July 20, 2019

Howard Stern: Visit Israel, Already

Roger Waters told the Jews to get out of Palestine. Howard Stern told Roger Waters to go F himself.

Classic Stern– but he could go one step further.

On Oct. 2 Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters published an open letter to Bon Jovi,  urging the New Jersey rocker not to perform  a scheduled concert in Tel Aviv. Waters listed 15 ways Israel inflicts violence upon Palestinians and told Bon Jovi that by performing in Israel he would be complicit in the “Israeli government’s apartheid policies.”

Waters has long been one of the Boycott, Sanction, and Divestment (BDS) movement’s leading activists. The goal of the BDS movement is to cripple Israel by isolating it economically, politically and culturally. If Waters could get Bon Jovi to cancel his trip, that would be a major win.

And then came Howard.

Stern launched a full-throated attack on Waters.  

“Where do you want the Jews to go, Roger?” Howard said on his Sirius satellite radio show.  “You want them to just go back to the concentration camp? What is it you want, fuckhead?”

“Where’s the one place they can stick Jews where no one will be offended? Because the Jews are getting killed all over the world. Give them a little homeland on a desert where there’s no water, where essentially no one could live. And no one did live there despite the bullshit. And the Palestinians are these Arabs that could live in Egypt, that could live in Saudi Arabia, but guess what? Those countries don’t want them either. So insufferably boring skewer version have a country, and Israel has a tiny little country and it bugs the shit out of Roger Waters.”

Anyone who listens to Howard regularly, as I do, daily, knows that he is a lightning-fast defender of Israel.  This isn’t the first time he went after Waters.

“Instead of being mad at the f–king terrorists raping their country … that they're not angry with. They're angry with Israel,” Stern said of Waters in 2014.  

During the last Gaza War, he went after Hollywood for not defending Israel.

“I don’t know why more prominent Hollywood people don’t speak out about what’s going on there,” Stern said. “They’re all afraid.” 

Howard isn’t afraid.

But he doesn't leap to Israel's defense because he's a observant Jew. No one has made me laugh harder making fun of Judaism and other organized religions.  Stern is the product of a typical suburban, Long Island,  mid-1960s, Reform Jewish upbringing. Which means he got a stiff, dull, watered-down, tepid, obscure, strict and insufferably dull version of Judaism—and dumped it as soon as he could. It’s not surprising that so many Jews of Howard’s generation left Judaism and gravitated to Eastern religions or just nothing. What’s really surprising is that after prolonged forced exposure to  post-war American Jewish education,  a single Jew stayed Jewish.

Howard, like so many of his generation, has abandoned almost every ritual of his faith.  He’s a devotee of Transcendental Meditation, which he practices twice daily (even though Jewish meditation is older and just as meaningful).

But down in his guts, his kishkas, at a tribal level,  Howard would never think to separate himself from his People. And Israel is the idea of the Jewish People made very, very real. 

But even that doesn't really explain why Howard over the past decades has always rushed to Israel's defense. The deeper reason  is that as much as Howard is  pro- Israel, he's even more anti-hypocrisy. He can't stand Christians who say they are pro-life but don't take care of the all the unwanted and orphaned children. He attacks liberals who say they are for free speech, but didn't exactly race to his defense when the FCC almost shut down his career for using words that would make exactly no one blush.

And the BDS movement is hypocrisy with a capital H.  Israel's occupation of the West Bank is bad for the Palestinians and bad for Israel.  But to single Israel out for diplomatic and economic punishment when there is a long, long list of countries that cause far greater suffering to far more people is ludicrous and, as Howard rightly suggested, borderline anti-Semitic.

I don't know what kind of influence Roger Waters has, but he should be using it to draw attention to the plight of the million Syrian refugees desperately seeking a home, the suffering of the people of Yemen,  of the Congo, of Ukraine.  What about  the political prisoners languishing in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the concentration camps of North Korea? China and Saudi Arabia are American allies and trading partners whose human rights records are so far beneath that of Israel that you simply have to wonder what else is going on in the mind of an Englishman who has no problem buying Chinese products or Saudi Arabian oil,  but finds it morally reprehensible for some Israelis to hear, “Livin’ on a Prayer.” 

What Howard does best is use his voice to expose and call out the hypocrisy of Waters and the rest of them.  But there is only one part of the body more powerful for affecting change than the voice—the feet. What if Howard Stern actually went to Israel?  

He’s never been.  And as famously averse as he is to leaving the country, he’s acknowledged taking trips to some pretty exotic places recently—Mexico, the Bahamas, Arizona.   What a powerful statement it would be for one of the Jews who has defined and shaped American culture  to set foot in the country that has defined and shaped the Jewish experience.

I know it would be a powerful personal experience for Howard—forget what you think you know about him from the media's caricature.  Listening over the years, it’s impossible not to understand that Stern is a bright, thoughtful and deeply spiritual man. He would be more than up to the challenge of confronting the complex politics, the crazy energy and the personal emotions that a first trip to Israel evokes.

Israelis would get a morale boost from his visit, for sure.  But more importantly, the millions of Americans who pay attention to what Howard says will be moved and influenced by what he does.

Besides, Howard will fit right in.  According to the Transcendental Meditation movement, the country with the largest percentage of TM practitioners is, yes, Israel.

Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Journal.  Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism and email him at robe@jewishjournal.com.