Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Harlan Ellison: Tough Jew Part III

Part III of my Harlan Ellison interview, in which Harlan refuses to solve the problems of the Middle East but solves our problem with the Middle East…

METH: You’ve told me this before but I don’t think it’s ever been printed. Your solution for Israel and the Middle East, please.

ELLISON: Okay. Here’s the story. It’s got to be 10 or 15 years ago when I get a call from the USIA, the U.S. Information Agency, the ones who do all the propaganda for the United States. They said, “Mr. Ellison, we’ve had a request for you to come and lecture in Israel. As an American-Jewish writer who is very popular—your works have been reprinted over there—they’d like you to come and lecture in Haifa at the university. So I said, “Yeah, that’s all right.” Now, in truth, I have about as much interest in going to Israel as I do in going to Germany, into which I have never set foot. That’s one of the three or four things I’ll never do. I did a list of things I will never do in my life: I will never do an ad for McDonald’s; I will never step foot in Germany; I will never eat lima beans; I would never harm a child; and I will never voluntarily read a book by Judith Kranz. Those are five of the things that are uppermost in my life. So then when I say voluntarily, I mean if you put a gun to my head, I probably would read a book by Judith Kranz, but I wouldn’t like it. As for lima beans, as I have often said, you show me someone who will eat a lima bean without a gun to the head, and I will show you a pervert.

So, to get back to where I was: An entire nation of people who are like my relatives, a whole country of yentas and kvetches, is not my idea of a good time. Now, I would love to see Petra, I would love to see the pyramids of Egypt, but I really have no interest in going to Israel. But, what the hell? Free trip, and Susan and I would go and we would do whatever. And maybe I could get to Petra while I’m there. So, I say, “Sure, I could do that.” And they’re going to pay me a nice fee. Okay.

About a week goes by and USIA calls again and they said, “They would like to do interviews with you prior to your arrival so that they can warm the country up for your coming” and I said, “That’s terrific.” They said, “Well, The Jerusalem Post will be calling you, which is one of the biggest newspapers in the world,” and I said, “Great” and “Thank you very much” and “I’m looking forward to going” and blah, blah, blah and all that bullshit.

So one morning, soon thereafter as the crow flies, I get a call from a guy and I can’t remember what his name was, but let’s call him Eleazer ben Yehudi. And he calls and he says, “Hello, this is Eleazer ben Yehudi and I am the senior editorial reporter for The Jerusalem Post and I would love to interview you.” And I said, “Just fire away.” And the first question out of his mouth is: “What do you, as an American Jew, think of the situation in the Middle East?” And I said to him, “Well, why would you ask me that? I’m a writer. I write amusing little fantasies. I’m not a political commentator. I don’t know what you people are going through over there. I have no opinion.” “No, no!” he says. “We’re anxious to hear what you think!” And he nuhdjes and nuhdjes and nuhdjes and pushes at me—already I know I’m going to hate Israel—and he keeps saying, “I want to know what you think! We want to know you want!” He sounds like Jackie Mason. So I say, “Listen. Trust me. You don’t want my opinion.” “Yeah!” he screams. “We want your opinion! We’re dying for your opinion! We’re plotzing to have your opinion!” He goes on and on and on; he will not let me off the hook. So finally I say, “Okaaay… but remember the old Chinese adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it!’” And he goes, “Ha, ha, ha! Extremely clever… So? What is your opinion?” And I said, “Here’s my opinion: all of you guys out there in the Middle East are out of the same melting pot, and you’re all as crazy as a butterfly on absinthe. I don’t know whether you’re all Canaanites at the base, or you’re all Jews at the base, or outa the Land of Nod, or whatever the hell you were at the git-go—Semites or what not—but you’ve been fighting there now for something like 8,000 years! You’ve never had five minutes of quiet and peace; you’re forever killing each other over the Holy Grail, or whatever the hell it is, and the rest of the world has had to suffer with this. Great things have come out of the Middle East, but stupidity seems to be your chief export—stupidity and violence are your cash crops, all you.” (And this was before September 11). I said, “My solution to the problem in the Middle East is this: We erect a wall 26 miles high around the entire Middle East. That’s Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, all of you—the whole bunch of you—26 miles high with one door, like a regular door in the front of a house. And every 10 years, we will open the door and look inside. If you’re still fighting, we close the door. Loz ze gein, you should live and be well—go and fight and kill yourselves. But if we peek inside and it’s safe, if it’s nice, if you’re not fighting, and you’ve got peace and quiet, you can come out and play with the rest of us like human people.

And the guy says, “What?” And I said, “Do you want me to repeat that?” He says, “No, thank you very much.” Bamm! He hangs up on me. Within an hour—an hour—USIA calls up and says, “Tour’s off. Pffffft!” And I tell you, I was relieved!

Being a tough Jew is like being a tough Oriental kid in an all-black neighborhood. When you’re an outsider, you’ve got two choices: You either become a target for people to hit you, to bully you, and con you, to take advantage of, and you wind up marrying people you shouldn’t, and you wind up in a job you shouldn’t have with people who bully you, or, you get tough. Now tough doesn’t mean hard. I’m not a hard guy; I’m a tough guy. That means that I take no shit and I’m wrong more often than I’m right, and when I am, I admit it. And that’s another part of being a tough guy. When you’re in the wrong you’ve got to face up to it and you’ve got to take responsibility for it. You can’t keep pushing it off on other people, and you can never blame the fact that you are a Jew! That’s what gets the goyim pissed off at us.

We just had a little fender-bender up here and I’m talking to the woman at AAA and she starts talking about “You people.” She was a black woman so she probably didn’t know that she was actually quoting the thoughts and philosophies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but that’s what she was doing. I tried to straighten her out but it was impossible. It’s widespread common lore that Jews own everything, to which my response is, “Well, if there is actually a great international Jewish money conspiracy, there’s some Jew out there with two shares, because I’m working my ass off!”

You’ve got to be able to accept responsibility for what you do, and you’ve got to be able to try and convince a lot of people who aren’t bad people, they’re just ignorant—not stupid, just ignorant; big difference—that Jews are not the arrogant, all-knowing “Chosen People.” That is as elitist bullshit as the Christians who think that when the Rapture comes, they’re going up and we’re going down. That’s just elitism, and it’s a bad kind of elitism, as opposed to my elitism, which is based on intelligence. Which is a good elitism.

And if you don’t like it, I’ll punch the shit out of you.

© The Kilimanjaro Corporation

Coming soon: Yr. Pal, Harlan
from IDW Publishing


Anonymous said...

Nice posting! As fresh and entertaining as always!

I'm not sure I followed Harlan's take on the Middle East: It doesn't sound like a tough Jew talking. It sounds like a clueless Jew talking.

(And Haifa of all places?! There's no Kvetching in Haifa! It's not latte sipping liberal Tel Aviv! Haifa's -basically- a filthy port city with a bunch of oil refineries and steel mills...)

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

Thanks, Cliff for the Harlan interviews. I've loved his work since I first read 'Repent, Harlequin.' said the Ticktockman. Never worn a watch since then. I'm 1/4 Jewish (my dad's ma), raised catholic, currently unaffiliated. I just found your blog and have been enjoying the archives. (deleted previous comment due to unintelligible 2nd sentence)

יונה אברהם said...

My name is Yona and I am an African-American Jew who lives in Israel.Of course I love Israel and yet in regards to Harlan's comments they are sort of typical of many Jews,the majority of whom have never visited Israel.

His comment on how to solve the Middle Eastern problem was hysterical!I would second his comment,except I would leave Israel out of the fenced off area!

Anyway,I got to this site because I am a fan of the original Star Trek and discovered that Harlan wrote my favorite episode,City on the Edge of Forever.I understand he was not happy with what ended up on the air,but I always loved it.