Much of the global consciousness today is focused on the death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. Headlines in New York City publications are declaring "Shock and Grief Over Jackson’s Death" and "Jacko has Gone to Neverland" while people dance in the streets, and every bar, restaurant and car blasts the sounds that have spanned Jackson’s long and strange career. In Paris, "Michael Jackson: Death of a Planetary Icon" stretches out across Le Monde’s front page. In Berlin, "King of Pop is Dead: Jackson was Pioneer of Black America", while The China Post in Taiwan simply states "Michael Jackson ‘King of Pop’ Dead at 50." But what of Jewish and Israeli news outlets? Jackson’s relationship to Jewish culture has had it’s ups and downs over the past decade, culminating in a series of anti-semitic remarks hashed out in this 2005 Jerusalem Post article. Just 4 years ago, ABC’s Good Morning America replayed tapes of Jackson calling Jews "leeches" on one of their November broadcasts, inevitably incurring the wrath of the ADL. Once the recordings had been verified, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement condemning Jackson’s words, and pointing out that his 1995 track "They Don’t Care About Us" was deeply wrought with anti-Semitic rhetoric. Looking at those lyrics now, I can see why the ADL was very concerned: Will me, thrill me / you can never kill me / Jew me, sue me / everybody do me / kick me, kike me / don’t you black or white me. The controversial video is primarily devoted to protest against racial injustice, and includes actual footage taken from slums outside of Rio de Janeiro; however, Jackson goes out of his way to include terms that are undeniably racial slurs. In his response, he asserted that the lyrics are meant to be from the point of view of the Jew, not against him. If it were not for his later commentary on the Jew as leech, perhaps I would have an easier time defending his position here.
All things considered, Jackson is far from a Jew-hater. His friendship with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is well-documented, and is currently the subject of a thoughtful piece on The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles’ blog. Though the two drifted apart after critical remarks on the part of Rabbi Boteach, it is clear from the excerpted interview that the Rabbi continues to hold Jackson in high esteem, regardless of the Rabbi’s declaration that "it is utterly unacceptable for a grown man to sleep in a bed with a boy that is not his son." When I heard of Jackson’s untimely death, I was a bit nervous to see what the Jewish media had to say about a man who had come under fire more than once for critical and alarming actions. I expected a saccharine and sentimental response that glossed over his past transgressions, but feared a somewhat biting and brief au revoir. The Jewish media on the whole seems to have responded to this tragedy with a certain distance and aplomb. The print headlines are for the most part general: "World Mourns Michael Jackson’s Death" in the Jerusalem Post and a Reuters article "King of Pop Michael Jackson dies at 50" in Ha’Aretz. Digitally, more risks are being taken, and emotions besides grief are coming to the surface. There is a slightly more daring link to the Boteach interview hidden away in The Forward’s blog. The JTA links to Boteach’s just-posted editorial on The Jerusalem Post. It is more forgiving than Boteach’s last interview about Jackson, but his tone is pitiful, bitter and somewhat disrespectful, mostly in that he insinuates that Jackson’s demise is directly linked to a refusal to engage with the salvation that Boteach had offered to him. And so the world mourns, mostly in their own particular and odd ways. I met with a friend last night that had come just from a Reboot event, and he told me that someone led the Mourner’s Kaddish for Jackson. Oddly enough, that made me feel a bit more at ease with the entire situation, as grim as that is.
HaMakom yenachem et’chem b’toch shar avay’lay Tzion vee’Yerushalayim. May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.