Students leave Jerry Seinfeld’s speech in protest

Students leave Jerry Seinfeld's speech in protest 1Comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently gave a speech at Duke University in the US, and some members of the audience walked out in protest at his Jewishness and support for the State of Israel.

A few years ago, I don’t think anyone thought much about Seinfeld being Jewish or supporting Isreal. He was seen as the greatest comedian of our time, someone who could analyse and psychologise the underlying hysteria of everyday life. He hosted one of the most popular TV shows ever, and quit of his own accord when he was at the top.

And now he’s a Jew and a friend of Israel. It really swings fast sometimes. It didn’t take many decades from a time when young people had Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Gene Simmons and Bob Dylan on their walls, without reflecting on race or ethnicity. Today, more people are involved in thinking about identity, gender, skin colour and which wars to be for or against.

It seems to be difficult to keep all the balls in the air, and to realise that both Hamas and Israel kill civilians in the fighting, exactly how many and how we will not know until the conflict is over, if even then. Why one should take sides in this kind of perpetual war is difficult to answer. Sure, you can simplify things and point out that Israel is the only democracy in the region, but it has also subjugated a country and driven people away. There are a lot of arguments back and forth. And it will take a while before we find out who threw the first stone, and the last.

Is it right to walk out of a lecture theatre in protest, because of a person’s ethnicity and position in an ongoing war?

The question itself shows how domesticated and pacified we are. Who decides what is ‘right’? Is there a state-approved and established right and wrong?

Of course you can protest against people, individuals, wars or whatever. In an open and free society, shouldn’t you be able to leave a meeting in protest regardless of whether the speaker is Tutsi, Huti, Ainu or Bleking? And I can say this without sympathising with the communist-leaning Hamas supporters at Duke University. If they had their way, Seinfeld wouldn’t even have been invited. We’d just have approved political clubs in safe spaces.

Yes, it is often freedom itself that is the problem in a free society. If it is too free and democratic, unpleasant situations can arise. And there is a strong urge to tone down anomalies, to dampen down the overly frank and rowdy, until we have no freedom at all. Uniformity and rigidity can sometimes be mistaken for freedom, like the goldfish that longs for a bigger bowl, but never dreams of the sea.