The Arty Semite

Actor Quits Milan Jewish Community Over Israel

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — Since the 1980s the Italian Jewish actor Moni Ovadia has garnered a popular following with stage productions and cabaret acts largely based on Yiddish, klezmer music and Jewish jokes and legends.

Filippo Caranti/Wikimedia Commons

Born in Bulgaria, Ovadia, 67, came to Milan as a small child and attended the Jewish school there. Arguably Italy’s best known Jewish stage performer, Ovadia, a leftist, describes himself as agnostic, but he wears a beard and his trademark headgear is a big knitted kippah.

In recent years, however, Ovadia’s vocal opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians has garnered sharp criticism. Two years ago, his announced participation at an event in Siena for the European Day of Jewish Culture drew heated protests, including a long stream of comments on the official website of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI).

When he announced in a newspaper interview last week that he planned to quit the Milan Jewish community over its approach to Israel, Ovadia touched off another firestorm both in the Jewish world and the media.

“I don’t want to be part of an entity that calls itself a Jewish community but is the propaganda office of a government,” he said.

“I am against those who want to ‘Israelianize’ Judaism,” he added. Moreover, he said, he believed that he was barred from taking part in a big Jewish culture festival in Milan in September because of his views.

Ovadia’s remarks prompted a stream of angry reactions from Milan Jews and others who aired their outrage in interviews, statements, tweets and op-eds.

Some of the debate centered on the role of Israel in constructing Jewish identity. Other comments focused on whether there could or should be limits to expressing views about Israel within the Jewish world.

A meeting of the Milan Jewish community board discussing the case was marked by “lively polemics” and “tensions,” according to the UCEI website.

Milan Jewish community spokesman Daniele Nahum issued a statement saying that Ovadia’s assertions were “full of falsehoods.” And the Milan Jewish community’s president, Walker Megnaghi, said he didn’t think Ovadia’s departure would be a great loss. “I don’t think anyone will cry after these irresponsible and dangerous words,” he said.

Other commentators went further. The staunchly pro-Israel Italian columnist Giulio Meotti ran a sharply worded op-ed in Il Foglio newspaper whose headline called Ovadia “the Jew who believes himself better than Israel.”

And the pro-Israel website Informazione Corretta — which in the past has branded Ovadia a “Jewish anti-Semite” — said his decision to leave the community was “finally some good news” from the actor.

Others were more conciliatory.

The historian Gadi Luzzatto urged Ovadia to reconsider his decision and published a long list of reasons why he himself would not consider leaving the Jewish community. The first reason: “I won’t leave because if I do, the community will lose a free voice.” Other items on the list included “I won’t leave because I worked a large part of my life for openness and inclusion” and “because I want a Jewish community in the diaspora to be as free as is Israeli society.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Moni Ovadia, Italy, Milan

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.