Should Jewish Roles Go to Jewish Actors?

March 28 2016

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?

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Read more at Standpoint

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

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship