Jules Dassin – a «good» Jew
Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 30/05/2008
Jules Dassin has always been one of the most beloved «foreigners» in Greece. His great love with Melina Merkuri, his unwaivering support for the Communist Party and the hardships he endured in McCarthy’s USA, his great love for Greece helped overcome any diffidence that many would foster towards any foreigner meddling in greek affairs. A diffidence not always unjustified since a great part of how the world viewed Greece was patronizing or folkloristic; on the contrary Dassin loved modern Greece and became part of it.
So it came as a surprise that, during a search for a movie of his, I found out a couple of pages that said that J.Dassin was an anti-greek. I knew that Dassin was Jewish and many did not forgive him this, (in 2000 antisemitic slogans and swastikas were sprayed on the walls of his house). Still, it striked me as odd so I followed the link. What I read was very interesting, though for other reasons that the author might hope for. The author was blatantly antisemitic and linked to Chrissi Avgi’s newspaper, a known neonazi group. He complained that J.Dassin had received a State burial while he was Jewish and how he had managed to be buried next to his wife, M.Merkuri, which is in the christian orthodox part of the cemetery. He complained that the State-run ET3 TV made a 10 minute documentary on him completely «hiding» his jewish origins. He also complained that a traditional black-colored jewish flag was on top of the coffin while the memorial service was held at the Synagogue at the Jewish part of the Cemetery; this flag was removed when transferred to the Christian part as «not to offend the christian viewers who saw the burial in TV». I have no idea if the author was telling the truth and despite some research I did, I did not find anything about it. In any case the guy was a fanatical fan of conspiracy theories and I thought that this was probably another «kook theory». Still he called Dassin an «100% Zionist» and claimed that he had joined the Israeli Army during the 6 Day War of 1967, when he was 56 years old. Amazingly enough we actually posted a source about it and even more amazingly the source appeared genuine. And then I knew I had my post. :)
J.Dassin going to Israel in 1967
Kostantinos Alavanos was a friend of J.Dassin and is a member of the Executive Counsil of the Foundation Melina Merkuri which aims at returning parts of the decoration of the Parthenon that Lord Elgin removed disastrously from Acropolis in the 1800’s. He wrote that:
«He never denied his roots. When the 1967 arab israeli war broke loose Dassin hastened to pack his suitcase for Tel Aviv. Melina, full of anxiety, threatened that if he’d go she would not let him come back. He did not believe her. But even if he believed her, Dassin would go. For he had a sense of Duty. As he had for Justice. And for this he despaired over the violence, the extremisms and intransigence in israeli politics today»
Also in another article T.Timogiannakis states that Julles Dassin went as volunteer in the Israeli Army in 1967, although this didn’t stop him from opposing «Sharon’s policy on the occupied arab territories». Another article on Jules son, Joe Dassin, stated that also he wanted to join Israel during the 6 Day War and only the brevity of the war prevented him; personally I think that this is the Dassin that offered to serve in the Israeli Army, though undoubtedly Dassin immediately went to aid Israel in 1967. (find Dassin in the photo)
J.Dassin opposing «Sharon policies» and his views on communism
I was flabergasted! As far as I knew J.Dassin was supposedly anti-israeli, or at least that’s what was written in the newspapers – as one journalist put it «maybe a Jew but he opposing Sharon», (in Greece opposing Sharon means from opposing military occupation of Palestine to supporting that Israel is an illegal state and the modern nazis). So I searched and indeed the first finds seem to confirm this. For example a Rizospastis, (the official organ of the Greek Communist Party – KKE), article on Dassin pictured him as a fervent communist that suggested that the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall was only a «temporary defeat of socialism» and «…I want to kill Sharon…What can they do to me after that, I’m old» – all true statements confirmed by other sources. Even former minister of Pasok T.Pangalos cited J.Dassin as a prominent Jew who denounced the policies pursued by Sharon’s Israel in a famous letter in which he demanded that Greek Jews should denounce Israel. In another article in Kathimerini newspaper a journalist asks rhetorically if Dassin «killing Sharon makes him a peace loving Jew or a dangerous terrorist«.
In other articles J.Dassin says: «I consider the israeli treatment of the palestinians as unacceptable, defeatist and a tragic mistake. They keep creating more hate and anger in the hearts of the palestinians which shall last for many generations«. I believe that Prime Minister Sharon is a disaster for both sides. His motive is the complete domination of the palestinian people ans the failure of the peace talks. I also believe that the israeli attack has, even if it has not been admitted, the support of american leadership». There are dozens of articles like this.
Rizospastis misses a movie in Dassin’s filmography
But then I noticed something strange. In Rizospastis an article on J.Dassin mentioned 24 movies, while I was aware that we had done 25, confirmed by IMDB. Which was the 25th that Rizospastis ommited? It was called «Survivor 1967» or «Hamilchama al hashalom» in hebrew. What was it about? A greek magazine, Lifo, informs that it is «an antiwar movie«; but in that case Rizospastis would be overtly happy to promote it. So I searched a bit more and found this brief review:
«Following the Six-Day War in 1967, this documentary was made to show part of the story of Israel’s existence. There is little actual footage of the war, but much is seen of its aftermath, including the physical remains of war, the human story of the refugees, and Jews returning to the Western Wall. Interviews are held with David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Levi Eshkol. Talks with the faculty and students of Chaim Weizman University are shown. The growth of Israel in the past and its hopes and questions about peace in the future end the film.»
Hmmm, this does not sound as an anti-war film as pictured by Lifo. So I eventually found a review by New York Times which was harsh, as NYT movie critics usually are, but revealing:
«The movie, which describes itself as «a paean to Israel,» opened yesterday at the Cinema Rendezvous. What gets lost is the brave, tragic war itself. (There is hardly any documentary war footage at all.) The film, which keeps crossing what little moving footage it has — wounded men, monuments to Babi Yar and Buchenwald — by an inability to shut up, is poor and ineffective propaganda.»
Now I must admit that I didn’t expect Aristoula Ellinoudi, who wrote the article of Rizospastis, to be so thorough but she did. She found the one movie that portrayed Dassin supporting wholeheartedly Israel and omited it. One may claim that it was an accident but it does seem…how should I put it…strange? :D
J.Dassin has also some other views
In any case later I found out some other statements of J.Dassin. While as I mentioned before he considered the treatment of the Palestinians as «unacceptable» he also had other things to say, in that same interview:
«Let me say that i believe that – because of the painful history of the 20th century, when the world had forsaken the jewish people of Europe to the Holocaust – that the State of Israel has a right to exist. I also believe that there are forces who actively oppose this right.» «But I also believe that the suicide bombings against israeli citizens are equally unacceptable and defeatist. There was a powerful movement in Israel geared towards peace and justice for the palestinian people called «Peace now». The suicide bombings have crippled it».
This post began on other premises but soon enough I became intrigued on how people dealt with Dassin being a Jew and maybe not so anti-israeli as they’d wish. J.Dassin was popular in Greece and people loved him. His past as a communist who stood by his ideals and being persecuted by the anti-communist frenzy of 50’s USA made him an idol for greek sympathizers for the Left. His admiration for anything greek, his adoration of the greek spirit and his active support to Merkuri’s struggle for the return of the removed marbles of the Parthenon, made him popular with the greek Right. Only some small, insignificant, groups could not «forgive» him for being Jewish and spoke against him.
With this image, his support for Palestine and Israel didn’t match. It was already decided, by the greek people, that J.Dassin was one of the «good guys»; plus attacking him would mean attacking the extremely popular M.Merkuri. So his active support for the State of Israel was downplayed while his firm opposition against the treatment of the palestinians and support for a Palestinian homeland was emphasized. Rizospastis even arrived at making disappear a movie that didn’t fit the picture.
It is not my will not actually comment on J.Dassin views – this is not about if he was right. What I wanted to show is how for a Jew to appear good by «progressive circles» he must adhere to certain stereotypes, on particular the unconditioned opposition to Israel. Any small deviation appears intolerable and the evidence that the jewish interloculator is just another zionist blinded by his faith. In the case of J.Dassin, where his inherent benevolence towards Greece and comunist «credentials» are indisputable, the answer was to supress his «other» views. This unwillingness to question stereotypes, independently if it regards Left or Right, is one of the key problems in discussing antisemitism today in Greece and this is what this post is all about – not whether J.Dassin was nice guy because he also supported Israel. It is an interesting start on discussing the stereotypes the Greek Left and the Greek Right have today and how these affect their view of Jewish Greeks; but this is another post for another time.
Well, at least thanks to our friend we found the first 100% Zionist that Greece actually adored and the Greek Communist Party sponsored! lol
Ο ΜΕΓΑΛΟΣ «ΕΛΛΗΝΑΣ» ΗΤΑΝ ΣΙΩΝΙΣΤΗΣ-ΔΗΛΑΔΗ ΑΝΘΕΛΛΗΝΑΣ. Everything began with this!
J. Dassin filmography – 25 films
Dassin’s house sprayed with swastika and antisemitic graffiti.
«He was Greek even before meeting Melina» – an article on his life with details on his burial.
Appreciation of J.Dassin by the greek political world.
Melina Merkuri’s Foundation, Merkuris’s and Dassin’s page in Wikipedia.
Lifo’s article on «Survivor 1967» being an antiwar film
P.Timogiannakis article on Dassin.
M.Katsounaki wonders if wishing to kill Sharon makes Dassin a terrorist or a peace loving jew.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities reply to T.Pangalos letter asking them to denounce Israel and bringing Dassin as an example.
Article where J.Dassin grandson says his father, Joe, was ready to go to Israel in 1967.
TCMDB review and a more detailed in New York Times. The movie’s entry in imdb.
Rizospastis article that talks about his convictions, «marxist» and «I want to kill Sharon».
Rizospastis article by Ellinoudi, omitting Survivor 1967.
Article on which he denounces the treatment of palestinians and supports the right of Israel to exist.
For the photos hover over for the site they came from, mainly BBC,Rizospastis and a blog. Contact me if I violate anything.