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

 

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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 BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy