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.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Tablet

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

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times