Harvey Weinstein’s disgrace produces another nasty caricature

October 14, 2017 by Ben Cohen - JNS.org
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Walking through central London last week, and with a spare half hour on my hands, I decided to pay a quick visit to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Inside, I spent most of my time intently studying a painting that I could not recall having seen before: “The Philosopher,” a 1645 canvas by the Italian painter Salvator Rosa…writes Ben Cohen/JNS.org.

Harvey Weinstein. Credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Rosa depicts a stern young man with flowing black locks and undistinguished clothing holding a stone tablet that bears the Latin inscription, “Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio.” In English, it means, “Either be silent, or say something better than silence.”

Like any writer who spies a good quote, I made a note of this stoic and elegant maxim, resolving to use it when a suitable occasion arose. I didn’t expect that to happen just five days after I saw the painting, still less that I would invoke it in the context of a discussion centered on disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

But when a friend emailed me a link to a piece on Weinstein by Mark Oppenheimer, a writer for the Jewish magazine Tablet, the first thing that came into my head was Salvator Rosa’s maxim. This piece is an arch-example of why silence, in a philosophical sense, is sometimes necessary, and why excessive, ill-informed chatter steers us towards prejudice instead of reason.

Oppenheimer’s thesis, such as it is, states that Weinstein’s unwanted sexual advances upon women were indicative of—in the delightful phrase coined by Tablet’s editors—a “specifically Jewy perviness.” Unlike other serial offenders against women who are non-Jews, like Roger Ailes or Bill O’Reilly, Weinstein is said to display a particularly Jewish, and deeply pathetic, psychosexual neurosis. Whereas the no-nonsense gentiles do their business and then carry on, Weinstein is driven by a desire to perform for his victims, by committing sexual acts while they are compelled to watch.

Since Freud’s time, psychologists have debated why some humans are aroused by “exhibitionism,” with some arguing that its origins are entirely sexual, while others counter that non-sexual causes need to be taken into account. I don’t claim to be an expert on this literature, but I’d be very surprised if any of it links this particular sexual fetish to Jewish males specifically.

But none of that matters to Oppenheimer, who rests his entire case on Philip Roth’s 1967 novel, “Portnoy’s Complaint.” The pre-eminent text of delinquent Jewish sexual deviance, it’s a novel that many of us, myself included, embraced during adolescence—amid warnings from our elders, largely ridiculed, that Roth’s creation, Alexander Portnoy, was a gift to the anti-Semites out there.

Ben Cohen

Writing as if he is the very first person to have made these sorts of connections, Oppenheimer provides a pedestrian account of Portnoy’s kinky dalliances with women both real and imagined and then stretches them to Weinstein. His message is simply this: Jewish men who engage in sexual harassment do so because they are burdened with a power that they can’t handle, and are therefore propelled into, as Oppenheimer says of Weinstein, a “revenge-tinged fantasy of having risen above his outer-borough, bridge-and-tunnel Semitic origins.” It is this collision of inner weakness and hunger for power that is, apparently, the Jewish element informing Weinstein’s deviance.

I don’t propose for a moment that this highly speculative, deeply silly theory is worthy of serious consideration. But if Oppenheimer has made a singular contribution with this offering, it is the addition of a new caricature—the “Jewy Perv”—to the gallery of Jewish sexual delinquency designed and maintained by anti-Semites.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in this column, in the wake of the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, about an extraordinary outburst of sexual jealousy by white supremacist Christopher Cantwell, who railed against President Donald Trump for having “given his daughter to a Jew,” Jared Kushner. Oppenheimer’s portrait of Weinstein belongs firmly in this category of bigoted fantasy: but whereas for the Nazis, Jews (like blacks) are ruthless sexual exploiters of fair white women, in the universe of Brooklyn hipsters, Jews are motivated to do the same by a grasping, unpleasant psychic frailty.

I can’t quite decide which stereotype is worse, but at least Oppenheimer has now done what Cantwell will never do, by issuing an apology for his piece. To my mind, the apology doesn’t make much difference—the piece remains online, and the subsequent apology makes no mention of the old-school antisemitism Oppenheimer so joyously revived—but it’s something. The next time a prominent Jew becomes enmeshed in a public scandal about sex (or money, for that matter), perhaps he will heed Salvator Rosa’s maxim by keeping his mouth firmly shut.

Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.


2 Responses to “Harvey Weinstein’s disgrace produces another nasty caricature”
  1. Erica Edelman says:

    Good on you Ben!
    Mouth firmly shut is a much better option than
    Disgracing yourself with ridiculous rhetoric.
    It would seem Oppenheimer is scraping the bottom of
    The barrel once again for a relevant story – alas his apology
    Does nothing but compound the issues.
    As for Weinstein and his behaviors – there are plenty of “clones” around.
    For eons jewish and non jewish imbeciles have
    Been performing their sick antics. From my reading over the
    Years, these people – with a list of mental illnesses much longer
    Than their appendages- are not so much sorry for their antics but
    More sorry they got caught. Good luck with the rehab Harvey. Some
    Personal insight wouldn’t go astray!

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    He mostly look scruffy. Cant do up his tie or button his top button when in a suit and other photos in the weekend media show him with a jumper that is to small or with his shirt hanging out. What a dress sense grub he is.

    However his adulterous and perverted conduct is not the exception in Hollywood as it has been going on since the 1920’s when Hollywood started.

    Many Hollywood films in the past were good but much of them now is rubbish, remakes or so American with British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian actors have to put on Yankee accents when in many cases they are not necessary.

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