Australian comic satirizes the peace process
Suppose that Israeli President Shimon Peres and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat entered therapy together.
“What keeps you up at night?” the American therapist asks the 90-year-old Israeli president in a soothing voice.
“My prostate, heartburn, and Iran—to bomb or not to bomb?” Peres answers in his characteristic Polish accent.
She then turned to Arafat. “You’re in a safe place here,” she promises.
“He is trying to kill me—to poison me!” Arafat yells about Peres. Many Palestinians still believe that Israel poisoned Arafat, who died in 2004.
“Israel is the start-up nation,” Peres responds. “We can be much more creative than poison.”
During the hour-long show, Jeremy Bracka plays 20 different characters including members of his own Australian Jewish family, Israeli diplomat Uri Savir, and Morah Tzippi, the Israeli teacher in his school in Melbourne who accused him of not really being Jewish because he couldn’t learn to dance the hora, a traditional Israeli folk dance.
Bracka, who moved to Israel in 2007, is a human rights lawyer who did a stint at the Peres Center for Peace and at Israel’s mission to the United Nations. The show in Jerusalem was performed as Secretary of State John Kerry was hosting Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the first step toward resuming the peace process. Although the timing was coincidental, it added an immediacy to the performance.
Bracka clearly drew on his own experiences. As part of a project at the Peres Center, Bracka interviewed Israeli and Palestinian authors, named in the show as Avi and Bassam.
Bassam is shown as being disillusioned with projects dealing with Arab-Jewish coexistence.
“I’m over hugs and hummus,” he says, emphasizing the “h” in both. “We’ve had a lot of process and not a lot of peace.”
Bassam also hints at Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s weakness saying “somebody needs to give him some strong falafel balls.”
Bracka also takes a shot at the UN, known for being anti-Israel, describing it as “Eurovision on Steroids” after the popular song contest.
He has a Polish mother and an Egyptian father, both satirized during the show. His mother, he says, taught him the ABC’s in a unique way.
“A is for Auschwitz,” she tells her son for his bedtime story. “B is for Buchenwald.”
Bracka himself speaks five languages including Arabic and describes a stint studying in Morocco to the horror of his provincial Zionist family.
“I left the nest of neuroses and set out for Fez,” he says. “Arabic intimidated me. Arabic is like a festival of phlegm—an orgy of coughing and gargling sounds.”
In Morocco his portly teacher Abdul Hafiz tells him that you never say “no”, only “insha’allah”, if God wills it. That, he says is what he tells his sister who invites him over for couscous every Sunday.
The show also has a serious moment when the author Bassam talks of his eight-year old daughter Zeitouna, who loved olives so much “we were going to use her pee for olive oil.” Bassam tells of a shooting outside Zeitouna’s school, which leaves her dead.
Toward the end Shimon Peres tells the therapist that “Jews have been praying at the Western Wall for peace for 65 years.”
“How’s it going?” asks the therapist.
“Like talking to a wall.”
The audience of about 120 English-speaking Jerusalemites loved the show, laughing loudly and applauding for several minutes at the end.
“I laughed a lot,” Yael Patir, the director of J Street in Israel told The Media Line. “It touches upon two things that I’m really invested in – peace and Israeli-Diaspora relations. He really takes a lot of interesting things and twists them in a funny kind of way.”
Patir used to work at the Peres Center for Peace and says his imitation of Peres is spot-on. Others say they believe Bracka brought his characters to life.
“I think he portrayed both sides of the picture here,” Sally Klein-katz, who teaches Jewish education told The Media Line. “It is pretty amazing that he was able to portray so many characters.”
Bracka says the show is autobiographical and chronicles his own journey from Australia to Israel. He says comedy can break down barriers.
“Both sides can be stuck and stalled by dehumanizing the other,” he told The Media Line. “If an Israeli audience leaves the show feeling more sympathetic to a Palestinian perspective and if a Palestinian leaves the show feeling more sympathetic to an Israeli perspective then I’ve done my job.”