The Curious Case of Bauhaus without Tel Aviv
No other city in the world bears the mark of Bauhaus as much as Tel Aviv does. Four thousand Bauhaus buildings still grace central Tel Aviv’s White City. German-speaking Jews, who were central to Weimar Germany’s cultural scene that produced Bauhaus, brought their architecture with them as they fled an impossible future in Europe.
100 Years of Bauhaus*
I spent 5 weeks in Tel Aviv for work during 2019. There’s a lot to like from the beach, great food, nice weather, but my favorite thing to do was to wander around the White City and take in the architecture.
When I saw that one of the artsy cinemas in Kyiv was going to show the film Bauhaus Spirit I got tickets assuming there would be plenty of Tel Aviv nostalgia.
Instead there wasn’t a single word about Tel Aviv or the role of Jews in Bauhaus. Complete silence.
This seems strange. Perhaps my impression of Tel Aviv is overblown. I’m certainly not a historian of architecture, and I don’t exclude the possibility that I’m simply misinformed.
The creators of the film had a very distinct artistic vision. Perhaps, Tel Aviv didn’t fit into their storyline of showing the early history of Bauhaus intertwined with its modern relevance.
Searching around the internet didn’t yield any definitive answers. Instead I was left with an uneasy silence and wondered if rewriting Jewish history is the next phase of the BDS movement.
The problem of silence
The silence about Tel Aviv is what gets me. You have to cut out things in any documentary, and there very well may have been legitimate reasons to skip over any Jewish role in the history of Bauhaus. There also could have been logistical issues. Filming in Tel Aviv isn’t cheap, and there was already a lot of footage of early Bauhaus.
BDS makes this silence awkward. It’s impossible to know the motives for ignoring Tel Aviv. That’s what so insidious.
Let’s suppose this was some BDS inspired boycott of Israel. Why not film in Tel Aviv anyway but add a disclaimer that you disagree with the policies of the Likud government?
Although that approach is also a double standard. Is filming in Venezuela any less ethically murky? Why would anything involving Israel require a denunciation whereas engaging with other iffy places is taken as a badge of honor?
Of course, such a double standard is one of 3 Ds that separates criticism of Israeli policy from anti-Semitism.
Ethnically cleansing history
Let’s suppose progressive types decide to skip over anything that deals with Israel or European Jews who moved to Israel. That means we’re rewriting much of the urban history of Central and Eastern Europe.
This would be the dream of the nationalists who enacted the final solution. It’s ironic that we’re seeing it implemented under the banner of the Left.
This isn’t exaggeration. A generation of BDS in academia will inevitably lead to European Jewish history fading from its rightful limelight in the West.
The post-Fukuyamiam delusion
There’s a deeper intellectual paradigm at play here. North American and European Liberals see themselves as removed from history in a way that others aren’t.
Suppose Turkish film makers created a project that was funded by the Turkish government that glossed over the Armenian and Greek history of Anatolia. Most people would shrug it off—well what did you expect? We as modern liberals aren’t swayed by prejudices like such non-woke people.
This is nothing short of delusional. Centuries of anti-Semitism that culminated in 6 million murders only two generations ago aren’t irrelevant to the conversation. The fact that someone doesn’t support Trump, Brexit or the conservative cause du jour doesn’t mean they’re free of racism, sexism or other prejudices. The human brain is hardwired for tribalism.
What’s baffling is that academia is paralyzed over micro-aggressions caused by non-binary pronouns while much less ambiguous cases of anti-Semitism are shrugged off.
This is an open question and a thought experiment. I’m not claiming that anyone involved with Bauhaus Spirit is a proponent of BDS or anti-Semitic.
Does being woke and modern free you of past cultural baggage? Probably not.
Should we retroactively sanction history by refusing to engage with people because of contemporary political disputes? That’s borderline Orwellian.
What I can say for sure is that after I watched Bauhuas Spirit, this is what I thought:
- It was a curious decision to make zero mention of Tel Aviv.
- The climate of BDS leads one to wonder what the motivation for this omission was.
- The moral panic over BDS often overlaps with anti-semitism.
- Woke Westerners have a lot less moral authority than they think they do. Woke causes are just as subject to human tribalism as anything else.
- This was presented by the Goethe Institut in Kyiv. Germans boycotting Israel over human rights issue is a head scratcher.
That being said, I still enjoyed the film. 🤷♂️