Comedian Jackie Mason—Who Turns 82 Sunday—Is Still Really, Really Funny
But in an in-depth interview with Tablet Magazine, he also gets serious about Israel, anti-Semitism, and why Italians love him
A Jew who has complexes about being a Jew. He still sees a Jew as someone who doesn’t quite belong in America and is still embarrassed that he’s here. He still thinks of himself as a refugee who is somehow unacceptable to the upper echelons of society. So, he feels he can only be acceptable to the lower class. He doesn’t think the private clubs, the fancy atmospheres, are going to accept him. So, he has to feel like a Gentile in order to feel acceptable, to feel he belongs as a successful person. He has feelings of rejection all his life. He’s still living in that earlier era. If you’re raised in a certain way, these feelings don’t leave you for the rest of your life. That’s why you’ll find that young Jews today don’t have these diseases. Because they were not raised in that era when people rejected them. The earlier generations spend their entire lives trying to prove that they won over the Gentiles, trying to join a Gentile country club, living in a Gentile neighborhood, trying to join the military. Always trying to move and join places they don’t belong to prove that they belong there. While the Gentiles are looking down on him, he convinces himself that they love him. Paradoxically, Gentiles today are desperate to accept the Jews. Every Gentile now starts denying that he’s a Gentile. The Jews are trying to deny that they’re Jewish and the Gentiles are trying to become Jewish. They can’t wait to tell you that their sister-in-law is a Jew and their brother-in-law could have been a Jew but he forgot to convert on time. They always have a story about how Jewish they are. “Four more people in my family are getting married; one is marrying a Jew; one is trying to. One talked to a Jew on a bus; one came home with a Jew.” It has become an in thing; Jews became trendy.
A few years ago the pope, as soon as he became a pope, didn’t go to talk to Catholics in New York; he immediately went to talk to Jews, he went to meet a rabbi to prove that he’s not really a Gentile. Pope Benedict went to Auschwitz and went so far as to say if there is such a thing a God, how could he have allowed what happened during the Holocaust? He went so far as to even doubt the integrity, the power, the word of God. When he first became pope, the first thing he did was to visit the chief rabbi of Rome. They were very close. It was basically an admonition to the Catholics of the world. He expressed regret, apology for what happened. I would say the vast majority of Jews today understand the sincerity of the Catholics. Many of the official Jewish organizations always exaggerated the extent of hostility about the Catholics: The pope didn’t apologize enough, he could have worded it differently, he could have worded it better, longer, he could have repeated it another time, another year, another day. And no matter how he said it, they found another way he could have said it. But they don’t represent the thinking of most Jews. They’re afraid of their own unemployment. For the same reason people like Jackson and Sharpton kept inventing hate where it didn’t exist; they created hate in order to justify a headline. These Jews are the exact counterparts of the Jesse Jacksons and the Al Sharptons.
Why do you think some Christians have become pro-Israel and some Jews have become such fierce critics of Israel?
You would imagine that it would be impossible for a Jew not to support Israel. Here is a people that was persecuted throughout history, and most Jews have family members who were killed by the Nazis. And they come from parents who suffered all kinds of hate and discrimination and in so many cases were actually killed. And still American Jews who inherited all this misery are now against Israel because in their own lives they’ve been so comfortable and doing so good and had such a good time and enjoying themselves so they have to convince themselves that the Jews are the oppressors of the Palestinians. It’s always our fault if any minority has suffered. So, they decided that it’s the Jews’ fault that the Palestinians are having a rough time. As if the Palestinians would do better if not for the Jews.
The Jews have to prove to themselves they’re great humanitarians. They take up the cause of any underdog. To them a Palestinian is an underdog because he doesn’t have a fancy car and a big house. But how are they the underdog if they persecute the Jews all their lives and the Jews never bother them?
Do you see anti-Zionism as a codeword for anti-Semitism?
It depends on what the anti-Zionism is about. Sometimes people call it anti-Zionism not necessarily because it’s hate for Israel, but because it’s critical of certain things Israel does. And they call you anti-Zionist. People are hypersensitive. If you say a critical word about Israel, they call you names immediately. The fierce advocates for Israel, the ones who are most intensely and emotionally involved with Israel, if you say the slightest criticism about anything that Israel does at any time they immediately call you anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, and everything else. In Israel itself there are divisions among the people all the time. There are people who feel we should give up the settlements. They don’t hate Israel; no one would accuse them of hating Israel. In Israel there are people who want to make a lot more compromises than Netanyahu does. That’s why there’s a left, right, and a center. That’s why there are different positions on every issue. But nevertheless, yes, I would say, that more often than not, anti-Zionism is really a code word for anti-Semitism. Those who criticize Israel the most severely, intensely, and consistently, the extremists, are anti-Semites most of the time. They’re just against what the Jews have accomplished because they resent and are jealous of the Jews. Pat Buchanan, for example, is just an anti-Semite in his heart. I think underlying everything he resents Judaism and Jews.
Dan Shadur talks about his new documentary about life under the Shah, and his parents’ golden years in Tehran