(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.
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.