Its Source to Make Lesbianism Seem Scandalous Again

Written by Sholem Asch (1880–1952), one of the most prominent Yiddish writers of his day, the play God of Vengeance tells of a brothel keeper striving for respectability along with religious absolution for his life of sin. The current Broadway play Indecent tells the story of the Asch play, focusing on its production on the New York Yiddish stage, which was shut down for obscenity—specifically, a lesbian romance between the brothel keeper’s daughter and one of his employees. In her review, Ruth Wisse assails Indecent for misunderstanding both Asch’s work and its reception:

[A]s far as Indecent is concerned, God of Vengeance is a play about lesbians. Not only that, according to [its creators] Rebecca Taichman and Paula Vogel (both of whom are gay), lesbianism also defined the backstage drama of its performance history: they also depict the lesbian characters being played by lesbian actresses who live openly together as the play tours Europe and comes to America. The American censorship of the play was [supposedly] due to its depiction of lesbianism. And lest any gravestone be left unturned, Indecent takes us into a Polish ghetto in the final stages of Hitler’s Final Solution where starving and soon-to-be executed Jews perform the women’s love scene.

But this reduces God of Vengeance to a contemporary sexual-politics polemic when it is far more ambiguous and complicated than that. . . . Indecent has no real interest in either Asch’s play or the obscenity trial except to use them to provide fuel to make lesbianism once again seem daring and revolutionary.

Indecent purports to be part of the brave tradition of those who have stood up for their rights against social and political repression, but it actually demonstrates that those battles have been decisively won—else why would it have had to go to such lengths to dig up and distort the suppression of lesbianism in the past? This is theater by and for those who don’t yet know how to accept responsibilities for freedoms attained and who pretend instead that they are still part of the struggle to attain them.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Arts & Culture, Homosexuality, Sholem Asch, Yiddish, Yiddish theater

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood