Screen Scribe

Norman Hudis is a patient man, not by temperament but by necessity. It took the ex-Londoner and current Woodland Hills resident some 30 years to see his play produced on stage, and if the venue is Santa Ana rather than Manhattan, he is as pleased as any playwright savoring his name on a Broadway marquee.

The play is titled "Dinner With Ribbentrop." That would be Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s ambassador to Great Britain and later his foreign minister, who was hanged in Nuremberg as a war criminal.

While serving in London in 1938, Ribbentrop met British actor and screen star Eric Portman and was pleased to find in him a raging anti-Semite.

In the 1950s, Hudis worked as publicist for Sir Arthur Rank’s Pinewood Studio and there met Portman. The actor boasted that during a private dinner with Ribbentrop, the Nazi diplomat promised him that after the German victory in the upcoming war, the New Order would make Portman England’s greatest star in a Jew-free British film industry.

In the months following, the Jewish publicist, a grandson of Russian immigrants, and the Jew-hating actor spent long hours together in pubs arguing heatedly.

In the play, set in the 1950s, Portman is offered the role of his lifetime by a Jewish producer, and their very first meeting erupts into a furious dispute about Jews.

After Hudis finished the play, it made the rounds of London producers. They hailed it as brilliant, challenging and mordantly funny, said Hudis, but rejected it for fear that giving a platform to a handsome, witty and eloquent anti-Semite would offend the Jewish theater-going public.

Now living with his wife, Rita, the 82-year-old Hudis is writing his autobiography, titled "Running Late," and it should be a lively read.

At 16, he was a junior reporter and at 21, as a member of the Royal Air Force, he was the youngest war correspondent in the Middle East. Back in civilian life, he became a "picture plugger" for a studio publicity department, and then a screenwriter.

He wrote the scripts of some 20 "B" pictures and then hit it big with the wildly popular "Carry On, Nurse," a very risqué comedy for its time,

In the 1960s the family settled in Hollywood, where Hudis became an award-winning TV writer. His writing stints have ranged from mysteries, rock ‘n’ roll shows and crime thrillers to bible spectacles and classic comedy.

"Dinner With Ribbentrop" runs through May 23 at the Rude Guerrilla Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. For information, call (714) 547-4688.

Who Causes Anti-Semitism?

There is a gathering hysteria in the American Jewish community that is dangerously self-destructive. Life as a Jew these days may not be — is not — a bed of roses, but neither is it a bed of thorns. Yet to hear some in our community tell it, thorns are all there are.

Consider: George Soros, the multibillionaire and philanthropist, spoke on Nov. 5 to a meeting of the Jewish Funders Network. In response to a question about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, he responded that "the policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that."

Can there be any doubt that he is right?

Yes, of course, the anti-Semitism we witness is both disgusting and discouraging. Yes, of course, Israel’s policies provide anti-Semites a convenient "excuse" for assaulting the Jewish State. And, of course, anti-Zionism is too often a translucent fig leaf that tries but fails to mask the underlying anti-Semitism.

But that is far from the whole of the story. Anti-Zionism is sometimes a cover for anti-Semitism — but not always. Criticism of Israel’s policies is sometimes a cover for anti-Zionism — but not always.

Soros did not say that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would bring an end to anti-Semitism. He said that the policies of Israel and the United States "contribute" to anti-Semitism, a point made repeatedly by scholars, journalists, observers of all kinds who are close observers of the issue.

To suppose that Soros was offering an "anti-Zionist" perspective is to impute anti-Zionism to any criticism of the Sharon government. By that measure, a very large number of Israeli Jews, along with a very large number of American Jews, along with a very large number of Israel’s most veteran champions, are anti-Zionists. And that, of course, is utter nonsense.

The Sharon policies are, at the very least, controversial, and there is no reason in the world to demand that those policies be immune from thoughtful criticism. Lumping such criticism together with the genuinely hateful stuff, the assertions of Israel’s illegitimacy, is a sloppy substitute for serious analysis.

It is one thing when Sharon or one of his colleagues (Natan Sharansky comes immediately to mind) chooses to dismiss vehement criticism of the policies of Israel’s government as a cover for anti-Semitism. That kind of argument is what one would expect of politicians, who seek however they can to deflect criticism and to tar it with the handiest brush. It is quite another when others join in the tarring.

I have here in mind the response to Soros’ remarks by Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). According to a report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Foxman dismissed Soros’ remarks as "absolutely obscene," saying, "He buys into the stereotype. It’s a simplistic, counterproductive, biased and bigoted perception of what’s out there. It’s blaming the victim for all of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s ills."

Excuse me? Which is the more simplistic: Soros’ assertion that the Sharon-Bush policies "contribute" to the rise in anti-Semitism or the Foxman assertion that Soros is blaming the victim for "all of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s ills?"

Before you answer that question, you ought to know that another JTA report, this one dealing with Foxman’s new book, "Never Again?" tells us that the author argues there that "we currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s — if not a greater one."

Pollyanna doesn’t live here anymore. A Jew who is not concerned with the assaults on Israel and on the Jews is shameful. But a Jew who honestly believes this is the 1930s, or worse, has mired himself in a swamp of despair. Nothing in our current situation warrants so extreme and so disheartening and so ill-founded a conclusion. Pollyanna doesn’t live here any more, but neither do Hitler and Goebbels.

This reasoning becomes doubly, triply important just now, as for the first time in many months, we witness some fragile shoots of hope regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Significant Israelis — especially the four former chiefs of Israel’s domestic security service, who issued a statement some days back warning that Sharon’s policies were leading to a "catastrophe" for the Jewish State, and also the daring "virtual" peace agreement negotiated in Geneva by Yossi Beilin, Yasser Abed Rabo and their colleagues — have lately begun to speak out more forcefully regarding both the danger and the promise that Israel now faces.

Are the former directors of the Shin Bet being "simplistic?" When Secretary of State Colin Powell praised the Geneva effort, he was criticized by the ADL: Such an endorsement could "diminish the negotiating position of the democratically elected government of Israel" and "weaken current peace efforts."

That’s an interesting critique (which would carry considerably more weight if one had any idea what the ADL was referring to in mentioning "current peace efforts." How, in fact, does one weaken the already moribund?). But the idea that the United States, as a matter of policy, should not deal with alternative groups and with alternative proposals — an idea with very little precedent — has at least the virtue that it can be rationally discussed.

The idea that our condition today is perhaps even worse than it was in the 1930s is beyond discussion; it stems not from intellectual analysis but from the post-traumatic stress disorder that is the plague of contemporary Jewish life. That disorder is kept alive by the continuing minitraumas that we suffer. It is, I fear, also kept alive by those who, for whatever the reason, conflate our critics with our enemies, know and preach only the language of dread and despair.

Leonard Fein is the author of several books, including, “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope (Jewish Lights, Woodstock, Vt., 2001).

She Said: A Day Fit for a Family

My wedding story begins with a dress. Not just any dress, but the kind that makes people’s heads turn when the wearer walks into a room.

When my fiancĂ©, Adam, and I got engaged last spring, my wedding dress was the last thing on my mind — telling my kids was the first. It remained at the end of the list until about three months before the wedding date.

Then, one Sunday, shortly after the invitations had been ordered, I was walking through Nordstrom’s and I saw it: long, beaded, cream-colored, utterly gorgeous and, most important, my size. I returned later with my best friend, Lilly, who insisted on purchasing it for me, despite the fact that the alterations were going to cost half as much as the dress itself.

That dress, which made me feel like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor combined, became the biggest bone of contention between me and my family — one that has led to more arguments than, well, my decision to marry my first husband. It was deemed inappropriate for a second wedding, too showy for the time of day, “totally wrong.” After my mother and all her friends had weighed in with their opinions, you would have thought I was planning to get up on the bimah and ask our guests if they wanted to buy a vowel.

A second wedding is like the first on many levels: you still have to pick the venue, order invitations, hire the rabbi, decide where and when to have the reception, select a bouquet, choose a cake and a caterer, rent the tuxedos and, of course, buy the damned dress — unless you are one of those highly intelligent people who opt to elope.

But a second wedding is a lot more complicated. With a first marriage, you feel like you are starting out on this fresh piece of road, like the whole world has been created anew just for you. A second marriage is more like a jigsaw puzzle. There’s the piece that’s you, the piece that’s your intended, the piece that’s the kids (if applicable), followed by your family and his family. Then there’s that whole other dimension of ex-spouses, if they are still in the picture, and their respective families.

By the time we were a month out from the wedding date and all the issues were if not solved then at least on the agenda, I felt like AOL trying to merge with Time Warner. It’s been hard to keep in mind that this is supposed to be the most romantic time of my life.

There was a time when I didn’t think I would feel that way ever again. After my first marriage gave its last gasp and I felt like I could finally breathe again, I was content just knowing the only people I had to worry about were myself and the kids. I certainly did not expect to turn around and fall in love so fast. The idea that this same someone would fall for me and want to spend the rest of his life with me and my two admittedly high-energy boys still amazes me.

I am further fortunate in that my kids adore my fiancĂ©. The boys love to remind me how “We’re all getting married to Adam!” With the help of our rabbi, Stewart Vogel, we have even managed to devise a way to involve the boys in the ceremony without too much pressure.

The support of Rabbi Vogel, my mom and dad and Adam’s family underscores the most important lesson I’ve learned from this whole experience: You can’t embark on a second marriage without the advice and assistance of a lot of people. We needed a lot of help to pull this occasion off. Again, the wedding reflects the marriage. Adam and I are not going to be able to live “happily ever after” without this network of family and friends to lean on and learn from.

Which brings me back to the dress. Although I stubbornly held my ground for a week or so, in the end, I realized that the chosen attire was, indeed, a bit much. It took another weekend — and my mom’s keen eye — to find something I believe reflects the kind of wedding I hope to have: simple, elegant, a little fun and yet still makes me feel like royalty.

It might be a second wedding, but it’s the first time I’m marrying Adam. It’s our jigsaw puzzle to create. And that’s the way I hope I will still be looking at it, God willing, 50 years from now.

Wendy J. Madnick, former Valley editor of The Jewish Journal, is communications manager of Cure Autism Now.

Israeli History the Dershowitz Way

“The Case For Israel,” by Alan Dershowitz (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95).

Alan Dershowitz’s new book describes an Israel no Israeli would recognize, an impossibly virtuous country whose intentions are always pure, whose conduct is forever above reproach, and whose rare misdeeds can be explained away as accidental. Conversely, the Palestinian Arabs (and for that matter, all Arabs) are depicted as malevolent terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction; every one of their deeds is attributed to the basest of motives, every decision a result of unremitting hostility, trickery, foolishness, or a combination of all three. No reader of Israeli historical scholarship or journalism would recognize the simple tale of good and evil, of angels and devils, described in the pages of Dershowitz’s book.

Though equipped with the tools of historical scholarship (footnotes, primary and secondary textual documentation, etc.) and presenting itself as an exploration of the historical roots of the conflict between Arabs and Jews in pre-State Palestine and Israel, his book is not a serious work of scholarship on the enormously complex struggle of two national movements over the same small piece of land. Instead, it is the latest in a long tradition of hasbarah, propaganda, that is not unlike the material produced by the Israeli Office of Hasbarah in years past, or pamphlets issues today by various pro-Israel advocacy groups in the United States.

In seeking to “make the case for Israel,” Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard and prominent defense attorney, has abandoned any pretense of balance, nuance or objectivity, all of which are guiding values for professional historians. That he is more interested in a one-sided polemic than a sober historical exploration is evident in the title of the book (would anyone interested in the political history of the United States rely on a book titled “The Case for America?”). It is also evident in its structure — each chapter title is framed as a question (Did Israel Start the Six-Day War? Were the Jews Unwilling to Share Palestine?) whose answer is predetermined from the outset, and then divided into sections on “the accusation,” “the accusers,” “the reality” and “the proof.”

Dershowitz is not to be criticized for writing a polemic, for that is what he set out to do, and he presents his case with passion. But the question is: Is such an approach helpful at this critical time?

Most important, it is evident in the book’s many factual errors, misinterpretations of evidence and selective quotations. To take but one example: Dershowitz resurrects the old, discredited canard that the Arabs themselves are primarily responsible for the departure of approximately 750,000 Palestinians during and immediately after the 1947-1948 war, and therefore bear most of the blame for the creation of the refugee problem. To bolster his case, he quotes the prominent Israeli historian and author Benny Morris: “In some areas, Arab commanders ordered the villagers to evacuate, to clear the ground for military purposes or to prevent military surrender.”

Dershowitz also uses evidence from Morris to argue that the Arab leaders of Haifa encouraged their community to leave. What emerges from Dershowitz’s selective use of Morris’ book is an account of the refugee problem that places responsibility for the problem squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians themselves.

However, Dershowitz neglects to mention Morris’ conclusion, based on detailed research and stated quite clearly in several of his books (including those cited by Dershowitz), that the majority of Palestinian refugees were in some cases expelled by Jewish forces and in others fled out of fear of expulsion or massacre by those forces. On the very same pages Dershowitz cites to make his argument for Palestinian culpability, Morris writes the following:

“During the second stage, while there was clearly no policy of expulsion, the Haganah’s Plan D clearly resulted in mass flight. Commanders were authorized to clear the populace out of villages and certain urban districts, and to raze the villages if they felt a military need. Many commanders identified with the aim of ending up with a Jewish State with as small an Arab minority as possible. Some generals, such as [Yigal] Allon, clearly acted as if driven by such a goal…. Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain in the Jewish State. But there was still no systematic expulsion policy…. Yet Israeli troops … were far more inclined to expel Palestinians than they had been during the first half of the war. In Operation Yoav, Allon took care to leave almost no Arab communities along his lines of advance.”

Clearly, Morris’ argument is considerably more complicated and morally ambiguous than the simplistic version Dershowitz presents. The latter has violated a cardinal rule of historical scholarship: an author is responsible for weighing all evidence at his or her disposal before making a conclusion, even if some of that evidence contradicts one’s own argument or bias.

I suspect that Dershowitz will not be troubled by objections raised by scholars. His account of Israeli saints and Palestinian villains is not aimed at historians or academic specialists. It is also not intended for Israelis, for whom firsthand experience of their country provides a degree of skepticism and nuanced understanding utterly lacking in the book. Rather, it is aimed at American Jews who are deeply attached to Israel and seek intellectual ammunition and moral reassurance at a time of crisis. Given the brutal terrorist attacks on buses, in restaurants and cafes, an economy on the brink of collapse, fierce and unrelenting criticism of the country and an unmistakable increase in anti-Semitism throughout much of the world, it is perfectly understandable to seek solace and solidarity in Dershowitz’s impassioned plea on behalf of the Jewish State. And yet, despite the many problems confronting Israel, the author’s embrace of simplistic, black-and-white explanations should be resisted. It may be noble to raise a stirring defense of Israel, but not under the guise of serious scholarship. Like a long marriage in which each partner comes to know and love the other for who they really are, warts and all, concern for Israel should be based on an honest, balanced assessment of the country’s strengths and weaknesses, achievements as well as shortcomings. To their great credit, Israeli scholars, journalists and intellectuals have been providing such assessments to their fellow citizens for at least two decades. It is unfortunate that professor Dershowitz has sought refuge in the soothing pieties of a previous era.

Alan Dershowitz will speak on Oct. 22 at the Nessah Educational Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. $15-50. 5:30 p.m. (reception), 7 p.m. (discussion). For tickets, call (310) 246-7200.

Adam Rubin is assistant professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.