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

June 26 2017

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.

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Read more at Commentary

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

Saudi Diplomacy Won’t Bring Peace to Yemen

March 29 2023

Last Sunday marked the eighth anniversary of a Saudi-led alliance’s intervention in the Yemeni civil war, intended to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi militia that had overthrown the previous government. In the wake of the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran, diplomats are hoping that the talks between the Saudis and the Houthis—which have been ongoing since last summer—will finally succeed in ending the war. To Nadwa Al-Dawsari, such an outcome seems highly unlikely:

The Houthis’ military gains have allowed them to dictate the path of international diplomacy in Yemen. They know Saudi Arabia is desperate to extricate itself and the international community wants the Yemen problem to go away. They do not recognize and refuse to negotiate with the [Riyadh-supported] Presidential Leadership Council or other Yemeni factions that they cast as “Saudi mercenaries.”

Indeed, even as the Houthis were making progress in talks with the Saudis, the rebel group continued to expand its recruitment, mobilization, and stockpiling of arms during last year’s truce as Iran significantly increased its weapons shipments. The group also carried out a series of attacks. . . . On March 23, the Houthis conducted a military drill close to the Saudi border to remind the Saudis of “the cost of no agreement and further concessions.”

The Houthis are still part and parcel of Iran’s so-called “axis of resistance.” With the Houthis gaining international political recognition, . . . Iran will have a greater chance to expand its influence in Yemen with the blessing of Western powers. The international community is eager for a “success story” in Yemen, even if that means a sham political settlement that will likely see the civil war continue. A deal with the Houthis is Saudi Arabia’s desperate plea to wash its hands of Yemen, but in the long term it could very well position Iran to threaten regional and international security. More importantly, it might set Yemen on a course of protracted conflict that will create vast ungoverned spaces.

Meanwhile, tensions in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and its ostensible ally, the United Arab Emirates, are rising, while the Houthis are developing the capability to launch missiles at Israel or to block a crucial Middle Eastern maritime chokepoint in the Red Sea.

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Read more at Middle East Institute

More about: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen