Whitney Triple Chaser Exhibit
by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
I accept that I am hyper sensitive to criticisms of Israel. And I
accept that a free world requires freedom of speech. But in the present climate
of increasing and ever-present hatred of Israel coming from so many sectors of
American and European intellectual and political life, if we honestly believe
in free speech we ought to insist on the right of reply. We cannot sit back and
ignore bias or dishonest reporting without reacting.
Things are getting worse. Antisemitism is now kosher because attacking
it might offend others. If you disagree with a policy on illegal immigration in
the USA, you can call people Nazis and accuse them of building Death Camps. If
you are a Muslim Head of State speaking before Oxford University’s prestigious
debating chamber, you can accuse Jews of being violent, cruel moneylenders and
oppressors and have the audience applaud. And you can politicize the Eurovision
Song Contest and be called a hero.
Once again, a New York Gallery has chosen to pillory Israel
without any nuance and with no fair right of reply. As if Israel was the only
state to use tear gas to control demonstrations from getting out of hand. You
may argue that protest is legitimate – and I do. But where there is no nuance –
no right of reply – it is simply dishonest.
Amongst all items in the 2019 Biennial exhibition of American Art at
the Whitney Gallery in New York is an item behind a curtain in a screening area. There is no warning that it is a piece of
propaganda. An organization called Forensic Architecture contributed an
artistic documentary about the Triple Chaser tear gas cannisters which are used
around the world for crowd control. Used
ones were collected and assigned colors according to locations of use. And then
turned into computer graphic collages which might be regarded, in the context
of Modern Art, as… Art.
But there was an ulterior motive. The Triple Chaser is
manufactured by a company called the Safariland Group which is headed by Warren
B. Kanders who also happens to be a vice-chair of the Whitney Museum of Modern
Art. So you might say that this was a laudable exercise in free speech. Goody
for the Whitney having the courage to bite the hand that feeds it. But dig a
little deeper and you discover that there is a much deeper hidden agenda.
This exhibit is not just an attack on Kanders. It selects Israel for
very special and specific condemnation and obloquy. About a third of the presentation of what an
innocent art goer might think is a work of art is devoted to specifically
excoriating Israel for defending itself. Not against peaceful demonstrators, as
the film implies. But against those
trying to pull down its defenses and invade its territory – both with malice aforethought
and malice expressed.
The Principal of Forensic Architecture is Eyal Weizman who
provides a fig leaf of respectability because of his Israeli name. He is a man with
an agenda to research human rights abuses. I would applaud this if he were
remotely objective. He is supported by the B’Teselm NGO and the Omega Research
Foundation who are both outwardly committed to human rights but equally myopic
in their concentration of hatred towards Israel. So the purported aim of embarrassing
Kanders was, in reality, only one small part of it all.
Apart from the graphics, the film contains clips of US agents firing
tear-gas grenades at civilians along the San Diego-Tijuna border in November
2018. The grenades were made by the
Safariland Group. So were the tear gas grenades used in the 2013 Gezi Park
protests in Turkey. As were items used by any number of other countries around
the world that trample on human rights and suppress non-violent protests with
guns and bullets. Or as the blurb of the exhibition puts it, “to suppress
dissent.” That alone is a lie because dissent has never been the issue in the
Israel-Palestinian affair where Arab members of the Knesset have always
expressed their criticism and opposition to Israel openly and freely.
The film then moves on to Sierra Bullets – also made by Safariland
and used in crowd control. The clips show the effects that the bullets can have
– and focused almost entirely on Israel’s use of them in containing the Gaza
clashes over its security border. To make matters worse, several of the clips have
been proven to be fake through staged and doctored injuries – a tactic used all
the time in support of the Palestinian cause.
Most of what the audience takes away from this is that Israel is
the arch villain in the piece and the prime user of these cannisters and
bullets. Quoting the European court of Human Rights to condemn Israel, it
equally misrepresents them by making no reference to a condemnation of
Palestinian tactics which includes using children as human shields or firing
over the security border with incendiary devices, explosives and rockets into
civilian areas on the other side.
The arms manufacturing and dealing business is not a very
attractive one. But if countries want to defend themselves against arms, or
violence, they need to buy arms of various sorts and degrees of sophistication and
someone needs to manufacture them. It is the sickness of the left that Israel
is singled out for condemnation for using arms to defend itself. And it is to
the shame of the Whitney, following in the long line of fellow travelling
opponents of Israel’s right to defend itself (and in most cases to just exist) that
have fallen for such biased art to curry favor with anti-Israel propagandists.
After having had their hatred bottled up for so long, what a relief it is to be
able to come out into the open and spew their prejudices all over the place.
I have no objection to criticizing the use of gases, guns and
every other form of violence except in self-defense. If anyone has a fairer,
safer, more effective alternative, I’d love to hear it. I have no doubt Israel would love to use it.
It hurts me when I see Israelis at the forefront of trying to
undermine Israel’s right to self-defense. If the Whitney were honest, it would
put on an exhibition of art that expresses a counter argument – or least
include some artists who do. It hurts me that an organization who claim to be
committed to art allows itself to be used for biased political ends. But, in
the meantime, you can write and complain. And if you are in town, give them a