“What Julius, and the horde of other Jewish literary scholars, are really asserting here is their antagonism towards anything but positive reflections of Jews in literature, which is not only arrogant and unreasonable, but also further indication of a pathological level of ethnocentrism. Their efforts have the dual function of staining the legacy of the English literary past, and shackling authors in the present, who would feel constrained to avoid having a negatively portrayed Jewish character in their works.”
Review: Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora, February 2013.
In February 2013 I wrote the above paragraph and, like many paragraphs I’ve written in the years since then, I find myself drawn back to it time and time again. The most recent prompting occurred a week ago, when news emerged from London’s Royal Court theater that an undoubtedly virulent form of anti-Semitism was once again abroad in the world of the arts. The controversy surrounds a new play by Al Smith, Rare Earth Mettle, which portrays the billionaire CEO of an electric car company who presents himself as a kind of messianic figure while covertly attempting to monopolize the planet’s natural resources. The problem with the character rests exclusively on his name: Hershel Fink. By selecting this name, which certainly screams “Jew,” and associating it with billionaires, monopoly, and international villainy, the play’s writer had broken the unspoken rule alluded to in the paragraph from my 2013 book review. Mr Smith had dared to “have a negatively portrayed Jewish character” in his work.
Although Hershel Fink is not portrayed in any other way as having a Jewish heritage, the name alone was enough to provoke a huge backlash. The interim director of London’s Jewish Museum protested that “This image is a stereotype as it shows a Jewish person in a malevolent way, so it’s a racist depiction of a Jewish person – rich, controlling, in power … These are deeply hurtful stereotypes that have existed for centuries and is something that is very hurtful to the Jewish community today.” Both Royal Court and Al Smith immediately pleaded ignorance, saying they didn’t realize the name was Jewish. The Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel took to Twitter to complain: “The Royal Court claims they didn’t realize ‘Hershel Fink’ was a Jewish name. Hmmm. Somehow it just sounded so right for a world-conquering billionaire.”
I can’t quite believe that the name’s Jewishness was completely missed by all concerned. My own opinion of the matter is that Smith was looking for an alien-sounding name that mimicked the syllables in “Elon Musk,” and that, while he was aware that the name had a Jewish quality, Smith was completely oblivious as to the seriousness of his infraction of unstated but powerful cultural rules — especially those concerning criticism of the Jews. I believe that “Hershel Fink” sounded right to Smith, for a number of reasons including its alien quality and a perhaps barely conscious appreciation of the idea that this would be an appropriate name for a global oligarch and arch villain. Smith’s schoolboy error, however, ensured that he would receive a brief and almost devastating instructional in Jewish cultural power. He got the message. “Hershel Fink” was disappeared down a memory hole, and the character was renamed Henry Finn, the last name being of Irish origin and meaning, curiously enough, “white” or “fair-haired.” It seems our fictional Jewish world-grasper has been traded for an Aryan one.
That the play advanced so far in production, in this age when gatekeepers are everywhere, is remarkable in itself. Objections were apparently raised in early September, when “the name had been raised by a Jewish director in a workshop discussion held as part of the series “Directors: Working on New Plays.” The leadership of the Royal Court has now professed itself “in conversations with this director as we hold ourselves accountable for why this was not taken further or passed on to the writer,” as well as engaging in “an internal review” and working with members of the Jewish community to “understand how this harm was committed.” In other words, they are grovelling for their failure to acknowledge and acquiesce to their appointed gatekeepers.
The Cultural Code
The episode raises a number of interesting questions and themes. The first concerns cultural codes. It’s tempting for those “in the know” to laugh at the bovine naïveté of Smith and his colleagues, and there is a darkly comic element to the tragic fate of Hershel Fink — who will unfortunately never see an audience. But what this naïveté suggests is that many of those who wish to advance in the arts need to possess at least some knowledge of the cultural code, which in turn involves at least some appreciation of Jewish influence. In other words, to be truly oblivious to, and in denial of, Jewish influence is potentially dangerous. The ignorant, like Mr Smith, will simply stumble into infractions of a code they are unaware of. The ideal scenario, for those overseeing the status quo, is for Jewish power to be acknowledged (an otherwise anti-Semitic position) but unstated (leading to compliance). We’ve seen multiple instances from the arts in the past where common knowledge of Jewish influence has been expressed publicly, with disastrous consequences for those speaking out.
One need only think of Marlon Brando, a lifetime flamboyant philo-Semite, who “broke down and wept” before several Jewish leaders in 1996 after he broke the code and commented publicly that “Hollywood was run by Jews.” It was perfectly fine for Brando to know this, and to have it moderate his behavior and creative choices, but it became “anti-Semitic” in a very political sense the moment it moved from mere acknowledgment to public conversation. Brando was very close to Jews for most of his life, and knew their rules better than anyone, but he made the mistake of thinking he could be seen as one of them or be exempt from their injunctions. Perhaps even more important than Brando’s basic comment on Jewish influence in Hollywood was the wider context of his statement, delivered during an interview on Larry King Live, where he addressed the very theme that Al Smith stumbled upon — the Jewish injunction against negative portrayals of themselves in art:
We’ve seen the nigger, and the Greaseball. We’ve seen the Chink. We’ve seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap. We have seen the wily Filipino. We’ve seen everything. But we never saw the kike because they knew perfectly well that that’s where you draw the wagons around.
Everything Brando said is objectively true, doubtless learned by Brando over many years of close engagement with Jews, but it was an infraction against the cultural code to express it publicly. The very proof of Brando’s claim that Jews run Hollywood was the overwhelming pressure subsequently brought to bear on him (some newspapers spoke of the “rage” of Jewish leaders) to recant his statement. The episode with Al Smith, meanwhile, is simply more proof that we’ll never see “the kike” on screen or on stage because this is where the cultural overseers “draw the wagons.”
No Jewish Villains
A second theme raised by the Al Smith controversy, then, is that of the censorship of the Jewish villain. In a 2011 article published by YnetNews, Amir Bogen asks: “Where have Jewish villains gone?” Bogen writes,
Israelis have become outcasts abroad. We’re called murderers, racists, even occupiers. Is that they way we are perceived by the world? And if so, where the hell have cinema’s Jewish villains gone?
The question can, of course, be answered perfectly with another question: Who controls the cinema? Bogen remarks that “It seems that since Shakespeare’s Shylock (“The Merchant of Venice”) and Jew Süss (from Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda film), the Hebrew antagonists have disappeared from popular culture.” The case of Magneto, a villain from the X-Men film franchise, is highlighted as an example of Jewishness being written into a character in order to ameliorate rather than accentuate their evil qualities. Magneto was originally designed in the 1930s as an arch villain with no redeeming qualities until a 1981 edition of the X-Men comic unveiled the character’s past as a “Holocaust survivor,” thereafter making him “less aggressive, less racist, much more complex, and even neurotic and traumatized.” In terms of the recent film versions, Magneto is portrayed extremely negatively, but his Jewishness is played for sympathy only at strategic moments in the plot, and is abandoned in almost every other respect. Bogen highlights that
Hollywood doesn’t allow Magneto an accent that would signify his [Jewish] origin or ethnicity. Both Michael Fassbender [German-Irish] and Ian McKellan [British] portray him with a British cadence, despite the established origin.
Bogen hints that the question of the absence of Jewish villains is ultimately bound up with censorship by ending the piece with the suggestion that “these questions should not be directed at Marvel, or the Justice League of America, but rather at the Anti-Defamation League.”
Writing in the aftermath of the Al Smith affair, journalist David Aaronovitch elaborated on the Jewish unease with cultural representations of Jewish villainy by asking what would in fact be acceptable to Jews:
This is a problem. A Jew can’t be a banker (Rothschild), a financier (Shylock), an organiser of pickpockets (Fagin) or a dubious entrepreneur (Melmotte). It goes wider. The forged/plagiarised Protocols of the Elders of Zion famously put Jews in charge of everything, from trades unions to newspapers via pornography and (of course) banking. So almost anything associated with power, money and secret manipulation is out. … Infernal slyness and mendacity are no good either. Jewish “shapeshifting” is also a stereotype. Nor would an anti-patriotic, anti-national, cosmopolitan Jew be unworrying. Blofeld has to be German, no? Imagine Bond breaking into that underground cavern and coming across a cat-stroker in a kippah.
Aaronovitch, like Bogen, concludes that the only acceptable Jewish villains are those of an “amiable” type (e.g. cinematic representations of Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky) that have been portrayed by non-Jewish actors like Robert de Niro. Even here, however, the Jewishness of these characters is watered down in the extreme by the time they reach cinema screens.
An interesting example of the portrayal of Jewish villains going awry is Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 Drive. The film concerns the clash between a Hollywood stunt driver played by Ryan Gosling and two Jewish mobsters played by Albert Brooks (born Albert Lawrence Einstein) and Ron Perlman. Both Jewish mobsters are thus portrayed by ethnic Jews, and their Jewishness is referred to in a number of ways throughout the movie, including subtle references to crypsis. In one memorable instance Ron Perlman’s character Nino comes upon Bernie Rose (played by Brooks) in his restaurant:
NINO: What are you doing eating Chink food in my restaurant?
BERNIE ROSE: What’s a Jew doing running a Pizzeria?
The exchange is a further play on the fact “Nino” is in fact “Izzy,” whose apparent play-acting as an Italian pizzeria-owner (a mere front operation for broader criminality) is a source of amusement to the more up-front Rose. Rose later explains to another character in the film: “I ever tell you how long Izzy and I been friends? Since we were six. Only Jews in a neighborhood of wops.” We suspect therefore that Izzy became “Nino” in part as a survival strategy, in a perfect artistic representation of ideas put forth in the sixth chapter of Kevin MacDonald’s Separation and Its Discontents.
Although these are the only explicit references to the Jewishness of Rose and Izzy in the script, in 2011 a Jewish woman, Sarah Deming, brought a class action lawsuit against the film’s makers, alleging that the movie was “subliminally” anti-Semitic. When the initial case was rejected, Deming “tried to get the judge removed from the case for allegedly being anti-Semitic himself.” David Leaf, a lawyer in the case, explained the grievance:
Real life Jewish gangsters, such as Mickey Cohen, Meyer Lansky and Bugsey Seigel, were portrayed in film as good fathers and sympathetic characters. … Not so with the cartoon one dimensional Jews in Drive, right down to the gold pinkie rings, gold watch, and thick gold chains, that only a “senior citizen Jew stereotype” department could have come up with. … When the gangsters embody most, if not all false negative Jewish stereotypes, that’s racism. The whole Nino/Izzy slur, straight from Nazi propaganda, about the Jew never fitting in, but always trying to mask his identity. Or the false racist canard about Jews being a threat to the Christian child. Both incorporated here, neither necessary to be a gangster. I could go on for each of the Jew hating stereotypes that the Jews in the movie ‘just so happen’ to embody.
In the text of the lawsuit, particular attention is paid to the fact the Jewish characters were:
Money hungry; lustful; evil; corrupting; controlling everything behind the scenes; a threat to the wife and child; loyalty to each other – to the detriment of the Gentiles; rude; pushy; gaudy; usurious, violent, etc….
Other instances highlighted as “subliminally” anti-Semitic included the framing of certain shots, the most important of which is probably a scene in which Bernie Rose kills the stunt driver’s employer, Mr. Shannon, in the latter’s workshop. Rose slices open one of Shannon’s arms, severing arteries with one slash of an ornate antique razor. The movement itself is arguably reminiscent of kosher slaughter, but the primary complaint made by several Jews is that the backdrop to the scene is a workshop wall with beams that appear to form a Star of David.
In the text of the lawsuit we see it complained that:
In the above scene, Rose says, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, that’s it, its done, there’s no pain, its over”, a cynical reference to the arguments in favor of Kosher slaughter. Cynical because Shannon is obviously suffering and conscious of his fate. Rose then washes the blade, and puts the blade in a gold case, all elements of Kosher Slaughter. As Rose closes the case, the Jewish ritual blade cuts across the reflection of the Church Steeple, a nonconscious message that Jews and Judaism are the enemy of Christians and Christianity.
I don’t believe that the film’s director or cinematographer intentionally crafted these scenes to foster “subliminal” anti-Semitism, nor do I even believe they unintentionally crafted a work of subliminal anti-Semitism. I do, however, believe the entire affair surrounding Drive illustrates a remarkable paranoia concerning negative representations of Jews in mass culture, that reaches back to the image of Judas in the New Testament, passes through that of Shakespeare’s Shylock, and is very much alive and well in the censorship and elimination/transformation of Hershel Fink. What the furor over Drive and Hershel Fink really illustrate is that the only acceptable Jewish villain in popular literature or cinema is a Jewish gangster who isn’t played by a Jew and who isn’t money hungry, lustful, evil, corrupting, controlling, threatening to women or children, loyal only to his own kind, rude, pushy, gaudy, usurious, or violent. In short, there is no representation of genuine villainy acceptable to Jews.
The Semitic Discourse
A third theme raised by the Hershel Fink episode is the general unease of Jews when it comes to cultural knowledge about them in the wider population. They don’t just want to censor negative depictions because it offends them, but because of what effect the depictions might have on the wider population. One of the more interesting works on anti-Semitism published in the last 30 years is Bryan Cheyette’s Cambridge-published Constructions of ‘the Jew’ in English Literature and Society: Racial Representations 1875–1945 (1993). Cheyette’s central thesis is that, extrinsic to explicit references to Jews in British literature and theater, there existed what he called a “Semitic discourse.” This discourse informed attitudes toward Jews even where individual knowledge or experience with Jews was weak or non-existent. In other words, even if the average Englishman had never personally met a Jew, there was enough of the discourse subtly present in his culture to inform him that Jews were, for example, not to be trusted in business or very strongly concerned with money. The concept of the Semitic discourse is fluid enough that it could encapsulate novels like Dracula, where the foreignness of the Count, his physical features, and several of his traits could themselves be viewed as conveying (negative) knowledge or ideas about Jews. Conversely, Cheyette also acknowledged that philo-Semitic elements permeated the Semitic discourse, and that Christian Zionists imbibed heavily from cultural streams that placed Jews in the role of the apple of God’s eye. The Semitic discourse was thus a pool of ideas, in general circulation in the culture, that could be drawn upon at any time and by anyone.
Cheyette, who is Jewish, advanced his thesis primarily as an attack on English culture. One of his most scathing concluding arguments, for example, is that “A semitic discourse in liberal England can … be implicated in the Holocaust.” That’s quite a leap of logic. Aside from this malicious usage, however, I find myself in close agreement with much that Cheyette has to say on the subject. I agree, for example, that English culture possessed and disseminated certain streams of knowledge about Jews, and that it had done so from at least the time of Shakespeare. But I diverge from Cheyette on two points.
The first is that I believe the Semitic discourse was, for the most part, a good and useful thing. I think it’s healthy for any people to develop methods of knowledge that inform interactions with out-groups. The second, related, point is that Cheyette is disingenuous in his failure to acknowledge that all peoples do in fact formulate cultural discourses about outsiders. We could very easily write a book or two on a Goyim Discourse in Jewish literature and film (from the Talmud to the present day), which informs Jews in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that Europeans, especially the rural kind, are dangerous, superstitious, stupid, irrational, and gullible. Bryan Cheyette himself admits, in an essay in the volume Jewish Writers of the Twentieth Century that one of Britain’s foremost Jewish novelists, Howard Jacobson, wrote “anti-Gentile novels,” specifically Coming from Behind (1983) and Peeping Tom (1984).S. Kerbel (ed) Jewish Writers of the Twentieth Century (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003), 14. In terms of representation on film, no group has fared worse in the hands of Jewish Hollywood than the Southern Whites, as illustrated in John Cone’s excellent Patterns of Bias in Hollywood Movies (2012).See in particular Chapter 6: Regional Prejudice: Hollywood’s Rape of the South. The book’s sixth chapter is almost exclusively concerned with a multitude of Jewish writers and directors who collectively produced endless films depicting rural White Americans, especially Southern men and women, as childish, inept, irrational, petty, and brutal.
Conclusion: Whither Hershel Fink?
The Goyim Discourse is currently everywhere, and the Semitic Discourse has all but vanished; sanitized out of existence through censorship, legal changes, and cultural control. The vanishing of Hershel Fink and his replacement with Henry Finn is perfect proof of this dynamic in action. The episode sheds light on the impossibility of representing Jewish villainy, and the return of the Jews to a state of legal and cultural protection not seen since the hofjuden of the early modern period. Ironically, Al Smith’s play concerns a billionaire who poses as benevolent before destroying a number of South American economies in the malicious satisfaction of his endless greed. A worthy template would therefore be found less in Elon Musk than in the Zionist Paul Singer, once described by The Independent as “the vulture capitalist who devoured Peru.” With plenty of real international villains like that, who needs fiction?
 S. Kerbel (ed) Jewish Writers of the Twentieth Century (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003), 14.
 See in particular Chapter 6: Regional Prejudice: Hollywood’s Rape of the South.