Revisiting Bourdain in Jerusalem

Kitchen ConfidentialI used to cook in some pretty good restaurants back east when I was a tad younger.

For a while I wore a toque and reduced veal stock into glace de viande and did things like eviscerate soft-shelled crabs for evening service.

In my estimation, as a former professional cook, Anthony Bourdain is tops in the hierarchy of celebrity chefs.

This is true not because of his considerable cooking ability, but because of his cultural intelligence, otherwise I would not bother with the guy.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly – the book that allowed him to shelf his chef knives – is a memoir of a smart New York American cook who became a kick-ass sous chef and who sat up nights writing about the organized mayhem and hostile bullshit that is a busy restaurant in the city on a Saturday night.

{Speaking strictly for myself, I will never forget working a deep-fat fryer while two cooks in their twenties – as was I at the time – had a fist fight in the kitchen.  I just started hollering, “Stay the %&*# away from me!  Do not come anywhere close to here!!” as they slugged it out barely six feet from where I stood above gallons of glistening hot oil, before I simply scooted on out of there.}

Bourdain is a culinary Hunter S. Thompson and in his 2013 season two premier episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown his producers and financiers dragged him kicking-and-screaming into Jerusalem.

He began his rather uncomfortable travels around Israel by telling us this:

By the end of this hour I will be seen by many as a terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an orientalist, socialist, fascist, CIA agent, and worse.

So here goes nothing.

The man is no dope.

Despite The Jerusalem Episode I remain a fan and the thing of it, of course, is that he is absolutely correct.  I wondered for years why it was that he did not go to Israel, and I sometimes indulged my darkest suspicions, but now he tells us.  He notes in his very first breath that there is no way to discuss the place without angering people and the very last thing that someone like Bourdain – or Alton Brown or Bobby Flay or, say, Paula Deen, or any person whose job title is celebrity chef – wants to do is piss-off large parts of the viewing population and thus diminish their own value in the market.

The much maligned Paula Deen, in particular, might have something to say about this matter.

We should also remember that Bourdain and his people were in Beirut in 2006 when they found themselves in a rather unpleasant situation stuck between Hezbollah and the IDF.  We basically have Bourdain on camera from the time looking out over the city from his hotel balcony watching rocket fire and saying something along the lines of, “Well, now what the hell are we going to do?”

In any case, the reviews of the Jerusalem episode were mixed.  Writing in the Jewish Journal in September, 2013, Rob Eshman tells us this:

If you like food and you like Israel, this past week’s episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’ was a win-win.

And I say that despite the criticism Bourdain has received from the people who profess to love Israel. To them, he presented a biased, pro-Palestinian screed disguised as a food show.

From my perspective it is not hard to see why people who care about Israel would put forth significant criticisms of the episode, although I cannot help but notice the tone of sarcasm in Eshman’s emphasized use of the word “love” in regards Israel.

Bourdain’s mother was Jewish and, thus, Bourdain acknowledges his own Jewishness.  However he says, “I’ve never been in a synagogue.  I don’t believe in a higher power, but that does not make me any less Jewish.”  I agree for the obvious reason that “Jewish” refers to both a people and a religion, just as the word “Israel” refers to both a people and a country.

Bourdain, however, seems uncomfortable in Jewish shoes.  I find my Jewish shoes to be exceedingly comfy-cozy – although one needs to learn how to run fast in them – but Tony does not.

While at the Western Wall he donned a kippa, allowed an orthodox Jew to apply tefillin, and seemed entirely antsy all the way through… although not nearly so uncomfortable as when he was offered a crown of thorns for his noggin in the Christian quarter!

That he simply could not do, and I certainly do not blame him for it.  I would not put them on either!

What got Bourdain in trouble with some in the Jewish community, naturally, was politics and it is not as if the very first words out of his mouth did not suggest that he knew precisely what was coming.

If he had stuck to simply discussing the mysteries of falafel and shakshouka everything would have been just dandy and he would have flown out of Ben Gurion with nothing but well wishes and a newly found appreciation for sabih.

Unfortunately, there was no way to do that because that is not what the show is about.  It is never just about the food for Bourdain.  It is always also about culture, more generally, and thus about politics and that is a big part of the reason that I watch his stuff.  The man is intelligent, witty, charming, engaging – and an exceedingly curious and critical former degenerate – but he is emphatically not well-educated on the Arab-Israel conflict any more than I am well-educated on any number of conflicts happening around the world.

He claims:

Since 1967 half a million settlers have moved here all in contravention of international law.

Ultimately Bourdain means well, but he is simply not knowledgeable enough about the subject to think on it outside of the so-called “Palestinian narrative” which is, today, the mainstream media narrative in the west.  This is why he eyes his Jewish host in the “West Bank” with something resembling suspicion and questions him about Jewish anti-Arab graffiti.

He is, essentially, in this segment, playing “catch the Jew.”

The truth, of course, is that Tony Bourdain should probably not opinionate about international law in public.  I have far more credence to speak to his cooking ability than does he does to discuss international law… as my former semi-famous ex-attorney-in-law would presumably agree.

It just makes him look arrogant… and I say this as someone who likes the guy.

CAMERA, needless to say, was having none of it.  In a piece entitled, Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown – Jerusalem” Serves up Palestinian PropagandaSteven Stotsky writes:

Asserting he is part-Jewish, Bourdian made sure to distance himself from his Jewish background and deny any attachment to Israel. He described himself as an “enemy” of religious devotion and claims to have never been in a synagogue. While Bourdain?s narrative initially avoided taking sides, his host in Jerusalem, Israeli-born expatriate, Yotam Ottolenghi, was less careful. Ottolenghi’s recounting of Jerusalem?s status, “Basically, this city was divided into two until 1967 when there was the famous Six-Day War,” misrepresents the city?s history. In fact, Jerusalem was only briefly divided after the Jordanians occupied the eastern neighborhoods in 1948, expelled the Jewish residents and expropriated their property. For most of the city’s long history there was no division.



jerusalemLaurie and I bought Ottolenghi’s book not long after our last visit to Israel.

{The basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currants and herbs is outstanding, but if you attempt the fava bean kuku make sure to use fresh, rather than canned, favas.  It makes all the difference.  In fact, on reflection, canned favas are simply heinous and should always be avoided under any circumstances other than starvation… if then.}

What we did not know, however, upon making that purchase – of the book, not the favas – is that Ottolenghi, of Jewish-Italian descent, lost his younger brother, Yiftach, to friendly fire as a soldier in the IDF.

This may, perhaps, have something to do with Ottolenghi’s apparent biases.  Or, perhaps, he did not receive a very good education concerning the history of Israel, but when he said that Jerusalem, the City of David, was divided until 1967, without any historical context whatsoever, I got angry many months later and half a world away.

The problem here, of course, is not chef Ottolenghi, nor chef Bourdain.

The problem might be us… which is, I suppose, a typically Jewish response.

Because we have been so outnumbered for so long disdain toward Jews, yet again, has incorporated itself into western culture to such an extent that even American liberal semi-Jews, like Bourdain, think that Jewish people moving into Judea is some sort-of awful crime against “the native Palestinian population.”

Even American Jewish liberals think this.

In other words, what the Obama administration and the European Union and the United Nations and the larger western left is telling Jewish people, including people like Bourdain, is that we can live wherever we want with the exception of our traditional homeland because this is seen as an intrusion on “indigenous” rights.

Despite the fact that their are no more indigenous people to Judaea than the Jews, John Kerry and Barack Obama want to tell us that we have no right to live on the land of our ancestors without the permission of the PLO.

What could possibly more discriminatory and “racist” and anti-liberal and just plain horrendous than that?

Within living memory of the Holocaust some schmuck living on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. thinks that he has the right to tell me where I can live?

I am sorry, but it is unacceptable and we need to stand up for ourselves and the children and grandchildren of the Jewish people.

If we do not, one thing is certain, no one else will.

And however much I appreciate Bourdain as a television personality – however much he makes me want to visit every taco truck in Oakland – I cannot allow this nonsense to go without comment.

{And, therefore, for whatever it may be worth, I have not.}

Originally published at the Elder of Ziyon as “The Slow Incursion of anti-Israel Stupidity into Popular Culture… or Revisiting Anthony Bourdain in Jerusalem”

and Mike’s blog: Israel Thrives

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