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December 18, 2014 10:42 am

New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

avatar by Shiryn Solny

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Playwright Oren Safdie. Photo: Wikipedia.

In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that is a cause of great concern to him: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views.

At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds him captive. Tony, who is also an award-winning author, arrives in Tel Aviv to give a speech but things don’t pan out so smoothly for him. His scheduled trip to Gaza has been blocked by the Israeli government, he deals with an obnoxious hotel waiter fresh out of the Israeli army who brings him cold tea, and then finds himself at the center of a major operation to assassinate an Israeli minister. Up until the final moment there is enough suspense and drama to fill the hotel room where the entire play takes place.

On the surface, Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv shows the struggle between a Jew, Tony, and a Palestinian extremist. But Safdie said the real “battle” in the play has a lot more to do with Israelis versus a growing Jewish diaspora critical of Israel. “The people more like the liberal Jewish community in North America versus the Israeli perspective,” he explained.

In an interview with The Algemeiner, Safdie talked about how bothered he is by American Jews and their sense of “arrogance, thinking that they know better” than those living in Israel. He asked, “Why is there a need to second guess Israelis who live in the middle of this small country surrounded by enemies?”

“I don’t see them protesting and speaking out against the leaders of many more brutal countries than Israel but they think because they are Jewish they have a special responsibility like some ‘holier than thou father’ that they can set them straight,” he said. “The truth is the Israeli population is very diverse, well educated [and] experienced. And how somebody who lives in a little brownstone in Brooklyn can question what 80 percent of Israelis believe is so annoying to me. Arrogance to me is one of the worst traits in people and to me there is nothing more arrogant than that.”

Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv was inspired by two events, according to Safdie. One was the failed boycott against Israeli films during the Toronto Film Festival several years ago, promoted by several Jewish-Canadian artists and writers. The second was the controversial public reading of the play Seven Jewish Children that took place at the New York Theatre Workshop and Theatre J in Washington, which was organized by Tony Kushner. Many Jews found the play to be anti-Semitic since it correlated Israeli settlers with Nazi Germany. In defense, Kushner claimed that open dialogue would benefit everyone. Safdie said that during one talk-back following a reading of the play, an audience member asked Kushner where he would feel more comfortable living as a Jewish homosexual, Tel Aviv or Gaza? Kushner had no reply.

Safdie believes that when Jews speak out against Israel they give cover for non-Jews, “like the Jimmy Carters,” to also denounce the Jewish state. He asserted that if one person makes it alright for people to be critical of Israel, and that person happens to be Jewish, others will follow suit, saying, “OK, if they’re saying it, we can say it too.”

“I hold them responsible for other things when other leaders in influential places come out with just the craziest accusations against Israel. They are being allowed to do that because of the Jewish people in prominent places who came out before them,” he added. “That’s why I wanted to start off with this character who in a sense is going to Israel to give a lecture, to meet in Gaza with the leaders there, and I think through the play he learns a certain lesson. He falls in the middle of this terrorist plot to assassinate the Housing Minister and he tries to show this Palestinian that he is on his side…but things turn.”

Tony’s allegiance shifts at one point during the play, though audiences are left asking if it is genuine or merely done for survival. The play’s third character, the hotel waiter, then risks his life to save Tony regardless of how poorly he treated him. His actions symbolize something that people do not value enough about Israelis, Safdie said.

“To me that was indicative that, despite being criticized by many American Jews, Israelis would go out of their way in a sense to defend their country, which, in a sense, protects American Jews when they don’t even realize it,” he said. “The fact that American Jews know that Israel is there and will always be there no matter what, I don’t think they appreciate that very much.”

The first staged reading of Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv was on Dec. 6 at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal as part of their Pipeline Series.

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  • Marta Kovich

    Hopefully, the next play will be about arrogant Israeli Jews who are critical of Israel, such as those news presenters on Israeli television i24! I’m a committed American/European Jew supportive of Israel, and unfortunately my relatives in Israel are critical of those ‘few’ American Jews who are very very supportive of Israel, vocally and through monetary support to charitable organizations.

  • wtf

    Stop conflating criticism of Israeli policies with being anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic/self-hating.

    As long as you keep taking money from American Jews and our government, you can take our criticism too.

    • Sam1am

      WTF – please get off your high horse and educate yourself…. US Jews financial ‘contribution’ to Israel are minimal and mostly to charitable organizations, NOT to Israel government! Also US foreign aid is HARDLY 1%, yes you read it right, ONE PERCENT of Israel GDP, and it mostly comes as a store coupon to buy American overpriced military equipment….

      • Zaharia

        How about you get off your high horse and educate yourself? The US gives more support to Israel than you think. Israel gets money from different funds and a lot of that money does go to the government.

  • BonnieHausman

    Boston or NYC? Won’t be back to Israel until June. It MUST be played somewhere inMassachusetts! The Berkshires in peak season, July, would be ideal! Core target.

  • Dani Renan

    Larry in Tel Aviv – the pervasiveness of anti-Israel pro-Palestinian sentiment among Jewish Leftists in Israel, is overrated. The problem is that that they get a lot of microphone time, which in turns gets them European “human rights” money, which in turn gets them more visibility. So the rest of the world thinks that they are a majority. Come election time they loose. The real anti-Israel maybe can get about 1%. The rest of the Left who are still Zionists albeit minimal Zionists still are a minority.

    Oren, Anyway you could have the play filmed and then put it on line, or on disc? I don’t know the nuances, but I’d like to see it as a movie.

  • eve

    With all the self-critical inclination of Jews, the one thing I’ve never heard discussed, among Jews, is the fact that there is a negative result of living, for centuries, in an atmosphere of anti-semitism, that impacts on some Jews. I can understand not wanting to give one’s enemies the satisfaction, or leverage, of airing one’s dirty laundry in public, but as I’ve stated: I’ve never heard this discussed among Jews. And, unfortunately, in any case, the “secret” is out.
    I have, now, on the internet, “met” some of the craziest Jews in the world. And they’re crazy; that’s for sure. Reasonably so, perhaps; crazy, nevertheless. Their craziness takes the form of self-hatred, that publically flagellates itself, that shares itself in a noxious, grovelling demonstration of cowardice, that so intensely seeks to appease that it inverts itself in identity, to match the identity of its enemy.
    We’ve named ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, but this special insanity of afflicted Jews, akin to the identifying with one’s captors, remains nameless. It presents itself, and takes cover, in the tendency of Jews to be self-examining and self-critical, yet demonstrates its depravity in its absence of logic and drive toward self-annihilation and that of the object of its obsession.
    Its worse aspect is in presenting itself as a “representation” of Jews, something the enemies of the Jewish people are all too eager to exploit.
    Tradition of intellectual exploration aside, I think it’s time for the Jewish community to cite and name this dysfunction, and identify it for what it is; no point avoiding that, anymore; it’s all too apparent to the rest of the world. The best thing to do would be to positively identify it. (And then to *sue* all factions and agencies that exascerbate it).

    • Bea


    • Zaharia

      It’s not only living in antisemitism. It’s how they are raised. If they are raised to actually talk to people and see others as equals that’s not a problem. If they aren’t that’s where it begins. Jews have had for millennia this idea that they are the chosen people and this has its downsides. The “crazy Jews” existed over 2000 years go too.

  • Reuven

    That damned Tony Kushner isn’t really a self-hasting Jew. He’s in love with himself. I totally agree with Oren Safdie.

  • Micha’el Bloch

    Micha’el Sar’ya Bloch – ISRAEL

    • gk

      Everywhere you turn in US – there are liberal Jews who are against Israel & also work with radical left to bring down US institutions!
      The closest allies to Obama – well know Arab/Palestine sympathizer & Israel hater – Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, etc. – are Jews!
      You take Soros – actively funds organizations that are against not only Israel but also US – even though US gave him asylum.
      You take Hollywood Jews – who are always railing against Israel & also, show the worst of US.
      You have the media – NYT, LA Times – just like their brethren in Hollywood – always attacking Israel & attacking the great institutions & intentionally creating a narrative that Israel & US are always wrong while Arab countries are right.
      Wall Street Jews do not care about any country or people — how much money they can amass & always gets the government to bail them out irrespective of the government in the center!
      Other than a couple of Jewish billionaires & few conservative Jews on the radio (who get vilified by the media), it is not cool to support Israel in US!!
      Worst are the liberal Jews in East Coast who will jump on everybody as anti-Semitic (if you comment about the Wall street rogues who got bailed out with other people’s money) while supporting liberals who actively work against Israel!!!

  • charlie johnson

    In these times,Everything in the USA turns on a dime and the dime is tied to time. I guess the Jew in the USA is like most everyone else here and is focused upon staying two leaps beyond the bill collector and his pal the tax collector. So in order to keep up with the Zuckerburgs he must select the best route on the anti poverty road that leads to a luxurious lifestyle and doing so he has little time to donate to his kinship in Israel.

  • Cynthia Melenson

    I’d love to see the play coming to Utah. Kol ha k’vod, Safdie.
    Also to Anatoly–enjoyed your poem–it summed up the Jewish situation well.

  • Reuven

    How refreshing it is to see a writer like Oren Safdie, who stands up for Israel. We need more like him!

  • Sir Winston Churchill was probably the most important Christian Zionist of the 20th Century, and it bothered him a great deal that some leading American Jews were openly anti-Zionist. See Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill and The Jews, Simon and Schuster 2007.

    • Micha’el Bloch

      If Churchill (who, by the way was Halachically Hebrew – as his mother’s parents were Hebrews who changed their name from Jacobson to Jerome)was such a good Zionist – why is it that he blocked the entry of Hebrews into “Palestine” before and after the war – as-well-as not allowing them into the countries of the British Empire -_ also prevented the bombing of the railway tracks to Auschwitz and from delivering assistance to Hebrew patisan groups in Europe – who were aiding the British war effort ? For goodness sake people – wake up – he was a self-hating and ashamed member of the tribe – stop misinforming people . At his school- I think Eton – he was treated abominably by his British peers who let him know very early on that he was what they called a “half-cast” – they obviously had their desired effect on him – as evidenced by what I wrote at the beginning of this comment of mine ! Micha’el Sarya Bloch – ISRAEL

      • Dani Renan

        I agree he could have done more. Maybe not, given with whom he dealt in the British government. People who supported him said things like :his only weakness was he was too fond of the Jews”.

        Before the war, meaning while he was out of the government he pressured to allow Jews to come to England from Germany (and Austria and Czech). The English said no, but then what about the children? Churchill argued and Parliament finally agreed, but only if they had support (that it wouldn’t cost anything), and agreeing to 50,000. Of course that number never made it, but a lot did.

        Many were held as the “enemy” and held in detention. This was ridiculous, but there was internal pressure.

        A large group of them were sent to Canada, and put on the Trans-Pacific Railway, and at every stop the Jewish community was notified to come to the station and take kids that they could support. I recently found out that one of my ‘uncles’ from Edmonton (who I never met) was visiting in LA, and was talking with my father and aunt and noted “It was so long ago,since I got off the train” He was one of them, and I think he was 11 when my family went to the train station and picked him up, and he became part of the family.

        Without Churchill he would most assuredly would have suffered the fate of his parents (who were also brave enough to let him go). I still believe that he could have done more – like scraping the 1939 White Paper,but he did more than any other national leader.

  • Please stop describing Jew-hating Jews as “left-leaning”! Israel was founded by Labor Zionists, of whom I am one, and if the recent polls are anything to go by, Labor may once again form a government. Labor and socialism are the backbone of Zionism, they have given it its moral compass. Antisemitic Jews have a lot in common with each other. First of all, this type of self-hatred is a particularly Jewish trait and is certainly connected with the persecution that Jews have experienced over the centuries. It is a sort of coward’s way out, instead of standing up to the persecutors, they try to join them. They have a classic sociopathic personality, including extreme arrogance and many of them manifest other types of mental illness.

    • Ozwald

      But it is the left leaning Jews who are attacking Israel. I don’t see any conservative Jews doing so. It’s Ari Roth. It’s Tony Kushner. It’s the NY Times. Thomas Friedman. Cohen. Beinart. The list goes on. Who were the ones trying to adopt a new platform at the Democratic Convention? Republicans are the true Liberal today. Left leaning of yesteryear were Liberal too at one time. But not true today. Their view has shrunk.

      • David M

        I do remember the Dem delegates loudly booing the speaker when the subject of Israel came up. These were the Democratic activists who made their true feelings clearly known!

    • Micha’el Bloch

      Josepine Bacon – you are totally off-compass – Nationalist Hebrews are to the last – very Pro- Israel – it’s ONLY Left-wing Hebrews and those who are uncommited whom you will see as anti- Israel or anti- Hebrew. Wake up babe ! Ben Gurion and his ilk may have been socialists – BUT they were nationalistic to the ‘nth degree – they were’nt the Leftists of the post- Zionist ilk of today like Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now and B’tselem and Meretz or Tzipi Livni, or Gidon Levi of Ha Aretz – they would have spat on them – not embrace them as you have ! Further , should Chas v’chalila Israelis lose their minds and create a Leftist govt – be sure to see a repeat of the Oslo disaster – or maybe a new Israel-Arab war ! Micha’el Sar’ya Bloch – ISRAEL

  • You are absolutely right: these Jews are useful idiots giving cover to anti-semites. We know their number and we should disregard them and lump them together with the others who espouse calumnies re Israel.

    Its the non-Jews, the BDS etc. who love to parade them out as cover for their vile narratives.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    A much needed play at a time when there is a wedge between many members of Diasporan Jewry and Israeli Jewry.

  • would love to see it is it coming to Florida

    • Alf

      Go see it in Tel Aviv

  • anon

    Totally agree with everything the playwright says and would enjoy seeing the play. Maybe Theater J will show some real courage now and play it. I would add that the lefty Jews who criticize Israel think that they are being courageous but actually they are terrified of disagreeing with the left who are very intolerant of dissent.

  • Shalom-Hillel

    Oren Safdie will have many Jews and non-Jews coming to performances when his play opens here in NY. To the “progressive” nay-sayers, I have news for you; you need Israel more than Israel needs you.

  • diane h

    Glad to see him taking on that creep Kushner. Talk about holier than thou. When i started reading this article and saw the character’s name was Tony, Kushner immediately popped into my mind. Good job. Hope it is done here.

  • Anatoly Tsaliovich

    By Anatoly Tsaliovich

    Through the ages, day by day,
    Jewish people used to pray
    Begging G-d to save the nation
    From pogroms and termination,
    Asking Heaven, time and time,
    To restore Yerushalayim.

    And at last, the dream came true!
    Proud under White and Blue
    Modern Israel stands grand
    In ancestral homeland –
    Shining star!
    Yet, strange and snide
    Turns up “Israel divide”,

    Self-inflicted hard abuse
    Separating Jews from Jews.
    There are Jews with noble goals,
    They support and volunteer,
    Offer their lives and souls,
    Fight for State with no fear.

    These are Jews that merit kudos,
    Proud of the ancient roots…
    There are also “dirty Judas”,
    Foul anti-Semitic fruits.
    Each would scoff at Jewish cause,
    Mock the State, defame, and jeer,

    Snub achievements, hunt up flaws,
    Join boycotts, fling dirt and smear.
    Each of them is ruthless critic –
    Brutal enemy’s delight,
    Each is more anti-Semitic
    Than the worst anti-Semite!
    Never mind, that their masters
    Call them judas, hymies, kikes,
    And enact “man-made disasters”
    Wasting them and their likes.
    Why a Jew becomes Jew-hater,
    Creeping poisonous pest,

    A disgusting rotten traitor,
    Useful idiot at best?
    What could be the valid reason
    For a no-sense making treason?
    Could it be the left-wing bias,
    Communism fairy thrills,

    Snake oil from the false messiahs,
    Or exotic mental ills?
    May be, at genetic layer
    Some mutated chromosome
    Had replaced the ‘freedom prayer’
    With ‘love enemy’ syndrome?

    But whatever is the cause
    Of those weird behavior trends,
    Be on guard with them, because
    They are enemies – not friends!
    Their heart is with your foes,
    They aren’t members of your team,

    Their throes are not your throes
    Of millennia-old dream.
    Such would serve in Judenraten,
    Gift to Hitler Zyclon B:
    Don’t befriend disgusting satan –

    • Wonderful poem Sir. I shall send it on. Your words represent many nuances and thoughts that well express Jewish and Israeli life I am sure I will read Israel Divide many times. Thank you.

    • Beautiful poem – ugly reality. Anti-Semitism is a pathology, it would seem that no one is immune to it, not even Jews who have something within themselves that they hate and project it unto Israel. Psychologists are the only people who can explain this seemingly absurd phenomenon.

  • Robert Weintraub

    Bravo Mr Safdi. Liberal American Jews are fearful that Israel’s behavior, especially this government’s, will compromise their status in the US. They ignore the fact that Israel is one of the most popular countries as far as Congress and the broader American public is concerned. Unfortunately, fear verrides facts.

    • JHoward

      “. . . Israel is one of the most popular countries as far as Congress and the broader American public is concerned.”

      Yes, and therein lies the real most insidious pathology corrupting, and threatening the US-Israel alliance, specifically the leverage exercised by the Israeli bought-and-paid-for US Congress over Mideastern policy. Liberal American Jews are a long way ahead of the “broader American public” in understanding this. Their concern is well informed and very well placed. Try looking at it from their perspective. You might become less inclined to spout these self-serving solipsistic remarks.


    Oren, The play sounds wonderful… and necessary! Will you be bringing it here? Would you like me to sponsor a reading of it at The Road? Are you back in LA.
    We’ve moved to Encino and I have a new phone number, if you want to give me a call. 818-654-6064. E-mail is the same.

    So happy to hear you’re woring on more stuff. I’m waiting for you to do a play for ‘moi’.

    Have a lovely holiday- Hanukah, that is.

    Warm regards,

  • Max Cohen

    Playwright Oren Safdie has left unanswered the critical question he raised in his thoughtful play. The protagonist, Goldberg, is not only a NY liberal, he is also a sexual deviant, that is, a homosexual. Every so called, “Gay” is haunted by the specter of abnormalcy and strikes out by defaming normalcy in an act of vengeance. Being a Jewish Gay, Goldberg condemns Israel’s behavior as an act of sexual straight self-defense. He is projecting his own death-wish as a “Gay” upon the normal acts of self-preservation of the Semitic people of Israel. The Goldberg character here combines the arrogance and wrong-headness of the Left with a glandular deformity.

  • Larry in Tel Aviv

    Great, thing is what about the anti-Israel left-wing Israeli Jews? I was born and grew up in the Diaspora but did aliyah years ago, and I never cease to be amazed at the pervasiveness of anti-Israel pro-Palestinian sentiment among Jewish Leftists in Israel. They also give cover for anti-Israel American Jews. Half my extended family in Israel (and these are Israeli Jews mind you, born and bred) are self-hating morons to a degree.

    • V. Gates

      Larry, those were my thoughts exactly.

      This isn’t about “American Jews” being arrogant. The problem is both broader and deeper than that.

      Jews poisoned by the essentially antagonistic-to-Judaism doctrines of leftism…sometimes known as secular humanism (innocuous-sounding name)…whether in the Diaspora or within Israel, present an existential challenge to Israel’s survival.

  • The despicable and overrated Tony Kushner, whose writes overwrought plays – would have applauded “open dialogue” at the Wansee conference.

  • Wow!! Great!!

    Now if Safdi can get the infuriating “Jewish Leadership” (mostly an oxymoron) to speak up for Jewish rights, write media reports that are fair to Israel, not bend over backward for secular topics (abortion/gays/blacks, etc.) while ignoring Israel in the crosshairs of hate – he will accomplish more than any other Jew in history!

  • Is this play coming to the US?

  • sifter

    Kol hakavod. He is right on the money