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The Rothschild Guillotine

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Cover of Maayan, photo Shaxaf Haber

On 14 July, months before the first protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park, Israel’s version of Occupy Wall Street began when Daphni Leef, a 25-year-old filmmaker, found herself unable to pay her rent and pitched a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv. July 14th was the day the public conversation in Israel began to change. For decades Israeli politics had been stuck in an endless debate about the Palestinian issue, but while they quarrelled among themselves Israel’s citizens had failed to notice that a large part of Israel’s economy was now in the hands of 14 families. From being the most egalitarian country in the developed world, Israel had become the second most unequal one. But since the protests began, Jews and Arabs have been discovering solidarity and the welfare state.

One of the most astonishing events of the protests was the unexplained appearance of a full-size guillotine in the middle of Rothschild Boulevard. The next day, photos of the guillotine were plastered across the front pages of Israel’s major newspapers. Most people found it funny; Maariv, however, responded with an editorial demanding that the protest’s leaders condemn those who had put it up and reminding readers of the incitement that had preceded the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. In March, Maariv had been bought by Nochi Dankner, Israel’s biggest tycoon.

The guillotine was in place for just a few hours before the police pulled it down. And yet two months after its removal it has become the most discussed piece of installation art this year (leading me to feature it on the cover of the latest issue of Maayan, the poetry magazine I edit).

On 17 October, Muzi Wertheim, head of Coca-Cola Israel, ex-Mossad agent and owner of Keshet, Israel’s most successful TV network, told Maariv: ‘When I saw the Rothschild guillotine, my neck started to hurt.’ Tel Aviv’s mayor, Ron Huldai, who had the tents removed, still points a finger at the radicals who erected the guillotine at almost every council meeting, sometimes three or four times during the same session. Opposition members say he is obsessed.

For years we’ve joked about the ‘Israelisation’ of the world: anti-Muslim paranoia, the occupation of countries in the name of fighting terror, targeted killings, even global warming, all make the world more Israel-like. Today, as the Occupy Wall Street protests in America and Europe recall the endless lines of tents in Tel Aviv this summer, we’re finally seeing the positive aspect of Israelisation. Jesus and internet chat messaging systems aside, this region has until now mostly exported trouble and wars. It’s good to see a positive contribution at last.

Originally, the guillotine, first presented as part of the 2007 Herzliya Biennale, was meant for a different kind of protest. In an interview with the art magazine New and Bad, the artist who made it, Ariel Kleiner, explained that it had been inspired by the 2006 Lebanon War and was intended to demonstrate that whole societies here live on the gallows. The billionaires and their minions must have been feeling guilty about something.

Comments on “The Rothschild Guillotine”

  1. sashimijazz says:

    How does Arad see the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement as ‘…the positive aspect of Israelisation’. Surely they are two different issues. I thought OWS was against corporate greed, greedy bankers and the selfish and brutish aspects of capitalism – all of which ‘Israelisation’ seems in favour of! While I sympathise with the anger of the OWS on these issues, they have failed to understand that the failure of similar movements in the 60s and 70s was due to the fact that no effort was made to embed these values into the political and social systems then, so there was no real long-term effect…just sentimental memories.

    • cigar says:

      “Embed”… Jesus… It seems you went into a coma circa August 2001, and just woke up yesterday. Sure, lets “em BED”, lets be seduced by the vampire squid of this world, and everything will be ok. Sure! So the Argentinians who brought down that other vampire squid apologist, de la Rua, should have met him and his moneyman Cavallo, and come to a compromise: give us some crumbs, but lets avoid pissing off the IMF and the Paris Club and all those “dentist” bond holders.

      sashimijazz… You are way behind the times…lets truly jazz it up, it is the time to try something new, the 60’s are dead, that’s another era… dustbin of history and all that… bring down the government, don’t accept compromises, burn their rotten laws, and send the bastards to the work camps! No other alternative. Humanity doesn’t progress by “embedding” or believing in obsolete ideas: the 60’s died in 1968… the hippies either sold themselves to the market or enabled its rise by giving birth to the “Me decade”, the New Age and alll that egoistical garbage, Ayn Rand for compassionate café leftists… let them rot, go gray and die, nothing to learn at all from them. It wasn’t hippies who brought down Mubarak… The Greeks, the Spanish Indignados, the OWS and its followers all around the US were inspired by the Middle Eastern revolts, not by a bunch of bourgeois wannabe Che Guevaras in Paris or pot smoking loser frauds in Berkley or NYC who later joined the Democratic party.

      • Geoff Roberts says:

        I wonder is Tariq Ali or Dany Cohn Bendit agree with you? Blaming the ‘hippies’ (whoever they may be) for the ‘me decade’ is a little harsh. I think you misjudge the importance of social dynamics in the historical processes.

  2. chris darke says:

    Time for one of these outside St Pauls, n’est ce pas?

    (As regards artworks dealing with the subject Arad addresses, it’s worth also mentioning Nadav Lapid’s taut, class-conscious thriller ‘Hashoter’ (Policeman), which I caught at Locarno this year and is doing the festival rounds before hopefully ending up in distribution soon. Speaks directly and effectively to the divisions highlighted in this piece. Highly recommended.)

  3. Fatema Ahmed says:

    That’s interesting about the guillotine. I was struck by this statue of the Golden Calf on July 14th in Tel Aviv. I wonder who made it. http://www.flickr.com/photos/25976845@N06/6109757923/

    • Bob Beck says:

      The Occupy Wall Street protesters might follow that example, if they haven’t already. From what I know of USian society and culture — living next door, you pick up a certain amount — it’s an image that would have considerably more resonance than would a guillotine.

  4. Roy Arad says:

    Fatema:I saw this Biblical golden calf outside the wedding of the daughter of Nochi Dankner. There is a lot of art in the Israeli protest. You can look at the tent as an installation.
    Chris: I play in “The Policeman” as a poet-singer in a club.

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