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Poetry Challenges

"Crimson is the Color of Shame": a Poetry Challenge [by Clark Thomas]

Israel map Crimson is the Color of Shame
-- for David Lehman

The demand on young Jews
to be less visibly and confidently Jews
is the price of social toleration
which found its most recent iteration
in the Harvard Crimson
editorial endorsing the Philistines vs Samson,
that is, the boycott movement against Israel
which is a big and ugly deal
according to Einat Wilf, in a sound-
ly argued essay. She calls it (BDS) the “pound
of flesh,” echoing The Merchant of Venice,
reminding us of a perpetual menace,
the attempt to intimidate the Jews
into being less Jewy, a typical political ruse.

-- Clark Thomas

"I wrote this poem at David Lehman's invitation in an attempt to refute his statement that 'political poems are usually successful neither as poems nor as political maneuvers.'"  -- C.T.

David Lehman replies: "Clark Thomas wrote to me that he would take up the 'poetry challenge' implicit in my arguing that political poetry is a doomed and often self-defeating proposition. While I applaud his use of rhyme, and the way he condenses an intelligent and ambitious essay into the box of a sonnet, I am far from confident that the result is more than a superior letter to the editor.  What do readers think?"

"Where's that map of the Middle East?" -- God

from Einat Wilf, "The BDS Pound of Flesh" in Tablet
When I attended college in the United States in the mid-1990s, liberal, left-wing Jews could comfortably be pro-Israel and even active in AIPAC without any fear of repercussions or social pressure to hand over a pound of flesh. That changed with the emergence of J Street, IfNotNow, and Jewish Voice for Peace, until we arrived at the present condition, in which a Jewish student who does not show herself to be an ally of Students for Justice in Palestine, or does not agree that “Zionism equals racism,” or that Zionism is a form of apartheid, and Nazism, and white supremacy, and whatever other supreme evil will be identified next, cannot be considered a good Jew. This escalation in anti-Israel activism among some young Jews no longer seemed like a natural and excusable choice shaped by different generational circumstances, but the result of a relentless campaign of bullying.

Israel 1Over the last several months, as a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., I taught a course called “Zionism and Anti-Zionism.” In the many hours I spent discussing student life with students and faculty alike, it became apparent that the anti-Zionist activism on campus—the college version of the pound of flesh dynamic—was not primarily a form of social protest or political expression, but a form of bullying. The anti-Zionist activists, like classic bullies, deliberately targeted the real and perceived frailties of their Jewish peers—fear or shame in the expression of one’s Jewish identity, with its calls to Jewish solidarity and deep connection to a faraway foreign country.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been one of the most effective expressions of the pound of flesh bullying tactic, inviting young Jews to participate in the cause of “social justice” only to ultimately demand the mutilation of their Jewish identity. BDS has demanded that diaspora Jews not only criticize Israeli government actions, but sever their connections with Israel completely. >>> -- Einat Wilf, "The BDS Pound of Flesh" in Tablet, May 10, 2022

See also in which Isaac tries to out-argue the head of the antri-defamation league on the subject. The best line is  "Give me a -- Isaac" -- where the speaker's frustration is conveyed beautifully. The reader supplies the missing word, "break."

March 16, 2022

October 05, 2021

October 04, 2021

September 28, 2021

September 02, 2021

October 06, 2020

August 14, 2020

Best American Poetry Web ad3
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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