Chavez’s problem with the Jews

“[I]s it possible to criticize the most egregious failings of a so-called socialist regime without turning into patsies of corporate and imperial interests?”

Claudio Lomnitz and Rafael Sánchez ask the question half in jest, of course. Defenders of Hugo Chavez should learn to accept the fact that he’s anti-semitic and emphasize that his pros outweigh this one serious con, as fans of T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare and Ezra Pound have done. As Ron Rosenbaum pointed out while savaging Tom Paulin’s rhythmic whine about being labeled an anti-semite, the more some people complain about how unfair it is to be called an anti-semite, the more they talk about Jewish conspiracies:

Instead, he chose a different, slipperier path. He chose, in effect, to evade, virtually to erase his words-to make the actual words at issue disappear from the controversy. He chose instead to compound the sordidness of it all by painting himself as a victim of a Jewish conspiracy.

He doesn’t have the nerve, in the poem on the controversy, to actually repeat the words at the heart of it. Instead, he gives us the Victim Defense: poor little Tom Paulin, utterly mystified at being “dealt the anti-Semitic card.” A mystification that the uninitiated reader may feel as well, since Mr. Paulin’s poetic Muse fails to prompt him to utter the words “They should be shot dead” in this poem. Instead, he somehow vaguely indicates that he has been dealt the deadly “anti-semitic card” by a shadowy Jewish conspiracy because he is in favor of “fairness” to the Palestinian people. Those unjust Jews and their cards! Just for “fairness!”

It’s a shame that the “poem”-basically 130-plus broken-backed lines of mediocre prose aligned to make it a simulacrum of poetry-can’t be reproduced whole. Because forget the anti-Semitic card: The people who deal out the “lousy poet card,” or indeed the “bad faith card” should be whipping them out now.

The thinness of the poem’s self-pitying mediocrity is remarkable, as is the pathetic “victim defense” it offers. Just to outline it briefly: Mr. Paulin begins by stringing together some pious regrets about the Holocaust and all those centuries of Jewish persecution, from the Crusades to Dreyfuss. Then there’s some maundering about French racism toward Arab immigrants, which is apparently just as bad because Le Pen won more than 15 percent of the vote in the recent election. Or as Mr. Paulin puts it, with the lyrical gift that denotes your true modern poet:

as we count the sinister 15+ percent

of Le Pen French

-but they hate black people Arabs

and constantly attack them

the Battle of Algiers they’re still fighting …

Note to aspiring poets: observe with awe the word order in that last line. Your ordinary bloke might say “They’re still fighting the Battle of Algiers” and still get the film reference in. But your inspired, prize-winning, state-subsidized poet like Tom Paulin will twist it into your true poetic eloquence by saying, “The Battle of Algiers they’re still fighting.”

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