Posts Tagged ‘Naftali Bennett’


Carolyn and I have a friend in London, Asif Khan, who’s a terrific actor. He’s now in San Francisco performing a one-man show consisting of four monologues, Love, Bombs & Apples, by Golden Thread Productions at Potrero Stage. It’s great. He’s great. British star Idris Elba should worry.

Asif and Idris are up for the same acting award in Britain—proof that Asif’s career is moving forward. Which it is. In March, we saw Asif in London starring in a stage version of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Wonderful performance. Wonderful play.

Which brings me back to Love, Bombs & Apples, written by Hassan Abdulrazzak, a British playwright born in Prague of Syrian parents and brilliantly directed by Rosamunde Hutt. (We hosted Asif and Rosamunde for dinner at our house Wednesday night.) This show challenges American audiences as it did audiences in the U.K.—and in more ways than one. Recapping…

The first monologue presents Asif as a Palestinian actor in the West Bank searching for sex in a society which limits such opportunities. In the second, Asif does a chameleon-like transformation to bring us a nerdy Pakistani-British author (Asif’s parents are from Pakistan) so intent on realism that his huge novel strikes British security forces as a terrorist’s bomb-making manual.

The third monologue offers a young, restless Pakistani-Brit from Bradford, where Asif grew up. At an Apple store, he considers joining ISIS, since their members use iPhones to record themselves and their abhorrent acts as tributes to power and glory.

Surprise: Each piece is suffused with humor. These Muslim characters are funny. And human.

Something different happens in monologue number four. Asif plays Isaac Levy, a New York Jew whose father is a big supporter of AIPAC and defender of Israel. He’s totally believable. The passionate Isaac follows his father’s position until he meets a leftwing Jewish woman named Sarah. Sex brings them together. The Israel-Palestinian issue rips them apart.

Isaac wants Sarah and his family to discuss the situation rationally. I suspect he sees a middle ground between the views of his father and Sarah. But in the end, Isaac feels he must choose between them. His last line encompasses the conundrum faced by many—probably most—Jewish-American families regarding discussion of Israel: “It’s gonna get ugly.”

Does it have to? Recently, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett (I spent Passover week with him at Masada) and leader of the rightwing HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party, addressed the Israel Awards ceremony. (Leftwing novelist David Grossman won the literature prize for A Horse Walks into a Bar.) Among Naftali’s comments: “We are a nation of ideas and we are a nation of debates… We argue in loud voices, and in the middle of the argument we find the breakthrough moment…” Of great importance, he also stated, “…if I had a button which I could push and make all Israelis share my exact opinion, I would not push that button.”

Will Asif win out over Idris? They’re both terrific actors. In the end—I’m rooting for Asif—it won’t matter. Award contests don’t disturb the peace. Two peoples claiming the same land does. We know. It’s been ugly for years. I fear it’s going to get uglier. At the very least, as Love, Bombs & Apples prods us, we can start listening to each other.

Love, Bombs & Apples plays at Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, today through Sunday and again from April 26 through May 6. Information and tickets:

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An open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Bibi, times remain challenging. As an ardent supporter of Israel, let me respectfully offer a few comments. Because while you’re correct that a significant segment of Palestinians promotes the destruction of Israel, the best strategy Israel can adopt is that of a peace seeker. Before you throw your hands in the air, note that I didn’t say victim.

Let’s start with the recent murders at Jerusalem’s Har Nof synagogue. Five Israelis—four Jews and one Druze—were killed. It was heinous. Hamas’ supportive comments and Palestinian distribution of candies to celebrate reflect grave moral impoverishment. But destroy the homes of the murderers? Bar Israeli-Arab citizens from their construction jobs as the mayor of Ashkelon did yesterday? And build new settlements while we’re at it? That won’t stir the cauldron and bring more violence? Israel won’t look as mindless as many Palestinians do on a daily basis?

Yes, you want to show leadership. But when you embrace the right, you don’t lead. You follow. You say you support a two-state solution, as do I. Why not speak out when Economy Minister Naftali Bennett promulgates his plan to offer Palestinians limited autonomy, not a state—and only in part of the West Bank?

It hurts me to disagree with Naftali. He’s my cousin Maxine’s nephew. I certainly understand Naftali’s concerns. But his plan sounds reasonable only if you’re an Israeli. A one-state strategy will only provoke continuation—and escalation—of the conflict. Not that I believe that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is an effective peace partner. He doesn’t have the beitzim—or as they say in Spanish, cojones.

And you? You’ve said Israel is willing to make major concessions for peace? What concessions? Why not announce them and let Abbas struggle to respond? Why not show the world, including many of Israel’s friends expressing doubts, that Israel is willing to walk the bilateral walk?

Why play up to rightists like the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson? At a recent Israeli-American Council gathering, he took the position that Israel can freely ignore the rights of its Arab population in the present or an expanded state. “So Israel won’t be a democratic state, so what?” Adelson said. Really?

Look, Bibi, I’m not suggesting that Israel compromise its security. Hitting back at Hamas last summer? I supported you. Preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount (security personnel even took a pair of candles from my wife when we went there) to keep order regardless of how one-sided the Muslim position? Prudent.

But let’s make sober choices in response to attacks rather than flailing wildly. Make clear to the world the truth it often willfully dismisses—that Israel is a boon to the global community, and that when we say we want peace, we mean it.

I’m not naïve. World opinion alone won’t safeguard Israel. But leveraging world opinion instead of circling the wagons can help. Over a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” That’s wisdom worthy of the Talmud.

I’ll be taking off for Thanksgiving weekend. My next post will appear on Friday, December 5.

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My short story “White on White” in Summerset Review in a way suggests the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations shepherded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The tale offers an updated example of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” So do the negotiations.

According to Tom Friedman in the January 29 New York Times, Mr. Kerry is about to present a “framework” for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. He will inform Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that an agreement can be reached only if both sides accept several specific concessions.


Kerry will tell Netanyahu that Israel must concede East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Netanyahu has long championed a united Jerusalem, although most of East Jerusalem is Arab and treated quite differently from Jewish West Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, Kerry will say to Abbas, must forego any right of return to Israel proper and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Whatever concerns Abbas has about Israeli Arabs’ rights—as if human and political rights in the West Bank (don’t bother mentioning Gaza) were particularly meaningful—he, like Netanyahu, must acknowledge reality. If Palestine can define itself—Abbas opposes Jews living in the proposed new country—Israel can do the same.

Update: Yesterday former Israeli Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich stated that Abbas had agreed last May to allow Jews to live in Palestine as citizens. Abbas, however, has never made this public.

The connection to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is obvious. Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah have refused to call a spade a spade. Claiming that an agreement can be reached without following these provisions is a hoax. Bear in mind that Israel offered East Jerusalem to the Palestinians in previous negotiations. Still, no agreement was reached. The present Israeli government keeps its distance from the former position.

What’s next? The Israeli right will oppose Kerry’s framework and pillory Netanyahu if he shows it support. Friction already exists between Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, a right-wing member of the coalition government. (Semi-disclosure: Bennett is my Israeli cousins’ cousin.) Abbas faces a raging storm. Members of Fatah (West Bank), along with Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon), will vilify the framework and renew pledges to destroy Israel. Abbas’ safety will be precarious.

Those who oppose the framework will continue to swear that the emperor is wearing the world’s most beautiful garments. Those who keep silent will remain complicit in the deception. Those with open eyes will see that, as before, the emperor is naked.

Giving public voice to this framework is long overdue. It’s not an endpoint. It’s a foundation. Previous American attempts to bring the parties together without first stating the obvious have been more than misguided. They’ve been dishonest and cruel, falsely raising the hopes of many Israelis, Palestinians and the world.

How will Netanyahu and Abbas respond to the reality that has been haunting us since Oslo? I don’t know. But if they turn their backs on Kerry, the situation will move in an entirely different direction.

The outcome will leave everyone dissatisfied.

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