Making Sense of Mel Brooks and His Very Jewish Antics

Reviewing Patrick McGilligan’s recent biography of Mel Brooks, the man who perhaps did more than anyone to bring a distinctively Jewish edge to the mainstream of American comedy, Jesse Tisch writes:

With [another Jewish comedian], Carl Reiner, whom he had met when they both worked on Your Show of Shows, [Brooks] created the Two-Thousand-Year-Old Man, a kvetchy, old Jew based on Brooks’s real-life uncle. In 1968, he filmed The Producers, conscripting Zero Mostel for the [part of the producer and fraudster] Max Bialystock. At first, Mostel was appalled: how could he, a Jewish actor, play a scheming, vulturous Jew—an anti-Semitic stereotype? Eventually, though, he yielded to Brooks’s importunate charm. “Mel has great craziness,” he later said, “which is the greatest praise I can have for anybody.”

An enemy of solemnness, of piety and cant, of repression and restraint, he was built for overflow. Just as surely, Brooks has a counterphobic streak, veering toward danger, accident, and death. Consider the Two-Thousand-Year-Old Man, whose antic chatter about lion attacks and fried food (equally lethal, he implies) seems like an amulet against anxiety. Long before Jerry Seinfeld, it brought a distinctively Jewish voice to mainstream America. At first, Brooks worried it was too Jewish—how would it play in Peoria? Pretty well, actually: the album sold a million copies. To Gentile ears, it didn’t sound Jewish or ethnic. It merely sounded funny.

By that point, he had become “Mel Brooks,” having abandoned Melvin Kaminsky [his birth name] somewhere along the Palisades Parkway en route to the Catskills. This act of self-creation was also, of course, an act of distancing, a farewell to Jewish Brooklyn. It was, per McGilligan, a brief, ambivalent farewell; Brooks, in classic Jewish fashion, gradually returned home to his ethnic roots. After the 1950s, Brooks never assimilated or concealed his Jewishness. He was proudly, emphatically Jewish. America assimilated him.

Playing the loud, disruptive Jew seemed a compulsion for Brooks, an act of defiance. “I am a Jew. What about it?” Brooks once said on 60 Minutes. “What’s so wrong? What’s the matter with being a Jew? I think there’s a lot of that way deep down beneath all the quick Jewish jokes I do.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Comedy, Jewish humor, Mel Brooks

Hamas Has Its Own Day-After Plan

While Hamas’s leaders continue to reject the U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal, they have hardly been neglecting diplomacy. Ehud Yaari explains:

Over the past few weeks, Hamas leaders have been engaged in talks with other Palestinian factions and select Arab states to find a formula for postwar governance in the Gaza Strip. Held mainly in Qatar and Egypt, the negotiations have not matured into a clear plan so far, but some forms of cooperation are emerging on the ground in parts of the embattled enclave.

Hamas officials have informed their interlocutors that they are willing to support the formation of either a “technocratic government” or one composed of factions that agree to Palestinian “reconciliation.” They have also insisted that security issues not be part of this government’s authority. In other words, Hamas is happy to let others shoulder civil responsibilities while it focuses on rebuilding its armed networks behind the scenes.

Among the possibilities Hamas is investigating is integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA), the very body that many experts in Israel and in the U.S. believe should take over Gaza after the war ends. The PA president Mahmoud Abbas has so far resisted any such proposals, but some of his comrades in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are less certain:

On June 12, several ex-PLO and PA officials held an unprecedented meeting in Ramallah and signed an initiative calling for the inclusion of additional factions, meaning Hamas. The PA security services had blocked previous attempts to arrange such meetings in the West Bank. . . . Hamas has already convinced certain smaller PLO factions to get on board with its postwar model.

With generous help from Qatar, Hamas also started a campaign in March asking unaffiliated Palestinian activists from Arab countries and the diaspora to press for a collaborative Hamas role in postwar Gaza. Their main idea for promoting this plan is to convene a “Palestinian National Congress” with hundreds of delegates. Preparatory meetings have already been held in Britain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, and more are planned for the United States, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and France.

If the U.S. and other Western countries are serious about wishing to see Hamas defeated, and all the more so if they have any hopes for peace, they will have to convey to all involved that any association with the terrorist group will trigger ostracization and sanctions. That Hamas doesn’t already appear toxic to these various interlocutors is itself a sign of a serious failure.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian Authority