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Remembering a Forgotten Pioneer of Israeli Film and Letters

Jan. 30 2018

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the death of the Israeli writer Ephraim Kishon, born Ferenc Hoffman in Budapest in 1924. The young Hoffman had hoped to make a career as an author of humorous essays, and, after surviving the Holocaust, returned to his prior avocation, assuming the name Ferenc Kishont. In 1949, writes Liel Leibovitz, he left Hungary for the fledgling state of Israel:

Asked for his name [at the port in Haifa], he informed the Israeli clerk that it was Ferenc. “That’s not a real name,” said the clerk, and dubbed the new arrival Ephraim Kishon, the latter being the name of a nearby river. Despite his new Hebraicized name, Kishon spoke not a word of Hebrew. Still, he was determined to continue and write, which he did in Hungarian, having a friend translate his short and hilarious observations about life as a new oleh [immigrant] in Israel. He also spent every free moment copying a Hebrew dictionary word for word, and by 1951, a mere two years after his arrival, was good enough to receive a daily column in the popular newspaper Davar.

His command of language was dazzling, and several of the puns he came up with became instant coinages of modern Hebrew. . . . But it was his decision to turn to cinema that truly elevated his work and his fame alike. In 1964, having had no previous experience in the medium, he wrote and directed Sallaḥ Shabati, a comedy about an Iraqi Jew who emigrates to Israel and invests his energy in get-rich-quick schemes while struggling with negative stereotypes and systemic racism. The movie, starring Chaim Topol, was a smash hit in Israel, selling nearly 1.5 million tickets. It also won a Golden Globe, opened and closed the Berlin Film Festival, and was nominated for an Academy award. Kishon directed several more movies in the 1960s and 1970s, all of them wildly successful, and continued publishing at a furious pace.

His popularity, however, was not enough to guarantee Kishon the respect he felt he rightly deserved. A right-winger who supported hawkish policies, including the execution of convicted terrorists, he was shunned by Israel’s liberal elites, snubbed by award committees, and treated disdainfully as an entertainer rather than an artist.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Film, Israeli culture, Israeli literature

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy