We’re expecting plenty of feedback from this interesting piece as you rarely can criticise Israel without getting a spray.

The Festival almost lost a sponsor, Telstra, and added to the series of controversies which have bedevilled Adelaide.

But it also raises questions about what can be discussed about some topics and how the little local difficulty also creates some bigger global difficulties.

Basically the campaign speculated on what would have happened if Hitler had got into art school. While not exactly a subject which can be easily discussed in a 60 second commercial it is a subject which gets discussed.

The problem is that the ad team were just out of their league.

George Steiner questioned the humanising and civilising impact of the arts in the preface to his collection of essays, Language and Silence. Steiner said: “We know now that a man can read Goethe and Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning”.

More recently one of the short-listed novels in the Prix Goncourt ( think Booker,Franklin etc) in France was La part de l’autre by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. The book is based on a comparison between the real Hitler and a fictional counterpart who is accepted into the Vienna academy of fine arts. No doubt the ad team had scoured the book in the original French naturellement for their creative inspiration.

But what goes for the Festival creative team goes for politics and international relations as well.

The problem the team faced (although they just possibly didn’t realise it) is simple the Holocaust is so horrific and so terrible that it makes any response to it, or historical or other use of it, almost impossible. It also acts as a massive great barrier to the discussion of the Israeli government and its policies.

The latest example is the pickle in which the French Ambassador, Daniel Bernard, got himself into after making a few comments about Israel at a Conrad Black dinner party.

Clearly Bernard is neither diplomatic nor bright. While for centuries it has been accepted that what is said in private at gentlefolk’s dinner tables is in confidence (at least until you write your memoirs) nobody ever thought Black and his wife Barbara Amiel were gentlefolk. Crikey knows Conrad is now Lord Black of Crossharbour but then gentility has never been a necessary pre-condition for elevation to the peerage. The last person to make an effort to keep knighthoods and peerages for the gentility was James 1 who insisted they only be sold to gentlemen.

Anyway, Bernard made the eminently sensible comment that many of the current problems in the world stem from Israel and their policies towards the Palestinians. He did describe it as a shitty little country which suggests he has been in Britain for far too long and become entranced by lavatory humor.

This self-evident truth (the problems not the lavatory humor) has been met with howls of outrage, demands for resignation and the accusations of anti-Semitism which are the standard response to anyone who questions the Sharon version of truth.

He might also have said that the Israeli ought to be consulted on terrorism because as Private Eye pointed out recently they have been experts in it from the time of the Stern gang onwards. Private Eye got the same response as Monsieur Bernard.

It works very well with non-Jews, naturellement, who can be relied on to retreat into post-Holocaust guilt.

Not so well with Jews like US historians Norman Finklestein and Peter Novick who have delineated how the US Israeli lobby has used the Holocaust to inhibit debate about Israeli policy.

We should never tolerate Holocaust deniers. Equally we should never tolerate anti-Semitism.

We should feel contempt for ad agencies that use Hitler for a quick sales promotion.

But perhaps we might also get to the stage where Sharon, Black, Amiel and others don’t frame every utterance about Israel within the context of Hitler and the Holocaust?

As both Finklestein and Novick have argued while every utterance is framed that way Hitler has had a posthumous victory.

We might even begin to suggest very tentatively that Sharon is the biggest enemy the Israeli state has had.

And when we get to that stage we might be able to finally secure Israel from those who are driven to destroy it.

Feedback direct to Wendy at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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