Sean Matgamna's second reply on "Perdition"

Submitted by martin on 10 May, 2012 - 11:29

As always, Tony Greenstein doesn't debate the issue in dispute. He worries around the edges of it, quibbling over secondary details and evading the questions he is supposed to be dealing with.

The "Perdition" Affair

The chunks of Perdition I quoted were not from 'early drafts' (where would I have got them?) The version just published in book form was the fourth. The one I quoted from was the second. This was the one scheduled for production at the Royal Court Theatre, and it got some circulation, initially when the Royal Court sent out copies to theatre critics.

The third draft was, I understand, a modified version of the second after Allen made cuts under pressure of his critics. In the fourth, printed, version there are massive changes. Most of what I quoted from the second. or Royal Court, version, has been cut.

Ah! says Greenstein. In the middle of a raging public controversy you quote the available text, the one due for production, but that is impermissible and scandalous because six months later the author will publish an expurgated edition.

Allen massively changes his arguments under pressure, in such a way that he concedes a great deal of the political and historical criticism of his opponents and all their moral case. Yet he maintains his thesis. I would say that that is a scandal.

Allen and Brenner both have a picture of Zionism as some outside force, allying with anti-Semites and Nazis, hi-jacking the Jews. At the same time Allen sometimes conflates secular Zionism and the Jewish religious communities. I thought that was important because it leads Allen, whose explicit hatred is directed at the devil-ex-machina Zionists, to claw into his target range vast layers of the Jewish communities who were not Zionists.

Perdition does not "look at the Holocaust from an explicitly anti-Zionist perspective". It uses the Holocaust as raw material for a scapegoating historical forgery whose target is the existing stale of Israel.

In the guise of an independent exposure of the alleged role of 'the Zionists' in helping the Nazis kill Jews, it presents a Zionophobic message whose current political implication is to provide justification for those like Allen and Brenner — who would destroy the Jewish state. It is not history. It is not criticism and polemic of a political trend from the point of view of international socialism. It is part of an Arab-chauvinist propaganda drive to deny the rights of the Israeli Jews by branding the founders of Israel with some responsibility for the Holocaust.

Zionophobia on that level is comprehensively hostile to most Jews, whatever Allen's feelings about Jews. Initially I wrote that I had no doubt that Allen was not anti-semitic personally. Analysing the passages I quoted in WL 7, I no longer felt sure about that. If the passages l quoted and commented on don't explain why to the non-Greensteinian reader, then repeating them here will not help. and is anyway impossible.

In his own way Greenstein repeats all the nonsense. Only "a few" Zionists wanted genocide, he says, moderately. Which Zionists, Greenstein?

Zionists didn't resist the Nazis? One of the changes in Allen's fourth version is the admission that some Zionists did organise resistance and fight back.

The Zionist movement wasn't responsible for the Judenrate. But it is not a matter of 'defending' either Kastner or the Judenrate. Naturally socialists would be on the other side of the divide from these 'prominents' and bourgeois. The socialists in the ghettoes, including socialist Zionists, were on the other side.

But we have a duty to understand, a responsibility to refrain from glib and facile denunciations of people living in conditions and within choices that we have to strain our imagination even to begin to comprehend.

You can't equate Israel with 'imperialism'. The existence of the Jewish nation is a fact separable from any links it has with US imperialism.

Finally, on the new version of Perdition. It is a much better play for the pruning and the additions. Its poisonous theme is the same, but now it is hidden.

The basic dramatic weakness — that the case against the author's 'anti-Zionist' thesis was not really put — has now been resolved by Allen abandoning even the pretence that he is mounting a serious debate on the issues. Now the trial is just a charade. The defendant and his accuser are in collusion. Old Yaron wants to confess and have himself judged and scourged in public. His accuser, Ruth, is being helpful.

Thus Allen turns the play into a silly melodrama. Worse than that, though. In the play Yaron is guilty, and he knows it, of helping kill hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews. Could someone admit that guilt and stay alive (helped by a little public scourging)? Could a play deal with such a subject and avoid all the dramatic demands for catharsis or expiation? Allen's does!

Even in melodramas the villain usually comes to a bad end. In Perdition mark 4 Yaron, the organiser of mass murder, and Ruth, his accuser, comfort each other. He forgives himself, she forgives him. The last cosy scene — after the issues raised in the play, and after Yaron has been branded a mass murderer — is schmaltzy enough to make you retch.

With the new ending Allen brands himself as not taking his own case seriously.

It is not just bad non-drama. It is also a give-away. For Yaron in the play is just a stalking horse for Zionism. The anger of the author is not really focused on historical figures like Kastner-Yaron but on Israel now. Otherwise the camp schmaltz-fest at the end would not be psychologically possible.

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