Amiri Baraka hearts Israel

Or maybe not. So last night I got in a public verbal scuffle with playwright/poet Amiri Baraka, who was speaking after his show The Dutchman at Cherry Lane Theater. Baraka, questioned by another audience member about his controversial 2001 poem once again repeated the fabrication that he "read" that 4,000 Israelis were told to "not go to work that day" -- he said that he read it in Ha'aretz and he could not understand why the Jewish people would not let him cite something that he read in an Israeli newspaper (online, so he says) and he said that "now that they are criticizing Carter maybe they'll leave me alone."

I told him that as a rabbi who assisted families in the days after 9/11, and met with many Jewish families at Chelsea Piers and the Armory during that week, that his poem was particularly hurtful. I told him that there was not a single Israeli or Jew that was told not to go to work. I also said that in a free scoiety that there is a place for being critical of Israel, but that his poem simply poured salt into open wounds and did more harm than good. It certainly failed to convince most people that the appropriate response to 9/11 was a critique of empire.

He responded that he had spoken with Foxman and "Nixon's Jewish lawyer" and that he had to prove that he was not an anti-semite and that it was all ridiculous because he was once married to a Jewish woman and his children are Jewish and he had Jewish friends....etc, etc. (He failed to mention that he abandoned his Jewish wife and kids around the same time the Dutchman was produced in 1963)

More importantly, what he did not do was admit that he might have been mistaken. Instead he choose to perpetrate his harmful conspiracy theory. I figure that at this point protecting his fabrication is a matter of pride.

So what did he "read"?

After 9/11 Hezbollah's Al-Manar television did run a report that was on the web which contained a twisted report based on the Israeli ministry's estimated number of Israelis who work in New York City. Rather than claim that 40,000 Israelis work in NYC, Al-Manar reported that 40,000 Israelis did not go to work.

My theory? Baraka got confused....Hezbollah- Ha'aratez...click...click...and a minute later he decides that Israel knew that it was going to happen and might even have been behind it.

The play, by the way, was well done. Baraka was once a great writer and he certainly absorbed Allen Ginsberg's style and transformed it in his own brilliant way.

But forty three years later he is simply a stubborn man with a myopic political vision whose dream of a Black Arts movement has become a faint footnote in history.