Bourdain’s “unspoiled” Havana

Anthony Bourdain

On Tuesday we contemplated Anthony Bourdain, whose recent self-slaughter inspired hundreds of heartfelt eulogies by foodies – and others – around the globe. The smart set had lost one of its own, and the mood of the day was one of profound mourning. What torments, everyone wondered, had plagued the culinary genius? There was endless hand-wringing about the psychological anguish he must have suffered. Interestingly, very few of his necrologists so much as mentioned his 11-year-old daughter, Ariane, let alone paused to contemplate the very special and profoundly destructive kind of psychic affliction it is for a child, especially one around 11 years old, to lose a parent to suicide.

But that’s neither here nor there. We were talking about Bourdain’s superior attitude toward fellow celebrity cooks who made money in ways of which he disapproved. Over the course of his lifetime he worked for any number of major corporations – but in his view that was different than the kind of deals that people like Paula Deen made with major corporations.

Of course, Bourdain’s professed contempt for capitalism was the purest hypocrisy. Few practiced capitalism more successfully than he did. If he enjoyed sneering at capitalism, it was because he knew that such B.S. would only enhance his image with his fan base.

Unspoiled Havana

Meanwhile, however, as Humberto Fontova reminded us the other day, Bourdain had no such qualms about promoting Communism. He did multiple shows from Cuba for CNN and the Travel Channel (capitalism, anyone?). On the Travel Channel website, he had a page headlined Tony Bourdain’s Guide to Cuba. He led “junkets” to Cuba. All these activities, of course, put hard currency in the pockets of the Castro regime, thus helping it to hang on to life – and to continue to harass, jail, beat, torture, and execute political “enemies,” gays, and others. As Fontova noted, Bourdain concluded one 2011 Cuba program by telling the audience: “Yes, Go to Cuba!”

Inside one of those world-class Cuban hospitals

In his CNN episode on Cuba, he described Havana, whose dilapidated ruins testify to the destructiveness of Communism, as “unspoiled.” He went further than that, saying that it was “one of the more beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.” He claimed to dislike Communism but the most critical thing he would say about Castro was that he had “decidedly mixed emotions” about him. He also regurgitated the usual Cuban propaganda about the country’s supposedly great schools and first-class medical care (yes, for the nomenklatura). “In Cuba the religion is baseball,” he said. No mention of the fact that for decades after the Cuban Revolution, actual religious practice was suppressed.

“If only Bourdain had demonstrated 1/100 of his vaunted ‘spunk’ and ‘feistiness’ against a regime that jailed political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin during the Great Terror, murdered more Cubans than Hitler murdered Germans during the Night of Long Knives, and craved to nuke his homeland,” commented Fontova. Bingo.

Anthony Bourdain: bashing capitalism, cheering Cuba

Anthony Bourdain


When Anthony Bourdain chose to off himself on June 8, millions mourned. He was a member of that ever-growing tribe, the celebrity chefs – people who have used books and TV to turn themselves into superstars and millionaires, all the while introducing their fans to culinary experiences from around the world.

It all began with his bestselling 2000 book Kitchen Confidential, following not too long thereafter by the first of several TV series that combined food with travel. Well, actually, of course, it began before the book – with stints as top chef at several leading restaurants in New York City. His signature gig was at the Manhattan branch of Brasserie Les Halles, where he started working as executive chef in 1998 and with which he maintained a relationship until it closed its doors last year.

For some folks, that career would’ve been enough. But not Bourdain. He also wrote fiction. In 2011, Ecco Press gave him his own publishing line. He produced and starred in his own movie. To his admirers, he was not just one more globetrotting guy sampling exotic fare on camera – he was a “rock star,” a “culinary bad boy,” a – well, you get the idea.

Alice Waters

But as Gore Vidal once said, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” Among the other celebrity chefs who felt the sharp edge of his carving knife was Guy Fieri. Bourdain dismissed Rachael Ray as a no-talent. He trashed Wolfgang Puck’s “shitty pizza restaurants.” We don’t even know who Sandra Lee is, but he called her “pure evil.” We do know who Alice Waters is – she runs the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley California, and made her name by promoting fresh, locally sources foods. Her crime, in Bourdain’s book? Her agenda isn’t PC enough – it doesn’t take into account either poor people or sustainability.

Bourdain’s take on Paula Deen was also partly rooted in PC considerations. Bourdain called Deen “the worst, most dangerous person to America.” Why? Well, one reason was that her recipes were too high-calorie. Another reason: “her food sucks.” Reason #3 – and here’s the PC part: “She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations…she’s unconscionable, cynical, and greedy.”

Paula Deen

Then there’s this: “I will never eat in his [Donald Trump’s] restaurant. I have utter contempt for him, utter and complete contempt… I’m not going. I’m not going.” Last year, when asked what he would serve if asked to cater a peace summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, Bourdain said: “Hemlock.” How courageous of Bourdain to express a political view that he had to know 99% of his fans would cheer.

A few years back, Waters came up with a terrific way of getting back at this pompous fool: she started a pseudonymous Twitter account under the name “Ruth Bourdain.” After the secret came out, she explained: “Well, Tony has always been something of an ass to me. So there’s that. But he also represents this tremendous dark-side of the human psyche. He is drugs, and sex, and rock music.”

He was also, as his comments on Deen makes clear, a world-class hypocrite – a man who got rich on capitalism but was quick to demonize others who dared to try to make a buck. Meanwhile, as Humberto Fontova pointed out after Bourdain’s suicide, this man who “wore his ‘anti-corporate hipness’ on his shirtsleeve, always smirking and snarking that ‘evil corporations’ and ‘crass commercialism’ repelled him,” was at the same time “a shameless tourism agent for the Castro-Family-and-Military Crony-Crime Syndicate, a thieving, murdering criminal-corporate empire that makes the Mafia look like Boy Scouts of America.”

What? More on Thursday.

Yet more anti-Semitism at Columbia University

Hamid Dabashi

In February of last year we wrote about Hamid Dabashi, a professor at Columbia University who had attained the distinction of being – in the eyes of students – one of the most anti-Israeli professors in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). He has accused Israel of committing “incremental genocide” of the Palestinians (in reality, the Palestinian population is steading climbing) and equated Gaza with Ausckwitz. He has called Israel a “miasmatic mutation of human soul into a subterranean mixture of vile and violence,” and after a visit to the country he wrote:

Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people…the way they talk, walk, the way they greet each other….There is a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their “soul.” No people can perpetrate what these people and their parents and grandparents have perpetrated on Palestinians and remain immune to the cruelty of their own deeds.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Just a few highlights from his professional history: in 2011, he condemned ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq who have risked their lives to speak out about the lack of human rights in Islam. For Dabashi, however, these people are not heroes but traitors who “have demonized their own cultures and societies…to advance their careers.” In 2012, after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a lecture at Columbia University, Dabashi savaged university president Lee Bollinger – not for inviting the barbarian to speak at his college, but for including a few critical words in his introduction. (Bollinger’s remarks, wrote Dabashi, oozed “mind-numbing racism.”)

Lee Bollinger

In 2015, Clemens Heni noted that Dabashi, as the result of a speaking tour of German universities, had “become the darling of German academe,” where his readiness to “defame Israel and downplay the crimes of the Holocaust” found a receptive audience. In 2016, after the terrorist attack on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando drew attention to Islamic gay-hatred, Dabashi was quick to respond – namely, by equating “Islamophobia and homophobia,” by trying to blame the massacre on the U.S. government, and by arguing that other religions are antigay, too. (Of course, there is a slight difference between committing a massacre in a gay club and refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.) 

During all this time, and despite all these outrages, Dabashi has kept his job at Columbia. There has not really ever been any question about him keeping his job, not even after he published those comments about Jews that might just as easily have been written by Goebbels. But he has continued to attract notice. On May 31, the Jewish Journal reported that Columbia was “facing pressure to discipline Professor Hamid Dabashi for referring to Zionists as ‘hyenas.” On May 8, Dabashi had written a post on Facebook that included the following statement: “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name ‘Israel’ will pop up in the atrocities.” In the same post, he called critics of President Obama’s Iran deal “Fifth Column Zionists working against the best interest of Americans and for the best interests of Israelis.”

In response to this Facebook post, a group called Alums for Campus Fairness wrote to Bollinger asking him to do four things: “denounce Dabashi’s comments, make it clear that Jewish and pro-Israel students are welcome on campus, discuss how campus climate can be improved and not allow Dabashi to continue teaching at the school until he ceases his ‘anti-Semitic rhetoric.’” The letter was signed by several members of the Columbia faculty and staff, among others. At this writing, Bollinger has yet to respond to the letter. We will follow the story closely. We will not hold our breath, and we will not be betting any money that the despicable Dabashi will be disciplined, let alone fired.   

Trayon White: A disgrace even by the usual Democratic city government standards

Trayon White

Is he dumber than he is anti-Semitic, or more anti-Semitic than he is dumb? Your call.

First, on March 16 of this year, Trayon White, a member of the city council in Washington, D.C., posted a Facebook video of a snowfall along with a comment of his own suggesting that “the Rothschilds” are “controlling the climate to create natural disasters that they can pay for to own the cities, man.” It soon emerged that this was not the first time he had expressed the opinion that Jews run the weather.

Baron David René de Rothschild, current French chairman of N. M. Rothschild & Sons

International outrage led him to issue an apology. No sooner had the leaders of Jewish organizations accepted the apology and claimed to regard it as sincere did the City Council release video of a February 27 breakfast event at which White had accused the Rothschilds of controlling the federal government and World Bank. White apologized for this, too, writing that “Somehow, I read and misconstrued both the Rockefeller and Rothchild [sic] theories. At that breakfast, I indeed misspoke, was really misinformed on the issue and ran with false information. I think I heard other similar information before about the theory around the World Bank and put it all together.” Makes sense to us! No, seriously, let bygones be bygones. No reason to deprive the people of Washington of such a stellar intellect simply because he got a little confused.

The late Mayor Marion Barry

White, by the way, is a protégé of late Washington mayor Marion Barry, most famous for having been convicted of smoking crack. White is also a former member of the U.S. capital’s Board of Education, which to anyone familiar with public education in D.C. will not be all that surprising. He’s also donated money to Louis Farrakhan’s rabidly Jew-hating Nation of Islam. 

Anyway, after his Rothschild remarks, White, as an act of “conciliation” with the Jewish community – i.e., a PR move – agreed to take a 90-minute guided tour of the Holocaust Museum. Great idea, right? Nope.

U.S. Holocaust Museum

As the Daily Mail reported, when he saw a 1937 picture of “a woman surrounded by Nazi soldiers with a sign hanging from her neck that read: ‘I am a German girl and allowed myself to be defiled by a Jew,’ White asked, ‘Are they protecting her?’” The tour guide explained that they were not: they were marching her down the street to shame her. “Marching through,” replied White, “is protecting.” The guide, with what reads like a patience that passeth all understanding, said, “I think they’re humiliating her.”

And then, 90 minutes apparently being too much of a test of his attention span, he left the tour before it was over. He claimed to have a meeting to get to, but was later “seen walking around aimlessly outside of the museum.” Meanwhile one of his aides, who had decided to stick with the tour to the end, replied to a mini-lesson about the Warsaw ghetto by asking if it was like “a gated community.”

Rafael Shimunov

If there was anything more reprehensible than White’s unashamed display of bigotry and ignorance, it was the readiness of some members of the Washington, D.C., Jewish community to stand by him. In the Forward, Rafael Shimunov, an official of the Working Families Party, co-founder of ResistHere, and veteran of a long list of left-wing activist groups, argued that “many in the DC community and the Jewish community need to examine how easily they found themselves mocking a black man who has devoted his life to the public service of America’s most vulnerable.” Nice try, but no dice. It is preposterous that a fool and knave like White can hold high elective office in Washington, D.C. The best thing he can do to serve“ America’s most vulnerable” is to quit his job and work for the election of somebody with a minimally acceptable I.Q., education, level of intellectual curiosity, and moral compass. 

Fidel Castro: Something wonderful?

Gal Gadot

On Tuesday we discussed Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about the romance between ABC correspondent Lisa Howard and Cuban chieftain Fidel Castro. As we noted, they met for the first time in a Havana nightclub in 1963. A few months later, they met in a hotel room in the same city. The boy kissed the girl. They went to bed together. But Fidel chose not to go all the way.

And of course that restraint was what did it. She was in love. Head over heels, the ABC correspondent sent the dictator a schoolgirlish letter in which she assured him that while some people viewed him as a “tyrant,” she could see that although he had indeed “destroyed thousands” of Cubans, he had not really “meant to hurt” anybody. Indeed, she had recognized that he possessed a “spark of divine fire,” a “humanity,” a “compassion,” a “deep knowledge and sense of justice,” a “genuine concern for the poor,” and that his “sacred duty” is to make all those deeply seated attributes “a reality for your people.”

In other words, she was sort of an Anna Leonowens to his King Mongkut in The King and I. She disapproved of the brutality of his one-man rule, but at the same time she felt that she saw certain “qualities” in him that she found immensely appealing. Of course, many women feel this way about the men they fall in love with, and these feelings are generally the product not of objective intellectual observation but of hormones. One is reminded of the verse of “Something Wonderful,” the tune sung in The King and I by the senior wife, Lady Thiang, as a way of explaining her own love for the bloodthirsty absolute monarch:

This is a man who thinks with his heart,

His heart is not always wise.

This is a man who stumbles and falls,

But this is a man who tries.

This is a man you’ll forgive and forgive

And help and protect, as long as you live…..

Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro

Gal Gadot, in explaining her decision to make a movie about the Lisa Howard-Fidel Castro romance, pronounced herself “entranced” by Peter Kornbluh’s “thrilling account of a complicated, fascinating woman…in the midst of a high-stakes, real-life drama.” As Humberto Fontova noted in reporting this story, Gadot appears either to be ignorant of, or to have decided to overlook, “Fidel Castro’s habitual references to Israel as ‘Fascist!’ ‘Nazi!’ and ‘Genocidal!’” Worse than that, Castro “sen[t] tanks and troops to Syria during the Yom Kippur War” in an effort to help “erase Israel.” Castro’s government also sponsored the UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism and that led to the departure of 90 percent of Cuba’s Jews. Fidel, observed Fontova, “drove out a higher percentage of Jews from Cuba than Czar Nicholas drove from Russian and even Hafez Assad drove out of Syria. Yet ‘Miss Israel’ seems as charmed by him as was Lisa Howard.”

Che Guevara

One question that will have to be answered when the script for Gadot’s film is written is whether to include her infatuation for Castro’s sidekick Che Guevara. Would that detract from the main love story, or would it make for an engaging subplot and also contribute tension and suspense? One consideration here would be that the gala reception Lisa Howard threw for Che at her glamorous Manhattan apartment while Che was in New York to address the UN would make for a great set piece, like the big party in The Great Gatsby. Imagine the production values! The fact that Che, during that trip, “was also plotting with the Black Liberation Front to blow up the Statue of Liberty” would also add drama.

We began on Tuesday by talking about the Genesis Prize Foundation, which had made the mistake of choosing actress Natalie Portman for what is basically a “friend of Israel” award, only to be kicked in the teeth by Portman because she dislikes Benjamin Netanyahu. After one observer suggested that the accolade should have been presented instead to actress Gal Gadot, she turned out to be capable of envisioning Fidel Castro as the hero of a Hollywood love story. Perhaps the Foundation should shut down entirely and give up on handing out these prizes. Or at least it should stop giving them to Hollywood people. There are, it seems, too many “friends of Israel” in La-La Land whose friendship is woefully conditional and whose attitude toward some of Israel’s worst enemies is altogether unconscionable.

Gal Gadot loves a good Castro love story

Natalie Portman

It wasn’t long ago – in fact, it was as recently as May 1 – that we reported here on Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman’s refusal to travel to Israel to accept the Genesis Prize. As we noted, the Genesis Prize has been awarded annually since 2014 to “individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” The prize has been given to zillionaire Michael Bloomberg, movie star Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Portman, who starred the movie Black Swan and lives in the United States, was named the 2018 laureate and apparently agreed to appear in Jerusalem to accept it, but later said she would not attend the awards ceremony. Why? Because she was “distressed by ‘recent events.’” Which recent events? Her answer basically came down to: Benjamin Netanyahu. This made no sense, of course, because Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for nine years.

Gal Gadot

There was widespread anger at Portman for her snub to Israel. There was anger, too, at the Genesis Prize Foundation for picking Portman to begin with. “If the Genesis prize wanted to honor an actress,” said Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, “they should have honored Gal Gadot, who has repeatedly shown her pride in being Israeli, supporting Israel during times of difficulties and is married to a Jewish person raising Jewish kids.”

Who is Gadot? Born and raised in Israel, she was Miss Israel 2004, spent two years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat instructor, and went on to star as Wonder Woman in the film of that name as well as in other DC comics-based movies. This year she appears on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has apparently been a

Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro

So Weiss’s proposal seemed to make sense. Flash forward a few weeks. On May 26 came a news report about Gal Gadot’s latest professional endeavor. Let’s just preface this by saying it’s a small world. Gadot, it turned out, had arrange to co-produce and possibly star in a film based on the Politico article “’My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro.”

Yes, this is the same article we discussed here on May 22 and 24. It was about Lisa Howard, an ABC reporter who met Castro at a Havana nightclub in 1963. They talked for hours. She was bowled over by his “breadth of knowledge.” He was, it turned out, big on Camus. Months later, they met in a Havana hotel room. More hours of talk. Political discussion. She criticized his dictatorship. (It’s important in a romantic movie for there to be some cause of tension between the lovers.) Then came the moment that will presumably mark the end of the movie’s first act: Castro threw his arms around her. They kissed. They lay in bed together.

But there was no sex – not yet. It would “complicate” matters, Fidel said. Perfect – keep the suspense going, as the producers of Cheers did with Sam and Diane.

More on Thursday.