Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

An American Inquisition?

It's only getting worse. From The Nation, April 3

 An American Inquisition?

Richard Rogers, or Lord Rogers of Riverside, as he is styled in Britain,
is one of the most distinguished architects in the world. From the day
the Centre Pompidou opened its doors in Paris in 1977, his career has
been a series of triumphs: the headquarters of Lloyds insurance in
London, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the Millennium
Dome in Greenwich, Madrid's new Barajas airport and, most recently, the
Welsh Assembly. Rogers is famous not just for his iconic buildings but
also for his progressive politics and his extraordinary network of
friends, associates and admirers. So when he agreed in February to host
the London inaugural meeting of Architects and Planners for Justice in
Palestine, the event went unnoticed here.

That is, it went unnoticed until early March, when Rogers found that
even a casual association with the Palestinian cause placed all his New
York work in jeopardy. Rogers, who'd been awarded the $1.7 billion
expansion of the Jacob Javits Convention Center and a commission to
redevelop the Lower East Side riverfront, was summoned to New York to
explain himself to Empire State Development Corporation chair Charles
Gargano. Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York Assembly, demanded that
Rogers be fired from publicly funded projects; he also threatened that
Silvercup Studios, a film studio and office complex in Queens, would be
unlikely to get tax credits with Rogers as architect. Malcolm Hoenlein,
executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations, labeled Rogers's involvement "an the
legacy of Senator Javits," noting that the late Republican had been a
staunch defender of Israel.

The story of Rogers's American inquisition has no heroes.The son of a
Jewish doctor who fled Fascist Italy for London, Rogers might have
reminded his tormentors that the British organizer of the offending
architects' group, his friend Abe Hayeem, is also a Jew. He could have
pointed out that the group's criticism of Israel for building its
separation wall echoed the findings of the International Court of
Justice. Instead, he folded faster than a house of cards, abandoning his
colleagues--and the Palestinians--in a recantation that was as brutal as
it was effective.

Rogers didn't just take a dive, ditching the group with the irrelevant
declaration that he abhors boycotts. (Though a boycott of firms or
architects who work on the separation wall or on West Bank settlements
had been discussed, no decisions were made at the London meeting.) Under
the expert guidance of Howard Rubinstein, New York's public relations
consultant to the stars, Rogers actually pronounced himself "in favor of
[the wall] to thwart terror attacks on Israel." He recalled the joys of
spending his honeymoon in the Holy Land, and said that the Middle East
conflict is between "a country that is a terrorist state and a country
that's a democratic state. I'm all for the democratic state." That was
good enough for the formerly furious New York pols, who now pronounced
the repentant Rogers kosher.

The whole unedifying spectacle might have been designed as a companion
piece for /My Name Is Rachel Corrie/, the British play about an American
woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, whose production has been
"indefinitely postponed" by the New York Theatre Workshop  If the
/Corrie/ "postponement" suggests New Yorkers have no ears for the
sufferings of Palestinians, Rogers's ordeal implies that in the current
political climate, Palestinians have become such pariahs that even to
appear sympathetic to their cause is dangerous to one's career. But
while theater people and Arab-Americans objected to NYTW's failure of
nerve, Rogers's rush to retraction cut the legs out from under any
protest on his behalf or the public's, leaving no time to challenge the
claim that these modern McCarthyites speak for all New Yorkers--black,
white, Hispanic, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. Lost also was the
opportunity to puncture the pretense that all--or most--American Jews
blindly endorse any Israeli action, no matter how extreme or
indefensible. Instead, it's become even harder to acknowledge the
futility, indeed the obscenity, of treating the entire Palestinian
people as political lepers whose hunger for justice, or simple
compassion, has no claim on our attention.

There's more at stake here than local politics. Since the "war on
terror" began, too many Americans have become inured to enforced
patriotism and ideological litmus tests. We hardly notice the way that
speech itself has come to be regarded as something to be policed, or the
way that dissent, the lifeblood of freedom, is constantly devalued.
Rogers's cave-in is all the more reason for the rest of us to speak up:
for the Palestinians, for American Jews who don't regard Hoenlein as
their spokesman, against blacklists, against censorship and above all
against the rising tide of fear.
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