Liberal Zionist icon David Grossman and Netanyahu’s culture minister, Miri Regev of the Jerusalem dress, are joined in a delegation to a New York theater later this month. Zionism sure makes strange bedfellows. Or more to the point: When are liberal Zionists going to tell the settler movement to f— itself?
Here’s the story. From July 24-27, Lincoln Center will be staging four productions of a play based on David Grossman’s doorstop novel, To the End of the Land. The production is being sponsored by the Israeli government as part of its Brand Israel campaign; and the two theater companies collaborating in the show have both performed in settlements. Seventy cultural figures have called on Lincoln Center to cancel the performances.
Just to be clear, there is another Israeli play on tap at Lincoln Center to which the artists have no objection. It’s the government sponsorship that’s the issue. Here is a story about the production/protest in Haaretz (as translated from the Hebrew by Adalah NY):
“A Woman Running From News” [Original Hebrew title for the English play “To the End of the Land”], adapted and directed by Hanan Snir based on David Grossman’s book, deals with a woman who sets out on a journey across Israel with her old flame, in an attempt to escape the news of the fate of their son, who was drafted for Operation Defensive Shield…. A delegation of representatives of the management of the two theaters will accompany the ensemble and Grossman on their journey to New York, and will be joined by Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev.
Who is Miri Regev? Well just two months ago she walked out of a Tel Aviv performance rather than hearing an Israeli Palestinian read a tribute to the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
Regev is famous as a Likud hatchet-person. Five years ago she compared Sudanese immigrants to Israel to a “cancer in our body.” People pointed out that similar things were said about Jews in Europe. Regev apologized.
One thing she’ll not apologize for is support for Israeli settlements. In May Regev appeared at the Cannes film festival in a Jerusalem dress: it had an image of the occupied Old City on its skirt, letting the world know that Israel will never let go of Jerusalem.
Grossman is a leader of the cultural opposition to settlements in Israel. He’s demonstrated against them and been beaten for doing so. He withdrew his name from a prestigious Israeli prize competition after Benjamin Netanyahu tried to remove judges who he alleged were anti-Zionist.
Earlier, Grossman joined the boycott of Ariel settlement, where Habima and Cameri, the theater groups now performing his book as a play, appeared repeatedly.
Last year Grossman told Moment that Regev was making a “fascist” demand of writers to be loyal to the state. Then said he did not need the state’s funding:
They want me to give unquestioning support to everything they are doing. They want me to sing with their choir.
Furthermore, they never funded me. I have never needed their funding. On the contrary, because I am quite widely translated, I bring a lot of foreign currency to Israel. But there are artists and writers who need government funding. The country has a serious obligation and duty to fund and support diverse opinions. This is the spirit of democracy, and we should take pride in the fact that Israel is a democracy. But Israel is now a declining and deteriorating democracy. This, unfortunately, is one of the results of the long state of war. It is not only the Palestinian and Israeli people who suffer from the situation; Israeli democracy itself suffers because of it.
The government wants us to be loyal to a very narrow part of being an Israeli.
Why is he in a delegation with Regev? Hard to say. A play like this needs a lot of subsidy; it’s surely important for Grossman to be in New York. And Miri Regev promoted Grossman when he recently won the Man Booker Prize.
Then, too, Grossman is a committed Zionist who would seem to hold the nations outside Israel in some suspicion. He told Charlie Rose that the “option that terrifies us all the time… which really freaks me out” is to think that after 62 years of independence, sovereignty, and military strength, “there might be an end to this country.” He told Max Blumenthal in Goliath that Zionism is necessary because “For 2000 years we have been kept out, we have been excluded, and so for our whole history we were outsiders. Because of Zionism, we finally have the chance to be insiders.” When Blumenthal said he knew a lot of Jewish insiders in the U.S., Grossman had no answer.
The novel To the End of the Land evidently reflects a belief in the necessity of Zionism. Patricia Storace wrote in the New York Review of Books that Grossman’s vision was of a “modern state… founded on a timeless destiny….” and his story reflected “a doctrinal national memory.”
Thanks to Ofer Neiman.