Should Jewish Roles Go to Jewish Actors?

Attending a panel discussion at Jewish Book Week, the British actress Maureen Lipman found herself taking an outspoken position on the subject:

The director Polly Findlay spoke about casting an Israeli Arab as Shylock in her production of The Merchant of Venice, feeling that an understanding of the [character’s] outsider status is key to the role. Curious, I asked how it is that non-Jewish actors are often cast as Shylock, when rarely—since [Laurence] Olivier in 1965—has Othello been played by someone white. Shylock and his daughter are clearly identified as Jewish, so why would Jewish actors not be the director’s first port of call?

An audience member was shocked by my question. “So you’d expect a gay character to be played by a gay actor?” I had to think. “Preferably, yes,” I said, causing further shockwaves. “But surely,” I was challenged, “don’t you just get the best actor for the role?”

Yes, of course, but if fine gay actors exist (and they do) why would you not cast them? Not that Michael Douglas and Matt Damon didn’t convince as Liberace and his lover in Behind the Candelabra, . . . [but], were I an openly gay actor whose name would green-light a film, I would probably feel discriminated against.

It’s an interesting question. . . . Should I be grateful for the number of great Jewish characters I have played—or sad that in a 50-year career I’ve rarely played a “classic” role?

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Arts & Culture, Film, Theater, William Shakespeare

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship