I was denounced as an anti-Semite at a joint session of the Alaska Legislature.
I'm the only living person to bear that onus. I had defended the Palestinian people, the people of Gaza and Rachel Corrie.
Alaska Representative Bob Lynn addressed the session. It was April 27th, 2004.
On April 8th, 2004 Lynn had attended a public meeting at the University of Alaska Anchorage I had jointly organized with an Anchorage Rabbi, Yossi Greenburg. The rabbi and I had organized the meeting so that I could defend and he could question the premises of my then newest work, the cantata, The Skies Are Weeping, about the American peace activist, Rachel Corrie.
The meeting did not go well. A near-riot ensued, prompting campus security and some deans to hasten the end of the fiasco.
Reading the highly recommended Daily Kos diary Saturday morning, titled Israel's ongoing war on Palestinian self-determination, brought memories of having been vehemently labeled something I certainly am not, back to the surface.
Rep. Lynn opened his statement to the assembled legislators with this:
There’s “good” music, and there’s “bad” music, and last Thursday at the University of Alaska, I learned about some very “bad” music and a very bad situation, during return to my district during the Holiday.
I was asked by a friend - who is a gifted trumpet player in the Anchorage Community Concert Band in which I play - and who is also a practicing member of the Jewish faith, to a lecture by an adjunct music professor at UAA about a cantata the professor composed entitled “The Skies are Weeping.” The cantata glorifies the death in the Gaza Strip in Israel of an American woman named “Rachel Coorie,” who spewed anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and burned the American flag as a member a radical Palestinian organization that has condoned homicide bombers. Worse, that adjunct professor attempted to dedicate the cantata to the president of the University!
A brief introduction to what led to my denunciation is in order:
In February 2003, I was commissioned by the UAA percussion ensemble and the new voice professor there to write a set of songs for soprano and percussion. At the time, it was obvious we were going to wage war upon Iraq by early Spring. I thought I would find some new poems on the internet, to use as lyrics. I intended to use the ancient concept of contrasting love and war, as had other composers, most notably Claudio Monteverdi, in his set from 1638, Songs of War and Love (Madrigali dei guerrieri ed amorosi).
While collecting possibilities, I read of the death in Gaza of Rachel Corrie. Within days, poems and songs about her began appearing on the web. Most were written by young Jewel wannabees who seemed to wish they had been Rachel. But within a week of Corrie's death, some powerful poems that could become lyrics showed up. I got in touch with some of the writers, seeking permission to turn their poetry into songs. Then, in mid-June, 2003, I sought permission from Rachel Corrie's family.
The work proceeded slowly through the summer and fall of 2003, as I was completing my Piano Concerto, some brass exercises, and a work for brass and percussion. During the winter of 2003-2004, as the Iraq War took its first turn for the worse, I finished the cantata.
The local media didn't show up at the April 8th UAA lecture-discussion. But when they found out afterward that there was a video of one of the most contentious public meetings in recent Anchorage history, and that I had cancelled the cantata's performance because of safety concerns for my student performers, articles ensued. And so did a mild degree of interest, mostly from outside the USA.
The only organization in the USA that expressed interest in performing "The Skies are Weeping" was the Center for Economic and Social Rights, in Brooklyn. They got in touch with me in early May, 2004. A producer in Toronto expressed intense interest, and a soprano in London, who was also a Jewish peace activist.
By late June the CESR team backed out without giving me a reason. Soon afterward, the Toronto producer did the same. Only the London soprano, Deborah Fink, remained. Through the late summer and over the next 14 months beyond that, I worked with Debbie and the sponsoring organization in the UK, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, as we - mostly they - organized a concert for November 1st, 2005, at the Hackney Empire, in London.
The concert, which was supposed to be introduced by Harold Pinter (he was to ill to talk that week), was a success. It didn't make much money for the Israeli, Palestinian and joint I-P agencies it was supposed to benefit, but we proved that a work of art, thwarted twice in the USA, could be done elsewhere.
Between the April 8th, 2004 public meeting in Anchorage and the November 1, 2005 premiere in London, I was labeled an anti-Semite countless times, mostly on the internet, but also in print. As a reaction to "The Skies are Weeping," in late April, 2004 an ultra-Zionist Israeli writer and blogger came up with the "Forgotten Rachels" narrative, which is quite compelling. It has been used at all performances of "My Name is Rachel Corrie," and at the London performance of my cantata, as signs outside the venues, as the basis for op-eds and other articles in the press before performances, and as handouts to people passing by the works' venues.
Since the London performance, I've rejected other offers for performance of the work. Having dealt with the environment around the 2004 cancellations, and observing the hassles in the USA of getting "My Name is Rachel Corrie" performed, I'm unwilling to sacrifice my other political work, artistic and organizational (I'm an Alaska Democratic Party officer), to the furtherance of this particular protest composition. I'm working on refitting it into the context of a larger work for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra, about the Wars.
Since the 2004-2005 "Skies are Weeping" period, I've been labeled an anti-Semite for questioning the destruction of the petroleum product storage tanks at Jiyeh by the IDF, during the early stages of the July-August 2006 Hezbollah War. And on June 8th, 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the IDF attacks on the USS Liberty, I was labelled an anti-Semite for posting a list of the names of those Americans killed during the attack.
In case you've never been falsely and seriously labeled as anti-Semitic, I'll let you know that it isn't a nice experience. The basic issues of having to defend my actions - the composition of "The Skies are Weeping," rage over environmental damage to the Levant coast, or disgust over the needless deaths of American sailors and Marines, were pretty basic. But, especially over the period of "The Skies are Weeping" issues, I made far, far more Jewish friends than I lost.
The contention was sad. But the saddest aspect of these three events have had to do with people who had been friends, mostly fundamentalist, evangelical or Catholic Christians who I know from some of my community activities in Anchorage and Wasilla. Having heard or read that I was an anti-Semite, they believed it. They came out, let their hair down, showed their inner racist. Some thought I would appreciate their Jew joke. Others thought they could share their views on the worldwide Jewish "conspiracy." And so on. None are still my friends.
I started this essay Saturday, the 27th. It is now mid-day on the 28th. I've seen other diaries at DailyKos since the one I referenced at the top, that have comments accusing pro-Palestinian commentors, or people very critical of IDF actions, as anti-Semitic, or as being dumb, ignorant, stupid, ill-informed, or whatever.
If you've been falsely accused of anti-Semitism, feel free to comment about your experience(s).