This article is a translation of a piece that appeared in the Jewish Community of Athens in response to the editorial by Papachristos that backed the publication of the antisemitic cartoon of Varufakis in the paper TA NEA.
Βy Minos Moises
Well, I read Mr George Papachristos’ answer in NEA, in connection with our complaints about the sketch depicting Varoufakis as Shylock, an avaricious Jew from the Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare.
Papachristou described it [the complaint] as a demonstration of “extreme sensitivity” and continued: “But Shylock has come from the pen of William Shakespeare, not a banned writer to my knowledge. Therefore it is not a ‘religious racist stereotype’ which refers to ‘religious hatred’, as the statement [by the Jewish Community of Athens] says, but to a character of world literature that inspired the cartoonist. Therefore, I marvel on the issued statement – especially in a year that was stained with the blood of cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo who satirised, sometimes with great acidity, Islam... Let me observe that if we recognize the right to ‘Charlie Hebdo’ to ridicule Muhammad, we should not become so easily edgy because of a sketch like the one Xenou created, which - most importantly - was not antisemitic."
If Mr Papahristos had bothered to make some research on the analysis and the contemporary reviews of the work of Shakespeare, he would have found two dominant interpretations.
The first is the one claiming that, in the face of the Jew Shylock, the author deciphers the religious oppression of the era in England for anyone who was not a Protestant and creates a character that satisfies the stereotypes of the time for the avaricious Jews. Shylock was continually persecuted and threatened by the Christian environment, and many even perform in Shakespeare also the intention to communicate theatrical his personal experience, since his parents were Catholics at Stratford that lost their social position by the fury of the Protestant Church. Furthermore, all analysts of Shakespeare's work highlight that, at the time he wrote, no Jews lived in England after King Edward had them evicted and killed some four centuries before, in the time of the Crusades. Shakespeare, it may therefore be said, stepped on stereotypes about Jews in order to highlight the circumstances of religious hatred without directly affecting citizens of the country at the time.
The second interpretation, widespread as well, is that in modern eyes affected by the post-Holocaust era, the work Merchant of Venice is antisemitic, just because it promotes stereotypes religious hatred, isolation and racism.
This means that the reference of the "Shakespeare" argument by Mr Papachristos can not be a reason to avoid a reaction from our side. Four hundred years later, much has changed and the world has paid dearly the evolution of "innocent" stereotypes to hatred and humanitarian disaster.
As for Charlie Hebdo, since the day this tragic event occurred in Paris earlier this year, there has been a vast debate on whether there should be boundaries in satire and, if so, where they should lie. Opinions differ and I will not take sides. What is certain is that Charlie Hebdo can not be used as an excuse for considering unauthorized any protest and reaction against sketches and caricatures by those who believe that affect them. The right to react should be equally recognised as much as freedom of expression is recognised. If the Charlie Hebdo case leads to questioning the right to decent and non-violent expression of those who disagree with the inspiration of artists, this would mean lack of freedom for the former and absolute freedom even immorality for the latter.
Finally, Mr Papahristos is not the one who will dictate us the style of our announcements or with what we will get edgy. We will not ask for anyone's permission to highlight what bothers and saddens us. Our history has taught us that we must be particularly sensitive against whatever, in our judgement, reproduces annoying stereotypes.