To The Reader,

In the Spring of 2010 I began writing short essays, one to three pages, which were sent out to a relatively short list-serve. Almost all of these essays dealt with one of three general topics: the behavior of the United States government, the tribulations of the Middle East, and the difficulty of enforcing international law. These brief essays were well received and often redistributed by those who read them. Occasionally they were picked up by news and commentary sites. Thus something of a demand actually grew for the essays and that led me to construct To The Point Analyses.  


The site is divided as follows:

1. A Home Page on which appears the most recent essay.

2. An Archival section where the interested reader can find all past essays divided by topic.

3. A Featured Essays section where more recent essays can be found on individual pages.  In this section readers can also leave comments.  To all those readers who take the time to send along a comment, please be assured that I appreciate your doing so and that I read them all.

4. A Cartoon section with political cartoons I find both humorous and meaningful.

5. An Other Opinions section that holds some particularly insightful essays by other bloggers, journalists and academics.

6. A Biography section in case anyone is interested in who I am and where I came from.

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Not all readers will find these essays congenial, but then the Web is a vast arena that accommodates just about all views. And here you will find mine.

Lawrence Davidson


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Ethics and the Arts – An Analysis (22 February 2018) By Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Conservative Artists

There is no necessary correlation between artistic talent and personal ethics. One can be an artistic genius and ethically suspect at the same time. For instance, Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite, Ezra Pound was a fascist, Pablo Picasso was an aggressive male-chauvinist, actor Clint Eastwood, singer Wayne Newton and the actress Bo Dereck regularly endorse politically conservative know-nothings, and the playwright David Mamet thinks liberals are “brain dead.”

Artists emerge from the same varied social contexts as everyone else, and so they are going to exhibit a similar range of political and ethical points of view. While this is to be expected, it is nonetheless a bit strange when one runs into a politically conservative artist. After all, historically, conservative and authoritarian movements traditionally, and almost instinctually, seek to censor or otherwise control the arts. What happens then? In those instances when authoritarian movements have tried to force artists to conform to a dictated political and/or ethical positions, things have turned out badly. We know the horrors suffered by artists under Soviet and Nazi rule. Those in China have not fared much better. One can find even earlier precedents. A good example was the effort of the 15th century Dominican friar, Savonarola, to purge the Renaissance city of Florence of its secular art in the name of Christian renewal. His efforts caused havoc and eventually got him and some of his supporters executed.

Thus, at least since the end of World War II, those who have the best interests of the art world at heart have insisted that political and ideological influence over the arts be avoided. Yet, at least in the case of the United States, the effort to maintain this independence has become ever more of a struggle.

There are two reasons for this. First, there is the fact that many artistic organizations, such as orchestras, are donor dependent and thus, just as in politics, this gives those with money significant influence. Second, there is the fact that the U.S. is in the midst of a multi-front culture war. In other words, there is an ongoing conservative effort to turn U.S. culture away from a progressive orientation that supports artistic independence and in the direction of more political/ideological – and ethically suspect – goals.

Thus we find that in 2014 the rightwing National Review (NR) called on conservatives to compete for leadership in the realm of arts and culture. The NR seemed not to realize that this was already happening and not without some success, as suggested by the examples given above. Finally we find the well-regarded painter Steve Penley recently appearing at a “Red State gathering,” and asking “can’t any hip people be conservative?” Depending on what you mean by “hip,” the answer may well be no.

Part II – Seducing the Philadelphia Orchestra

It is against the backdrop of this ongoing culture war – wherein we find an erosion of the principle that artists and artistic organizations should not allow themselves to be politically seduced – that I got a bit of shock. Opening the Philadelphia Inquirer (on-line edition) for 13 February 2018 I was confronted with the headline, “On a diplomatic mission – and to woo patrons – Philadelphia Orchestra will go to Israel.” Here, according to Ryan Fleur, the orchestra’s “interim co-president,” is what is going on.

— The Philadelphia orchestra will go to Israel in June 2018 and perform in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.

— Fleur claims that Israel is “unique because it has a cultural diplomacy angle.” Actually, this “angle” of “cultural diplomacy” is never clearly, much less honestly, explained. And, as it turns out, it seems that the diplomacy approach is not really to Israel proper, but rather to the Zionist community in Philadelphia.

— “The orchestra also wanted to build bridges with its Jewish supporters, from whom it was hearing it should do more for Israel.” The question also seems to have arose, “Are we truly responsive to the Jewish community?”

— The fact that the Jewish community is multifaceted and has varying attitudes toward Israel seems never to have entered Mr. Fleur’s mind or, apparently, the minds of other orchestra leaders. Instead, an alliance was struck with the Zionist-oriented Jewish Federation of Philadelphia. Their answer as to how the Philadelphia Orchestra can be more responsive to the Jewish community was to send the musicians off to a foreign country with a record of human rights violations that has alienated ever greater numbers of American Jews. Obviously, someone did not think this move through.

— “Diplomacy” turns out to correlate with the orchestra’s never-ending need for donor dollars. “Part of the goal is engage different Philadelphians that have not been frankly actively involved with the orchestra, so there is a longer-term patron cultivation aspect to this.” My guess is that, as part of the deal, the Jewish Federation promised to encourage ongoing donations to the orchestra in exchange for the trip to Israel. It is, in fact, Federation-connected donors who are paying for the trip, to the tune of $1.5 to $2 million.

All of this would be fine if weren’t for the fact that Israel is an apartheid state engaged in ethnically cleansing its indigenous Palestinian population. Alas, there is a lot more to Israel than being, as Fleur bragged, “a great classical [music] location.” Indeed, Israel’s apartheid nature is no secret and it seems just too far-fetched to believe that the leaders of the orchestra, and the musicians too, don’t know about this allegation. Indeed there is a well-advertised worldwide cultural boycott of Israel in place.

So, what sort of “cultural diplomacy” is going to take place while in Israel? Fleur mentions a parallel food tour – the musicians will be treated to an introduction to Israeli cuisine. By the way, as part of its ethnic cleansing program, the Israelis have appropriated Palestinian food and now call it Israeli. Will there be any exposure to Palestinian culture? How about a performance at Ramallah in the occupied West Bank? How about master classes for students of Bir Zeit University’s music program? No go. Even if the orchestra was interested in that sort of cultural “angle” (and it doesn’t seem to be), the Israeli government would be sure to block such efforts. This in itself should indicate that the Philadelphia Orchestra is getting its hands dirty by going to Israel.

Part III – Likely Consequences

Can it be that the leadership of the Philadelphia Orchestra believe they will receive no negative publicity from this decision? Have they not considered the possibility that they will wake up some morning in the near future and find pickets encouraging people not to patronize the orchestra? Confronted with this reality, how will the Philadelphia Orchestra react? Probably badly.

Having tied themselves to the Zionists, the orchestra leadership will not be able to react rationally to the charge that they are aiding and abetting apartheid. They might try to dodge the issue by saying this tour is about culture and not politics, but when it comes to racist states like Israel, and racist ideologies like Zionism, culture has been subsumed by politics and ideology. And those who ally with these sorts of movements become ethically compromised. In a certain sense the orchestra, as an institution, has sold its cultural soul for donor silver. Perhaps some of the musicians will preserve their own cultural integrity by deciding to stay home.


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