The Jews of “Casablanca”

No small number of Jews, many from Central Europe, had a role in creating the classic film Casablanca. They included the identical twins Philip and Julius Epstein, the original screenwriters; Howard Koch, who replaced them; the director Michael Curtiz (born Mihaly Kertesz in Budapest); and Peter Lorre (born Laszlo Löwenstein in what is now Slovakia) who played the fixer Ugarte. Reviewing a recent book about the movie, titled We’ll Always Have Casablanca, David Mikics writes:

The movie Casablanca is full of Jewish-refugee actors, as the actual Casablanca was full of refugee Jews, stuck in “unoccupied France” after the fall of Paris and trying to escape to the New World via Portugal. But the word “Jew” never appears in the film: America’s war effort depended on Americans not thinking that they were fighting, even in part, on behalf of European Jews. Indeed, in 1943 a substantial number of Americans still blamed the Jews for the war, just as Hitler did.

One of the most colorful of the refugees was Yani “Cuddles” Sakall, who plays Carl the waiter, bumbling and kindhearted, the movie’s equivalent of a Borscht Belt tummler. Sakall was a native of Budapest and a friend of Curtiz from Vienna in the 1920s. On arriving in Los Angeles, he was at first anxious about not knowing English, but to his pleasant surprise he found himself surrounded by fellow Hungarian speakers who had fled from Hitler. A joke was making the rounds: Hungarians would be reminded that “this is Hollywood; here we speak German!”

Another joke was circulating, based on the émigrés’ sometimes-exaggerated claims for themselves: two dachshunds run into each other on Hollywood Boulevard, and one says to the other, “In the old country, I, too, was a St. Bernard.” Lotte Palfi, who appears briefly in Casablanca as a woman desperately trying to sell her diamonds, subtitled her autobiography I Was Never a St. Bernard.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, Arts & Culture, Film, Hollywood, Refugees, World War II

How the White House Can Bring Mahmoud Abbas to the Negotiating Table

April 28 2017

Next month, the Palestinian Authority president is expected to arrive in Washington to meet with President Trump, perhaps as a prelude to a summit between Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu under American auspices. A Palestinian delegation is currently in the U.S. to conduct preliminary meetings with administration officials. Eran Lerman discusses what can be accomplished:

The most important aspect [in the present discussions] may remain unspoken. It can be defined as “strategic reassurance”: the realization that after years of uncertainty under Barack Obama, the American administration . . . is once again committed without reservation to its friends in the region, the so-called “camp of stability.”

President Obama’s abandonment of [the former Egyptian president], Hosni Mubarak, regardless of the merits of the case, was catastrophic in terms of the loss of any residual political courage on Abbas’s part. Obama was sympathetic to the Palestinians’ cause, but his policies generated an acute level of uncertainty for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, laced with what seemed like a measure of support on Obama’s part for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. This was not an environment in which to take fateful decisions.

The Trump team seems to be working to restore confidence and reconstruct [alliances with] both Israel and the pro-Western Arab states. In this new environment, it could be safer for Abbas to take measured risks and enter into an open-ended negotiation with Netanyahu. The effort may still fall apart, if only because the Palestinians have fallen into the habit of posing preconditions. But there seems to be a better chance of drawing them in when they feel that their traditional patrons in the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are once again basking in the sunshine of American strategic support. . . .

At least in theory, it should therefore be easier now for . . . the White House to persuade Abbas to accept a point of entry into negotiations that stays within the two-state paradigm but is no longer predicated on strict adherence to the June 4, 1967 lines.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Donald Trump, Hosni Mubarak, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, U.S. Foreign policy