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Review: 'The Finkler Question'

The Finkler Question, by Howard JacobsonRacism is not amusing

The comic novel “The Finkler Question” by Jewish British writer Howard Jacobson won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for 2010 but one can well ask did it answer the question? The questions implicit in the novel seemed to revolve around the nature of Jewishness and the moral challenge to Jewry of the race-based Jewish colonization of Palestine. Unfortunately while the novel wittily explores some aspects of Jewish exclusivity it fails to properly address the huge moral issue of racist, genocidal Zionism. Further, much of the humor is at the expense of anti-racist Jews opposing the human rights abuses of Apartheid Israel.

Howard Jacobson’s “Coming from Behind” was a very funny addition to the genre represented by British university-based  novels like Kingsley Amis’ “Lucky Jim” and David Lodge’s hilarious romps of the so-called "Campus Trilogy" of “Changing Places”, “Small World”,  and “Nice Work”.. However Howard Jacobson’s Booker Prize-winning novel “The Finkler Question” starts out very funny but then the laughter quickly subsides – I do not believe one should make jokes about. anti-Jewish  anti-Semitism, anti-Arab anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, the Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million killed, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation), the WW2 European Holocaust (30 million Slavs Jews and Gypsies killed), the ongoing Zionist-backed US Alliance War on Muslims (12 million Muslim killed through violence or war-imposed deprivation since 1990, 20 million Muslim refugees) and the ongoing Palestinian Genocide (2 million dead since 1936, 0.1 million from violence, 1.9 million from war-, occupation- and expulsion-imposed deprivation and 7 million refugees) (for the Awful Truth see “Muslim Holocaust, Muslim Genocide”).

Indeed “The Finkler Question” makes a joke from beginning to end at the expense of anti-racist Jews and hence implicitly of anti-racists in general who are moved to speak out against the appalling human rights abuses and genocidal crimes of racist Zionist-run Apartheid Israel . For alphabetically-organized compendia of the opinions of outstanding anti-racist Jews and anti-racist non-Jews critical of Apartheid Israel see  the websites “Jews Against Racist Zionism” and “Non-Jews Against Racist Zionism”.

There is a quasi-rule of political correctness that by and large only Irish can make jokes at the expense of the Irish (Irishman Dave Allen being a great exponent of this genre) and that only Jews can make jokes at the expense of Jews (brilliant in this regard being a wealth of Jewish comedians such as Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce and works by some great Yiddish writers e.g. Nobel Laureate Jewish American writer Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “The Séance and Other Stories” and Sholem Aleichem’s  “The Adventures of Menahem Mendl”). However that is fine when such licensed Jewish satirists are making fun of stupid, ignorant, dishonest, drunken, adulterous, love-sick or self-righteous Jews, but distinctly unfunny when the targets are anti-racist Jews who have the intellectual honesty and courage to overcome blind tribal loyalty and stand up for the egregiously violated human rights of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.

This humor at the expense of anti-racist Jews in “The Finkler Question” becomes even less funny when one considers the new anti-Jewish and anti-Arab anti-Semitism that has been entrenched by racist Zionists and their neocon confrères  in the Western Murdochracies and Lobbyocracies.

Now to the details of the novel. Fifty-ish non-Jew Londoner Julian Treslove is a former employee of the BBC and is occasionally employed as a lookalike of famous actors. He has had numerous temporary love affairs and has two sons Alfredo and Adolpho. He occasionally dines with 2 Jewish friends, his former schoolmate, anti-Zionist Sam Finkler, and elderly pro-Zionist Libor  Sevcik, of whom both have been recently widowed. Sam Finkler is a philosopher, author and media personality who has three university-age children Jerome, Blaise and Immanuel by his late non-Jewish wife Tyler. Sam has affairs as does Tyler, most latterly with Treslove. Finkler is a leading light of ASHamed, an organization of anti-racist Jews who are ashamed over racist Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. Libor Sevcik is an elderly show business journalist and author whose concert pianist wife Malkie, the love of his life, gave up her career to marry him and has recently died. Pro-Zionist Libor  refers to Finkler’s anti-Zionist Jewish friends as “Nazis” and “anti-Semites”.

Treslove is going home from a dinner with Libor and Finkler when he is mugged and robbed by a woman. He offers no resistance and is left with the distinct  impression that she has referred to him as “You Jew”. After a one-night stand with an arsonist lover (he awakes to find the bed alight) Treslove attired as Darcy attends a Jane Austen–theme party for a buxom, real American Jane Austen who  successively mis-places him as Brad Pitt and thence as the Jewish American actors Dustin Hoffman and Billy Chrystal. He is much taken with this, his second identification as a Jew (or in his parlance a “Finkler”). Treslove “a man who ordinarily woke to a sense of loss” speculates that he actually is a “Finkler”. Treslove moves in with Jewish beauty Hephzibah Weizenbaum (Hep, Juno) after meeting her at a Passover Seder at Libor’s place and proceeds to advance his new-found obsession with Jewishness. Hep, who has 2 ex-husbands, lawyer Abe and actor Ben, works at the Museum of Anglo-Jewish Culture which is attacked with bacon.

A central part of the novel is about Zionists versus the various anti-Zionists of ASHamed. Finkler’s anti-Zionist son Immanuel has his arm broken in a scuffle with Zionists outside the Oxford Union which had debated “This house believes that Israel has forfeited its right to exist”. Immanuel has knocked the hat off a pro-Zionist Orthodox Jew (the irony unnoticed by the author and his characters  being that Orthodox Judaism rejects political Zionism as heresy and blasphemy). Finkler accuses his son of “racist assault” and of being an “an anti-Semite” to which Immanuel replies “How can I be an anti-Semite? I’m a Jew”. Alvin Poliakov , a founder member of ASHamed is trying to restore a foreskin to his circumcised penis and “The [blog] dedication above Alvin Poliakov’s penis from which weights of assorted sizes and materials hang, reads: “To the mutilated of Shatila, Nebateyah, Sabra, Gaza. Your struggle is my struggle.”

This appalling sex-linked trivialization of appalling Israeli massacres recurs when Finkler and an anti-Zionist associate Tamara Krausz defeat 2 pro-Zionist Jews at a public debate. Tamara Krausz says (correctly) that “the Zionist ideal was criminal from its inception… Then, as Finkler sitting next to her noticed, her body began to heat up. Her lips grew swollen as though from a demon lover’s kisses. There is a kind of eroticism in violence, she told the enthralled assembly”. The pro-Zionist argument is presented thus by the author: “Finkler sighed as they went through the routines that had been tired when he first heard them from his father thirty or more years before – how tiny Israel was, how long-standing were Jewish claims to the land, how few of the Palestinians were truly indigenous, how Israel had offered the world but every effort at peacemaking had been rebuffed by the Arabs, how much more necessary than ever a secure Israel was in a world in which anti-Semitism was on the increase …”.  A Gentile woman asks the panel from the floor “What other country defines itself and those it permits to enter it on racial grounds? Is the reason you are uniquely singled out for censure, that you are uniquely racist?” Finkler responds brutally: “How dare you! How dare you , a non-Jew … how dare you even think you can tell Jews what sort of country they may live in, when it is you, a European gentile who made a separate country for Jews a necessity?” The audience is displeased with Finkler and Tamara whispers to him “Hysterical”. Finkler , who has been fantasizing about Tamara, replies “ You wouldn’t care to lie in my arms and scream that. Would you?”

The story proceeds with details of Tyler Finkel’s seduction of Treslove while they watch Finkler’s philosophical documentary programs on TV, Tyler’s death, Treslove’s concern to Libor that Finkler and Hep might be having sex, and Libor’s assertion that Treslove is an anti-Semite: “You’re not alone. We’re all anti-Semites. We have no choice. You. Me. Everyone.” Treslove goes with Hep and Finkler to see an anti-Zionist play called “Sons of Abraham” that closes with images of Auschwitz superimposed over the rubble of Gaza. They meet Hep’s ex Abe who explains that the marine biologist author of the play has been sacked by his university employer  for saying that Auschwitz was a holiday camp. Abe starts pestering Hep who becomes paranoid about Museum security. Alfredo discovered his “Uncle Sam” at a Park Lane bar notorious for picking up high class sex workers and reports this to Treslove. Alfredo on route by train to Eastbourne encounters Libor who he doesn’t know  and who is on his way to Beachy Head (“Bitchy “Ead”) where he will commit suicide. Treslove learns of the encounter from Alfredo’s mother who has seen the TV news.

Treslove was upset and deeply depressed over  Libor’s death. “The disgrace was universal. Just to be a human animal was to be a disgrace. Life was a disgrace, an absurd disgrace, to be exceeded in disgracefulness only by death”. Hep perceives his depression “All she could do was hope that the world would, on a whim, change its tune, that the ugly talk would somehow stop of its own accord, that a gust of fresh wind would blow clean away the deadly miasmas poisoning the Jews and their endeavours”. Treslove is late for the Museum opening, is excluded because he has forgotten his invitation and is knocked down by a car and ends up with minor injuries in hospital. Finkler does the funeral Kaddish for child-less Libor and mourns “Tyler whom he failed as a husband, Libor whom he failed as a friend… It’s from Hephzibah, with whom he is in frequent contact, that Samuel Finkler takes his cue. Her sense of incompletion, of a thing not finished that might never have begun, becomes his sense. He never really knew Treslove either. And that too strikes him as a lamentation. There are no limits to Finkler’s mourning.”

“The Finkler Question” in a sense is faction (fiction based on fact) but the faction is incomplete – cultural questions about what constitutes a Jew and moral arguments about Apartheid and genocide in Palestine have been glibly subsumed to outrageous and unjust humour. Faction distorts  reality and often serves an agenda. Thus the novel “The Street Sweeper “ by Jewish Australian Elliot Perlman is also faction  with an unacceptable, “aren’t we nice”, Zionist bias that ignores relevant Elephant in the Room realities,  dealing with atrocities against African Americans in the struggle for civil rights but ignoring the horrendous realities of life for African Americans today in neocon American- and Zionist-beholden America and graphically describing aspects of the Jewish Holocaust while  ignoring the horrors of the ongoing Palestinian Genocide (2 million deaths, 7 million refugees, 90% of Palestine ethnically cleansed, 6 million Palestinians forbidden to even live in Palestine) and of  the Zionist-backed Muslim Holocaust and Muslim Genocide (12 million violence- and deprivation-related deaths since 1990, about 20 million Muslim refugees) (see “Review: “The Street Sweeper”, MWC News,12 May 2012: ). “The Finkler Question”  plays for laughs and the shock of numerous assertions which if made in full seriousness by a non-Jew rather than by characters in a Jewish-authored novel would elicit outrage.

What Howard Jacobsen actually thinks himself is probably the opinion of non-Jew Tyler Finkler who has an unsatisfactory, wishy-washy, bob-each-way attitude to the Israelis “They are now just ordinary bastards, half right, half wrong, like the rest of us” (p274, Chapter 11) . In an Australian ABC TV Q&A celebrity program Howard Jacobsen came up against pro-human rights Jewish American author  Carol Dines with the following exchange about another equivocal  Obama “peace’ speech: Gail Dines: And I'm [an] ashamed Jew. Howard Jacobson: And you will never get - well, you should be ashamed of being an ashamed Jew. Gail Dines: No, I'm not. Howard Jacobson: And you will never get - and you will never get peace unless the Arab countries understand the equivalent centre of self of an Israeli.(see Transcript, Q&A, Sydney Writers’ Festival, 23 May 2011).

The answers to questions about what constitutes a Jewish person can have a common denominator in family history. Thus I am an anti-racist (and accordingly necessarily  anti-Zionist),  agnostic, Australian Humanist but am deeply conscious of the Jewish part of my heritage and the loss of most of my wider Jewish relatives in the Jewish Holocaust. Professor Shlomo Sand in his book “The Invention of the Jewish People” makes the damning points that there is no evidence for the Exodus from Egypt, for the 1st century AD mass Exile of Jews from Palestine or for a huge David and Solomon Jewish Empire. Professor Sand further points out that the ethnic descendants of the Palestinian Jews from the time  of Christ are actually today’s  Palestinians, and that the Jewish Israelis who are effecting a genocidal Palestinian Exile today are mostly the descendants of Yemeni, Berber and Khazar converts to a universalist Jewish religion in the first  millennium AD. Just as Henry VIII and his state apparatus took over the English Church in the 16th century, so the oil- and geostrategy-obsessed CIA and MI6  took over much of Jewry via the Zionist enterprise in the 20th century.

The answer as to the immorality and obscenity of racism, racist Zionism, Apartheid, Apartheid Israel and the Palestinian Genocide is given very simply by outstanding Jewish American scholar Professor Jared Diamond who in his best-selling book "Collapse” (Prologue, p10, Penguin edition) enunciated the "moral principle, namely that it is morally wrong for one people to dispossess, subjugate, or exterminate another people" – an injunction grossly violated by racist Zionist-run Apartheid Israel and its racist, genocide-committing and genocide-ignoring US Alliance backers. “The Finkler Question” by Jewish British writer Howard Jacobson annoys and disappoints by subordinating serious issues to cheap laughs at the expense of anti-racist Jews.

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