Israeli “shaliach” and Israel Engager Anton Goodman is a new friend, both personally and of our theater. He said some important things as the first respondent to the Cameri’s RETURN TO HAIFA performance following the January 15 first preview. But as the talk-back went on, some in the audience grew more more critical of some of Anton’s remarks. And they said as much, on the blog. Anton responds here.
In my closing remarks in the first talkback to Return to Haifa I contextualized the play as not only opening a raw wound in our history but also celebrating the freedom of speech in Israel. I have found the immediate and subsequent pushback to this comment interesting and would like to share my thoughts and respond to the detractors.
The State of Israel is a complex entity; sweeping generalizations and national branding just don’t work. A good example of this is the production of Return to Haifa in DC. The play opens raw wounds in Israeli history, coloring us as the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time. It challenges the classical 1950-80’s Zionist approach to the War of Independence and could be seen as undermining our National legitimacy, yet the play’s visit was sponsored by the Foreign Ministry of Israel; and the Jewish Agency of Israel was proud to work with the production. If Return to Haifa is some kind of underground “Green Revolution” against the establishment, then why is the establishment supporting it?
The Cameri and Sinai Peter may revel in Udi’s description of them as “the last line of defense that’s keeping Israeli society sane” but they are hardly an institution under fire. Udi mentions Folman and Grossman in this last line of defense with the Cameri, this is also apt, David Grossman being one of the top selling authors in Israel and Waltz with Bashir being one of the highest grossing films. These are the kind of facts which make Udi’s claim that Israel has only “a fig leaf of democracy” unpalatable. While I do not wish to be judged by the standards of the rest of the Middle East I do suggest that a look, even a glance, at what is currently going on in Egypt gives us a better understanding of what a fig leaf democracy looks like.
In fact, this attempt to brand Israel as a rogue abuser of human rights, plays directly into the hands of the far-left in Israel who adorably want to be seen as renegade liberals standing up against the big brother regime. Boaz Gaon calls to understand that we are all human, Israelis & Palestinians, and we are much closer to each other than we are willing to admit… While there is some value to this shallowness (at least it isn’t negative) I applaud the Palestinian Professor who stood up enraged at Boaz and Sinai for Zionizing and Judaizing her narrative. She said that the Israel has stolen Palestinian land, food and now this we have stolen Kanafani’s text. I couldn’t agree with her more. Return to Haifa showcases an attempt to infuse the Palestinian narrative with the Zionist, and I applaud it, but don’t think that this is any different to more mainstream Zionist works. It is a different flavor of a Jewish Israeli approach to the legitimacy debate. The Palestinian Professor objected to the play as it gives legitimacy (albeit subtextually) to the Jewish State. This might be a post-Zionist work, but post-Zionism uses Zionism as its starting point.
While Udi presents himself as some kind of North Korean dissident, fighting the regime from afar, the truth is that his voice would be worth much more in the State of Israel than it is out. It is not just Israeli culture which alters in essence while in transit to the US, also the criticism of Israelis. To stand up for what you believe in and where you want your nation to go is patriotic and sometimes heroic, to do this while no longer a member of that society is defeatist and condescending.
I will not apologize for my patriotism or my Zionism and neither will I be categorized as intellectually dishonest. I love my country because she is beautiful and ugly, wonderful and terrible, liberating and oppressing – and most of all because we have a self-awareness of our faults. I believe in a Jewish State living peacefully, even collaboratively, amongst a sea of Arab States. I believe in a Jewish State that treats her minorities as brothers and sisters, and as integral partners in the Jewish character of the State. I believe that this is a long, frustrating, dangerous, uplifting, sometimes contradictory but always life-enhancing journey, and it is my privilege to be a part of it.