Monday, March 27, 2023

Award-winning ‘Netanyahus’ author says it’s also about Trump

JERUSALEM ( Associated Press) — “The Netanyahus,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this week, tells a very funny anecdote about a famous Israeli family who lived half a century before one of them became the longest-serving prime minister appears for a longer period of time.

But the book’s 41-year-old author, Joshua Cohen, says the novel is about entertainment as identity and liberalism, father and son, autocracy and politics – and he had another leader in mind when he wrote it. .

“I wanted to write something about what it’s like to live the Trump years,” he told the Associated Press in an interview in Jerusalem. He had planned a quiet, week-long writing retreat here, which was interrupted late Monday by news that he had won the award.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like former President Donald Trump, “comes from a family that essentially became a reality show family,” Cohen said.

“We were living his show. And so I thought that if I looked at the origins of this authoritarian figure reality show as it developed in another country, it would be possible to say a few things about liberalism and what it should be like to be free and independent in a culture like that. Where you are bombarded with this spectacle. ,

The novel is based on a real-life trip to the United States around 1960 by Ben-Zion Netanyahu, the medieval historian and father of the former prime minister. The story on which the novel is based was related to Cohen by the famous literary figure. Critic Harold Bloom, who hosted the real-life Netanyahus.

“Netanyahu came to a job interview and lecture with his wife and three children and proceeded to make a mess,” Cohen writes in the author’s note. The book’s subtitle refers to the series of events as “a minor and ultimately insignificant episode in the history of a very famous family”.

Benjamin Netanyahu was a young boy at the time and a minor character in the novel, which centers on Ben-Zion and the narrator, a fictional professor of American history named Reuben Blum.

The novel portrays Netanyahu as a rude and cruel man who crashes into the Blum family’s quiet life in a quaint college town. The Gentile Department Chair’s notion that Blum – the only Jewish member of the faculty – would hit it off with Ben-Zion, turned out to be spectacularly unfounded.

Ofer Golan, a spokesman for the real Netanyahu family, declined to comment on the book.

Ben-Zion, a respected if controversial historian of the Spanish Inquisition, who died in 2012 At the age of 102, endorsed a bleak worldview in which Jews remain at risk of another Holocaust – their best hope is a militarily strong and unshakable Jewish state.

But he was politically sidelined in the early decades of Israel’s existence and invested his hopes in his sons, instead shying away from obscurity in American universities.

“It is in these father-son relationships that they become authoritarians,” Cohen said, comparing the elder Netanyahu to real estate developer and father of the former president, Fred Trump.

Ben-Zion’s eldest son, Jonathan, was killed in a commando raid on Uganda’s Entebbe airport in 1976, rescuing more than 100 Jewish hostages from Palestinian kidnappers. Jonathan is celebrated as one of Israel’s greatest war heroes.

Benjamin, who was first elected prime minister in 1996 as a staunch opponent of the peace process with the Palestinians, returned to office in 2009 and remains the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history. His long reign ended last yearBut he’s eyeing a comeback while he’s on trial for corruption,

Netanyahu was a close ally of President Trump and emulated his style of governance, He presented himself as the only leader capable of guarding Israel through dangerous times, dismissing significant media coverage as “fake news” and accusing law enforcement of waging a “witch hunt” against him. Charged.

Like Trump, his regime left the country deeply divided There are supporters who see him almost as a messianic savior and among opponents who see him as a corrupt fascist who threatens the very foundations of democracy.

But everyone agreed to watch the spectacle.

“They’re kind of mascots, hate mascots, and I protested the omnipresence of this saga, which I didn’t sign up for,” Cohen said. “I wanted to take some of its projection powers and use it for my own purposes.”

In the process, Cohen contrasts the Jewish-American experience of assimilating into a multi-cultural nation, despite a certain level of anti-Semitism, and contrasts with the nationalism of the Israeli right, as expressed by Ben-Zion. And now this is the major tension. Israeli politics,

Anschel Pfeiffer, author of a biography of Benjamin Netanyahu and a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, says that the novel captures two distinct stories of Jewish success that are “contrary to and reproach each other”.

“Suddenly, after 2000 years of deportation and persecution, Jews had become a success story, but not just one success,” he wrote in a column Last Fall, “American Jews were ultimately proving that, in a free land, there was no need for a Jewish homeland and Israeli Jews were proving that only Jews in their homeland could truly be free.”

The novel’s relevance comes at a time when Jewish communities in the United States and Israel – the world’s two largest – seem to be drifting apart.

Israel has leaned to the right over the past two decades and is now dominated by nationalist parties in opposition to the Palestinian state, with even American Jews divided over the conflict, Religious affairs in Israel have long been dominated by ultra-Orthodox who refuse to recognize The more liberal strains of Judaism that most American Jews follow.

Cohen said he was mindful of “gaps and breakages everywhere”—between the views of his generation’s Israel and its parents, and between American and Israeli Jews. But he shies away from discussing his own politics and identity, other than to say that he had a religious Jewish upbringing in the United States and has spent a great deal of time in Israel.

“I’m a writer. It’s a different nationality, it’s a different identity, it’s a different religion,” he said. Regarding his relationship with Israel, he says he comes from a Jewish tradition that satire Doing is an “act of love”.

“The book was actually written as a comedy,” he said. “That’s the politics of it for me.”


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