Dear Coen Brothers, It’s Nothing Personal (It’s all Political)

Ethan and Joel Coen recieve the $1M Dan David Prize on May 15th 2011 at Tel Aviv University. ~ Photo by REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Ethan and Joel Coen recieve the $1M Dan David Prize on May 15th 2011 at Tel Aviv University. ~ Photo by REUTERS/Amir Cohen

On May 15th, while thousands of people were getting shot and gassed in the streets, the Coen Brothers (and many others) took a million dollars from Tel Aviv University, in the form of the Dan David Prize. I’m sure someone would have cared to protest, had  over 15 people not been killed and hundreds injured, during the Nakba Day commemoration demonstrations, that same day.

Update (17.5.11): 21 dead, and over 200 injured.

It’s Hard to Determine Mistakes While Wearing a Tuxedo

The Coen Brothers did their best to be just innocent, civilized, spectators in tuxes, far removed from the violence of the street:

People respond to real problems from the heart, and they think that’s the right thing to do. We don’t agree with that opinion, that that’s how to deal with these problems.

Obviously they weren’t denying the reality. They see “real problems.” I don’t want to get repetitive, so I’ll just point you in the direction of one of my latest articles, so you can find out for yourselves why Nike executives would think it reasonable to exploit little Asian children, and why the Coen Brothers think it reasonable to deal with “real problems” by helping Israel whitewash its war-crimes and normalize its image for $500,000 a man.

Like Macy Gray, or any other performer that comes to Israel, the outrage that follows their disregard for the movement’s pleas isn’t personal, it’s political. Most infuriating are probably not the lost causes, like Deep Purple, or Kiss, more so the people who acknowledge there are “real problems,” like the aforementioned Gray and Coen Brothers, that don’t deem the real solutions that are lead by the oppressed- themselves- as something to be respected. Especially when real solutions are given to them on a silver platter. Sure, we can’t offer any of them a million dollars, but dignity has its worth, I’m sure of it. Otherwise, why would millions of Palestinians be struggling for it world-wide?

The Coen Brothers as a BDS Case-Study

Once again, we are seeing the same ole’ rationalizations for doing something that has finally become politically controversial. The Coen Brothers just don’t think that BDS is the way to deal with our “real problem” of occupation and apartheid. Reasonable enough. But one might ask why they think crossing a picket line is the way to go? Had they quietly declined the Israeli institution’s invitation, like Marc Almond [“News” 12 May 2011] (not that that’s my cup of tea), they would have at least not crossed the picket line and profiteered off the bodies that lay at its front lines.

I don’t say the last sentence for shock value, nor do I speak it to shame Joel and Ethan Coen. I say it because words are cheap, while cold hard cash is just like the bodies literally amassing because of our “real problems”– cold and hard. It was just your luck that while you were tuxed up and shaking hands with the godfather of Israel’s 75-400 nuclear war head project (a.k.a “President Shimon Peres”), that the Israeli occupation took the lives of more than 15 real live souls, with a mother and sister, a wife and babies.

How many times can we lay the information out there for people to make the connections?  [1,2,3] Why is it continually the victim’s job to point out that that’s their blood dripping off of your dollar bills? You’d think that the extraordinarily privileged celebrity can choose not to get payed by an oppressive military regime, for the privilege of nailing yet another plaque to their wall, or placing yet another trophy on their mantle-shelf. Or if they had made that terrible mistake, because their bow-ties were on too tight, that they’d wake up the morning after to the devastating news of military occupation and, in the very least, give back that cash. (And I don’t mean whitewash it through the detergent of human rights organizations.)

A personal Message to Ethan and Joel Coen

All of the above was political, but had I had the chance to personally speak with Joel and Ethan Coen, this is probably what I would say:

There are so many people telling you this is wrong. Whole groups and unions from all around the world are sending you letters- publicly and privately- trying to get your attention on this one, single issue! I’m sure, even though your celebrity status, this doesn’t happen everyday. There might just be a slight chance that the issue deserves your attention?

The Coen Brothers- A Jewish Privilege Case Study

All of the above is applicable to any celebrity, or academic coming to Israel on official business. However one can’t ignore the privilege that comes with being a Coen, in our parts. It’s infuriating enough that the Coen Brothers disregard the oppressed people’s solutions to their own very “real problems”, but it’s down right repulsive when you analyze the Coen Brothers’ considerable privilege:

Had they chose to apply, the brothers of the house of Coen would immediately receive a citizenship to the State of Israel with significant benefits. And had they wanted, they would be backed by an army, just so they can live on someone’s militarily occupied land (just like our Foreign Affairs Minister, for example).

This is an undeniable privilege which every Jew is now afforded by the State of Israel, whether they want it or not. Not owning this privilege- like that which comes with being born white, or Ashkenazi, or American, or to a rich family- is what perpetuates the way our world works. It perpetuates the situation in which Palestinians are shot for protesting the theft of their land and homes, and their constant countless arrests, tortures, injuries and deaths. Left unaccounted for and anonymous, having to plead with rich foreign Jews- who can easily take some of that land and life- to take pity on them, while said foreign Jews, with one sentence and one blink of an eye can tell them “I don’t think that’s the way to deal with your problems.”

Privilege is that which allows us to tread upon the lives of others without considering that we are somehow afforded the power to do so. This “somehow” isn’t a “magical balance” which “naturally” makes white folks better than black folks, or Jewish folks better than Muslim folks. It’s a system with a long history. A system of institutions which teach devastation and grant this devastation with accolades and honor, while burying its victims in an unmarked grave. It may not be the easy choice to walk along with those who mourn and try to mark the graves, but it sure as hell is more honorable. Honor has its worth, I’m sure of it. Otherwise, why would millions of Palestinians be struggling for it world-wide?

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