Fidel Castro: Something wonderful?

Gal Gadot

On Tuesday we discussed Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about the romance between ABC correspondent Lisa Howard and Cuban chieftain Fidel Castro. As we noted, they met for the first time in a Havana nightclub in 1963. A few months later, they met in a hotel room in the same city. The boy kissed the girl. They went to bed together. But Fidel chose not to go all the way.

And of course that restraint was what did it. She was in love. Head over heels, the ABC correspondent sent the dictator a schoolgirlish letter in which she assured him that while some people viewed him as a “tyrant,” she could see that although he had indeed “destroyed thousands” of Cubans, he had not really “meant to hurt” anybody. Indeed, she had recognized that he possessed a “spark of divine fire,” a “humanity,” a “compassion,” a “deep knowledge and sense of justice,” a “genuine concern for the poor,” and that his “sacred duty” is to make all those deeply seated attributes “a reality for your people.”

In other words, she was sort of an Anna Leonowens to his King Mongkut in The King and I. She disapproved of the brutality of his one-man rule, but at the same time she felt that she saw certain “qualities” in him that she found immensely appealing. Of course, many women feel this way about the men they fall in love with, and these feelings are generally the product not of objective intellectual observation but of hormones. One is reminded of the verse of “Something Wonderful,” the tune sung in The King and I by the senior wife, Lady Thiang, as a way of explaining her own love for the bloodthirsty absolute monarch:

This is a man who thinks with his heart,

His heart is not always wise.

This is a man who stumbles and falls,

But this is a man who tries.

This is a man you’ll forgive and forgive

And help and protect, as long as you live…..

Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro

Gal Gadot, in explaining her decision to make a movie about the Lisa Howard-Fidel Castro romance, pronounced herself “entranced” by Peter Kornbluh’s “thrilling account of a complicated, fascinating woman…in the midst of a high-stakes, real-life drama.” As Humberto Fontova noted in reporting this story, Gadot appears either to be ignorant of, or to have decided to overlook, “Fidel Castro’s habitual references to Israel as ‘Fascist!’ ‘Nazi!’ and ‘Genocidal!’” Worse than that, Castro “sen[t] tanks and troops to Syria during the Yom Kippur War” in an effort to help “erase Israel.” Castro’s government also sponsored the UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism and that led to the departure of 90 percent of Cuba’s Jews. Fidel, observed Fontova, “drove out a higher percentage of Jews from Cuba than Czar Nicholas drove from Russian and even Hafez Assad drove out of Syria. Yet ‘Miss Israel’ seems as charmed by him as was Lisa Howard.”

Che Guevara

One question that will have to be answered when the script for Gadot’s film is written is whether to include her infatuation for Castro’s sidekick Che Guevara. Would that detract from the main love story, or would it make for an engaging subplot and also contribute tension and suspense? One consideration here would be that the gala reception Lisa Howard threw for Che at her glamorous Manhattan apartment while Che was in New York to address the UN would make for a great set piece, like the big party in The Great Gatsby. Imagine the production values! The fact that Che, during that trip, “was also plotting with the Black Liberation Front to blow up the Statue of Liberty” would also add drama.

We began on Tuesday by talking about the Genesis Prize Foundation, which had made the mistake of choosing actress Natalie Portman for what is basically a “friend of Israel” award, only to be kicked in the teeth by Portman because she dislikes Benjamin Netanyahu. After one observer suggested that the accolade should have been presented instead to actress Gal Gadot, she turned out to be capable of envisioning Fidel Castro as the hero of a Hollywood love story. Perhaps the Foundation should shut down entirely and give up on handing out these prizes. Or at least it should stop giving them to Hollywood people. There are, it seems, too many “friends of Israel” in La-La Land whose friendship is woefully conditional and whose attitude toward some of Israel’s worst enemies is altogether unconscionable.

Gal Gadot loves a good Castro love story

Natalie Portman

It wasn’t long ago – in fact, it was as recently as May 1 – that we reported here on Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman’s refusal to travel to Israel to accept the Genesis Prize. As we noted, the Genesis Prize has been awarded annually since 2014 to “individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” The prize has been given to zillionaire Michael Bloomberg, movie star Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Portman, who starred the movie Black Swan and lives in the United States, was named the 2018 laureate and apparently agreed to appear in Jerusalem to accept it, but later said she would not attend the awards ceremony. Why? Because she was “distressed by ‘recent events.’” Which recent events? Her answer basically came down to: Benjamin Netanyahu. This made no sense, of course, because Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for nine years.

Gal Gadot

There was widespread anger at Portman for her snub to Israel. There was anger, too, at the Genesis Prize Foundation for picking Portman to begin with. “If the Genesis prize wanted to honor an actress,” said Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, “they should have honored Gal Gadot, who has repeatedly shown her pride in being Israeli, supporting Israel during times of difficulties and is married to a Jewish person raising Jewish kids.”

Who is Gadot? Born and raised in Israel, she was Miss Israel 2004, spent two years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat instructor, and went on to star as Wonder Woman in the film of that name as well as in other DC comics-based movies. This year she appears on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has apparently been a

Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro

So Weiss’s proposal seemed to make sense. Flash forward a few weeks. On May 26 came a news report about Gal Gadot’s latest professional endeavor. Let’s just preface this by saying it’s a small world. Gadot, it turned out, had arrange to co-produce and possibly star in a film based on the Politico article “’My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro.”

Yes, this is the same article we discussed here on May 22 and 24. It was about Lisa Howard, an ABC reporter who met Castro at a Havana nightclub in 1963. They talked for hours. She was bowled over by his “breadth of knowledge.” He was, it turned out, big on Camus. Months later, they met in a Havana hotel room. More hours of talk. Political discussion. She criticized his dictatorship. (It’s important in a romantic movie for there to be some cause of tension between the lovers.) Then came the moment that will presumably mark the end of the movie’s first act: Castro threw his arms around her. They kissed. They lay in bed together.

But there was no sex – not yet. It would “complicate” matters, Fidel said. Perfect – keep the suspense going, as the producers of Cheers did with Sam and Diane.

More on Thursday.

Why doesn’t Natalie Portman boycott the U.S., too?

Natalie Portman

As we saw on Tuesday, Jerusalem-born Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, who is a dual American and Israeli citizen, was supposed to go to Israel this summer to accept the Genesis Prize, which is known as the “Jewish Nobel” and which they presumably decided to give to Portman because they figured that movie stars don’t get enough awards. The other day, she showed her gratitude by kicking the Genesis Prize Foundation in the cojones. She holds an Israeli passport, but doesn’t want to set foot in Israel right now. When accused of buying into the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement, she denied the charge, saying she simply doesn’t like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We suspect that she doesn’t care for Donald Trump either, but that doesn’t cause her to flee the U.S. No, somehow Israel is the only country that it’s cool to boycott. Not that it has anything to do with anti-Semitism, of course.

Benjamin Netanyahu

In a powerful op-ed, Ben-Dror Yemini wrote that her unwillingness to travel to the Jewish state “was seen, rightly, as a move aimed at reinforcing the boycott” and that “Israel’s haters haven’t received such a significant gift in a long time.” Whatever her specific motives, observed Yemini, the fact remains that “[a]nyone who boycotts Israel bolster our haters, the demonization campaign and the boycott movement, which opposes Israel’s actual existence.” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz made the same point: “Natalie Portman has played into the hands of the worst of our haters and of the worst of the anti-Semites in the Middle East,” Steinitz charged. “Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Boycotting Israel has elements of anti-Semitism.” Would Portman boycott, say, China or Russia?

Caroline Glick

Columnist Caroline Glick cited a 2015 interview in which Portman, asked if she “was shaken” by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, “said toughly, ‘Listen, I’m from Israel.’” Glickman commented: “In other words, Portman, who moved with her family to the U.S. when she was 3, appropriated the toughness Israelis have been forced to cultivate in the face of their neighbors’ continuous aggression to cultivate a tough-girl image of herself.” Glick wondered: “If Portman cancelled her participation in the ceremony because she hates Netanyahu, why did her representative say she was distressed by ‘recent events’? Netanyahu didn’t assume power ‘recently.’ He’s been in office for nine years.” If her decision was motivated by Bibi-hatred, “the Genesis Prize Foundation should sue her for fraud since it means that she never intended to accept the prize and she deliberately sabotaged the foundation’s work.”

Gal Gadot

Meanwhile Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, didn’t criticize Portman – he criticized the Genesis Prize Foundation for picking her in the first place. “If the Genesis prize wanted to honor an actress,” he suggested, “they should have honored Gal Gadot, who has repeatedly shown her pride in being Israeli, supporting Israel during times of difficulties and is married to a Jewish person raising Jewish kids.” Good point. How did they come to pick Portman? “The selection of the Genesis Prize Laureate,” the Foundation’s website explains, “is a multi-step process.” It involves both a Selection Committee and a Prize Committee, both of which are tasked with ensuring that the winner has “a commitment to Jewish values,” is “proud of their Jewish identity,” and enjoys “a meaningful connection to the Jewish People and/or to the State of Israel.” Oops.

Boycotting Israel: Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

The Genesis Prize, according to its website, “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” The prize, first given in 2014 and often called the “Jewish Nobel,” is awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation and comes with a $1 million check. Winners have included New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and sculptor Anish Kapoor. This year’s laureate is – or was – actress Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for Black Swan and more recently played Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the movie Jackie. On its website, the Foundation also noted her humanitarian work with FINCA, a microfinancing program, and WE, a charity that “empowers youth.”

Portman in Jackie

The award was to be presented to Portman in June. But on April 19 came news that the prize ceremony was off. Portman had announced that she would not attend the event – because she refuses to set foot in Israel. This is particularly interesting news, given that Portman was born in Jerusalem and is a joint American and Israeli citizen. Her explanation: “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” Therefore “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.” According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Portman did not specify which events caused her distress, although the United Nations and the European Union recently called for investigations into the use of live ammunition by Israel’s military following clashes along the border with Gaza that have left dozens of Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded.”

Amos Oz

Portman’s action seemed unusual, given her record. In 2009, she stood up agains anti-Israeli calls for a boycott of the Toronto Film Festival. She wrote, directed, and starred in a 2015 Hebrew-language film adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, which deals in large part with the founding of Israel. After it was announced that she would be receiving the Genesis Prize, she expressed gratitude and pride in her “Israeli roots and Jewish heritage.” She has nothing but contempt, however, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has called a “racist.”

Miri Regev

After Portman’s turndown, Israel’s cultural minister, Miri Regev, stated what seemed to be obvious: Portman, she said, has “fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of the BDS movement supporters.” In a reference to the title of Portman’s film version of Oz’s memoir, Regev lamented that Portman was “joining those who treat the story of the success and the miracle of Israel’s revival as a tale of darkness and darkness.” In response, Portman claimed that her refusal to go to Israel had nothing to do with the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement; she maintained, rather, that she didn’t want to share a platform with Netanyahu, who was scheduled to speak at the award ceremony. And then what happened? Tune in on Thursday.