Book Review: “The Finkler Question” By Howard Jacobson.
Can Racism Be Funny?
By Dr Gideon Polya
09 June, 2012
A delightful literary genre is represented by British university-based novels like Kingsley Amis' “Lucky Jim” and David Lodge's hilarious romps of the so-called "Campus Trilogy" of “Changing Places”, “Small World”, and “Nice Work”. Howard Jacobson's “Coming from Behind” was a very funny addition to this genre. However Howard Jacobson's Booker Prize-winning novel “The Finkler Question” starts out very funny but then the laughter quickly subsides – I do not believe one should make jokes about. anti-Jewish anti-Semitism, anti-Arab anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, the Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million killed, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation), the WW2 European Holocaust (30 million Slavs Jews and Gypsies killed), the ongoing Zionist-backed US Alliance War on Muslims (12 million Muslim killed through violence or war-imposed deprivation since 1990, 20 million Muslim refugees) and the ongoing Palestinian Genocide (2 million dead since 1936, 0.1 million from violence, 1.9 million from war-, occupation- and expulsion-imposed deprivation and 7 million refugees) (for the Awful Truth see “Muslim Holocaust, Muslim Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/ ).
Indeed “The Finkler Question” makes a joke from beginning to end at the expense of anti-racist Jews and hence implicitly of anti-racists in general who are moved to speak out against the appalling human rights abuses and genocidal crimes of racist Zionist-run Apartheid Israel . For alphabetically-organized compendia of the opinions of outstanding anti-racist Jews and anti-racist non-Jews critical of Apartheid Israel see “Jews Against Racist Zionism”: https://sites.google.com/site/jewsagainstracistzionism/ ; and “Non-Jews Against Racist Zionism”: https://sites.google.com/site/nonjewsagainstracistzionism/ .
There is a quasi-rule of political correctness that by and large only Irish can make jokes at the expense of the Irish (Irishman Dave Allen being a great exponent of this genre) and that only Jews can make jokes at the expense of Jews (brilliant in this regard being a wealth of Jewish comedians such as Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce and works by some great Yiddish writers e.g. Nobel Laureate Jewish American writer Isaac Bashevis Singer's “The Séance and Other Stories” and Sholem Aleichem's “The Adventures of Menachem Mendl”). However that is fine when such licensed Jewish satirists are making fun of stupid, ignorant, dishonest, drunken, adulterous, love-sick or self-righteous Jews, but distinctly unfunny when the targets are anti-racist Jews who have the intellectual honesty and courage to overcome blind tribal loyalty and stand up for the egregiously violated human rights of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
This humor at the expense of anti-racist Jews in “The Finkler Question” becomes even less funny when one considers the new anti-Jewish and anti-Arab anti-Semitism that has been entrenched by racist Zionists and their neocon confrères in the Western Murdochracies and Lobbyocracies. This new disease is exposed in the following letter I recently sent to Australian MPs and media:
“ Dear etc,
Anti-Semitism is injury to Semites for being ethnically or culturally Semitic per se and occurs in 2 equally repugnant forms, anti-Jewish anti-Semitism against 15 million largely culturally Semitic Jews and anti-Arab anti-Semitism against 300 million ethnically and culturally Semitic Arabs and 1,500 million mostly culturally Semitic Muslims.
Anti-Semitism currently involves (1) sidelining, (2) censorship, (3) collective and individual defamation (e.g. false identification of all Jews with horrendous Apartheid Israeli crimes) and (4) physical harm ranging from imposed distress to violence. Australians are notorious for saying “We are not racists but” and exhibit politically correct racism (PC racism) as exampled by Australia 's new anti-Semitism.
Thus victims of Australia 's new PC anti-Semitism include Australian and other Arabs and Muslims and anti-racist Jews critical of Islamophobia, the Muslim Genocide (12 million dead from violence or war-imposed deprivation since 1990) and the Palestinian Genocide (2 million dead from violence or deprivation since 1936).
Only about a dozen of my relatives survived the Jewish Holocaust and I am therefore obliged to bear witness to “never again to anyone”, yet I am variously subject to banning, censorship, defamation and consequent distress by the taxpayer-funded ABC [like the UK BBC] and the taxpayer-funded, universities-backed, and academic-based web magazine The Conversation.*
Dr Gideon Polya (contact details).
For details see “Censorship by the ABC”: https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbytheabc/home and “Censorship by The Conversation”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by . ”
Now to the details of the novel. Fifty-ish non-Jew Londoner Julian Treslove is a former employee of the BBC and is occasionally employed as a lookalike of famous actors. He has had numerous temporary love affairs and has two sons Alfredo and Adolpho. He occasionally dines with 2 Jewish friends, his former schoolmate, anti-Zionist Sam Finkler, and elderly pro-Zionist Libor Sevcik, of whom both have been recently widowed. Sam Finkler is a philosopher, author and media personality who has three university-age children Jerome, Blaise and Immanuel by his late non-Jewish wife Tyler. Sam has affairs as does Tyler , most latterly with Treslove. Finkler is a leading light of ASHamed, an organization of anti-racist Jews who are ashamed over racist Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. Libor Sevcik is an elderly show business journalist and author whose concert pianist wife Malkie, the love of his life, gave up her career to marry him and has recently died. Pro-Zionist Libor refers to Finkler's anti-Zionist Jewish friends as “Nazis” and “anti-Semites”.
Treslove is going home from a dinner with Libor and Finkler when he is mugged and robbed by a woman. He offers no resistance and is left with the distinct impression that she has referred to him as “You Jew”. After a one-night stand with an arsonist lover (he awakes to find the bed alight) Treslove attired as Darcy attends a Jane Austen–theme party for a buxom, real American Jane Austen who successively mis-places him as Brad Pitt and thence as the Jewish American actors Dustin Hoffman and Billy Chrystal. He is much taken with this, his second identification as a Jew (or in his parlance a “Finkler”). Treslove “a man who ordinarily woke to a sense of loss” speculates that he actually is a “Finkler”. Treslove moves in with Jewish beauty Hephzibah Weizenbaum (Hep, Juno) after meeting her at a Passover Seder at Libor's place and proceeds to advance his new-found obsession with Jewishness. Hep, who has 2 ex-husbands, lawyer Abe and actor Ben, works at the Museum of Anglo-Jewish Culture which is attacked with bacon.
A central part of the novel is about Zionists versus the various anti-Zionists of ASHamed. Finkler's anti-Zionist son Immanuel has his arm broken in a scuffle with Zionists outside the Oxford Union which had debated “This house believes that Israel has forfeited its right to exist”. Immanuel has knocked the hat off a pro-Zionist Orthodox Jew (the irony unnoticed by the author and his characters being that Orthodox Judaism rejects political Zionism as heresy and blasphemy). Finkler accuses his son of “racist assault” and of being an “an anti-Semite” to which Immanuel replies “How can I be an anti-Semite? I'm a Jew”. Alvin Poliakov , a founder member of ASHamed is trying to restore a foreskin to his circumcised penis and “The [blog] dedication above Alvin Poliakov's penis from which weights of assorted sizes and materials hang, reads: “ To the mutilated of Shatila, Nebateyah, Sabra, Gaza . Your struggle is my struggle .”
This appalling sex-linked trivialization of appalling Israeli massacres recurs when Finkler and an anti-Zionist associate Tamara Krausz defeat 2 pro-Zionist Jews at a public debate. Tamara Krausz says (correctly) that “the Zionist ideal was criminal from its inception… Then, as Finkler sitting next to her noticed, her body began to heat up. Her lips grew swollen as though from a demon lover's kisses. There is a kind of eroticism in violence , she told the enthralled assembly”. The pro-Zionist argument is presented thus by the author: “Finkler sighed as they went through the routines that had been tired when he first heard them from his father thirty or more years before – how tiny Israel was, how long-standing were Jewish claims to the land, how few of the Palestinians were truly indigenous, how Israel had offered the world but every effort at peacemaking had been rebuffed by the Arabs, how much more necessary than ever a secure Israel was in a world in which anti-Semitism was on the increase …”. A Gentile woman asks the panel from the floor “What other country defines itself and those it permits to enter it on racial grounds? Is the reason you are uniquely singled out for censure, that you are uniquely racist?” Finkler responds brutally: “How dare you! How dare you , a non-Jew … how dare you even think you can tell Jews what sort of country they may live in, when it is you, a European gentile who made a separate country for Jews a necessity?” The audience is displeased with Finkler and Tamara whispers to him “Hysterical”. Finkler , who has been fantasizing about Tamara, replies “ You wouldn't care to lie in my arms and scream that. Would you?”
The story proceeds with details of Tyler Finkel's seduction of Treslove while they watch Finkler's philosophical documentary programs on TV, Tyler 's death, Treslove's concern to Libor that Finkler and Hep might be having sex, and Libor's assertion that Treslove is an anti-Semite: “You're not alone. We're all anti-Semites. We have no choice. You. Me. Everyone.” Treslove goes with Hep and Finkler to see an anti-Zionist play called “Sons of Abraham” that closes with images of Auschwitz superimposed over the rubble of Gaza . They meet Hep's ex Abe who explains that the marine biologist author of the play has been sacked by his university employer for saying that Auschwitz was a holiday camp. Abe starts pestering Hep who becomes paranoid about Museum security. Alfredo discovered his “Uncle Sam” at a Park Lane bar notorious for picking up high class sex workers and reports this to Treslove. Alfredo on route by train to Eastbourne encounters Libor who he doesn't know and who is on his way to Beachy Head (“Bitchy “Ead”) where he will commit suicide. Treslove learns of the encounter from Alfredo's mother who has seen the TV news.
Treslove was upset and deeply depressed over Libor's death. “The disgrace was universal. Just to be a human animal was to be a disgrace. Life was a disgrace, an absurd disgrace, to be exceeded in disgracefulness only by death”. Hep perceives his depression “All she could do was hope that the world would, on a whim, change its tune, that the ugly talk would somehow stop of its own accord, that a gust of fresh wind would blow clean away the deadly miasmas poisoning the Jews and their endeavours”. Treslove is late for the Museum opening, is excluded because he has forgotten his invitation and is knocked down by a car and ends up with minor injuries in hospital. Finkler does the funeral Kaddish for child-less Libor and mourns “Tyler whom he failed as a husband, Libor whom he failed as a friend… It's from Hephzibah, with whom he is in frequent contact, that Samuel Finkler takes his cue. Her sense of incompletion, of a thing not finished that might never have begun, becomes his sense. He never really knew Treslove either. And that too strikes him as a lamentation. There are no limits to Finkler's mourning.”
“The Finkler Question” in a sense is faction (fiction based on fact) but the faction is incomplete – cultural questions about what constitutes a Jew and moral arguments about Apartheid and genocide in Palestine have been glibly subsumed to outrageous and unjust humour. Faction distorts reality and often serves an agenda. Thus the novel “The Street Sweeper “ by Jewish Australian Elliot Perlman is also faction with an unacceptable, “aren't we nice”, Zionist bias that ignores relevant Elephant in the Room realities, dealing with atrocities against African Americans in the struggle for civil rights but ignoring the horrendous realities of life for African Americans today in neocon American- and Zionist-beholden America and graphically describing aspects of the Jewish Holocaust while ignoring the horrors of the ongoing Palestinian Genocide (2 million deaths, 7 million refugees, 90% of Palestine ethnically cleansed, 6 million Palestinians forbidden to even live in Palestine) and of the Zionist-backed Muslim Holocaust and Muslim Genocide (12 million violence- and deprivation-related deaths since 1990, about 20 million Muslim refugees) (see “Book Review: “The Street Sweeper” by Elliot Perlman raises issues of faction versus fiction”, Countercurrents, 12 May 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya120512.htm ). “The Finkler Question” plays for laughs and the shock of numerous assertions which if made in full seriousness by a non-Jew rather than by characters in a Jewish-authored novel would elicit outrage.
What Howard Jacobsen actually thinks himself is probably the opinion of non-Jew Tyler Finkler who has an unsatisfactory, wishy-washy, bob-each-way attitude to the Israelis “They are now just ordinary bastards, half right, half wrong, like the rest of us” (p274, Chapter 11) . In an Australian ABC TV Q&A celebrity program Howard Jacobsen came up against pro-human rights Jewish American author Carol Dines with the following exchange about another equivocal Obama “peace' speech: GAIL DINES: And I'm [an] ashamed Jew. HOWARD JACOBSON: And you will never get - well, you should be ashamed of being an ashamed Jew. GAIL DINES: No, I'm not. HOWARD JACOBSON: And you will never get - and you will never get peace unless the Arab countries understand the equivalent centre of self of an Israeli.(see Transcript, Q&A, Sydney Writers' Festival, 23 May 2011: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3218450.htm ).
The answers to questions about what constitutes a Jewish person can have a common denominator in family history. Thus I am an anti-racist (and accordingly necessarily anti-Zionist), agnostic, Australian Humanist but am deeply conscious of the Jewish part of my heritage and the loss of most of my wider Jewish relatives in the Jewish Holocaust. Professor Shlomo Sand in his book “The Invention of the Jewish People” makes the damning points that there is no evidence for the Exodus from Egypt , for the 1st century AD mass Exile of Jews from Palestine or for a huge David and Solomon Jewish Empire. Professor Sand further points out that the ethnic descendants of the Palestinian Jews from the time of Christ are actually today's Palestinians, and that the Jewish Israelis who are effecting a genocidal Palestinian Exile today are mostly the descendants of Yemeni, Berber and Khazar converts to a universalist Jewish religion in the first millennium AD. Just as Henry VIII and his state apparatus took over the English Church in the 16th century, so the oil- and geostrategy-obsessed CIA and MI6 took over much of Jewry via the Zionist enterprise in the 20th century.
The answer as to the immorality and obscenity of racism, racist Zionism, Apartheid, Apartheid Israel and the Palestinian Genocide is given very simply by outstanding Jewish American scholar Professor Jared Diamond who in his best-selling book "Collapse” (Prologue, p10, Penguin edition) enunciated the "moral principle, namely that it is morally wrong for one people to dispossess, subjugate, or exterminate another people" – an injunction grossly violated by racist Zionist-run Apartheid Israel and its racist, genocide-committing and genocide-ignoring US Alliance backers. Can exclusivity, racism , and genocide be funny? I think not.
Dr Gideon Polya has been teaching science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1445960.htm ) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/4047-the-plight-of-the-palestinians.html ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others: http://www.open2.net/thingsweforgot/ bengalfamine_programme.html ). When words fail one can say it in pictures - for images of Gideon Polya's huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/ .
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