JERUSALEM — A public attack against playwright Arthur Miller is the latest in a string of moves by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski that critics say raise questions about his ability to reach out across religious boundaries.
Lupolianski, a relatively tolerant ultra-Orthodox politician, was upset by remarks made by Miller late last month in his videotaped acceptance speech for winning the Jerusalem Prize. The writer criticized Israeli policies in the territories and argued that the country needed to rediscover its Jewish principles if it were “to restore its immortal light to the world.”
Miller opted not to attend the June 26 event during the recent International Book Festival in Jerusalem, where the prize was formally awarded and the videotape was played. In the speech, Miller described Israeli settlement policy in the territories as self-defeating, suggesting that Israel wanted to turn the clock back to when it was acceptable for nations “to expand beyond their natural borders.” He said that he and others hoped Israel would become “a peaceful, progressive society like any other,” but that it had become the very opposite: “An armed and rather desperate society at odds with its neighbors, but also the world.”
In response, Lupolianski stood up and offered a rebuttal. The mayor said Miller was a “universal dramatist” who had reached his peak more than 50 years ago, and attacked him for sitting on a “literary Olympus tens of thousands of kilometers from here to voice criticism.”
“It is hard to deal with the pure truth. And the simple truth is the people of Israel have not yet completed the war for its existence,” Lupolianski said. “Our enemies continue their war, and we have to defend ourselves.”
Lupolianski’s speech was panned by several critics as needless antagonism in a place where a guest was being honored by the book fair, and by extension the city. One guest described the mayor’s response as “nationalistic garbage.”
Aharon Appelfeld, an Israeli writer on the prize jury, was quoted as saying, “It was the jury that awarded the prize and not the mayor, who I don’t suspect is a very literary man. It was a pity the event was so political; it would have been better to speak about the plays.”
— ELLI WOHLGELERNTER