'George Costanza' offers humor as solution for Mideast peace
Jason Alexander tells Jerusalem crowd that Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Seinfeld have much in common.
Jason Alexander, who spent nine years playing George Costanza on Seinfeld, told a crowd in Jerusalem on Wednesday that the search for an Israeli-Palestinian solution and the show about nothing that launched him to fame have one thing in common - neither seemed destined to succeed.
But just as the show managed to bounce back with comedy, said the balding actor, a solution might be found for Mideast troubles if people write and laugh with one another.
"We were canceled, we were gone, we were a distant memory and somehow we came back and eventually everybody caught on and started paying attention," he said. "Other than that, we shed no wisdom."
Alexander, 49, is a creator of Imagine: 2018, a project that asked Israeli and Palestinian high school students to write stories about what the world might look like 10 years down the road if an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was signed in 2008.
The group collected 50 stories from each side into a book and has made two of the stories into short films.
The project is sponsored by One Voice, a nonprofit organization that works to forge connections between Israeli and Palestinian moderates.
Alexander was calm and jovial in an appearance with some of the high school writers and One Voice officials Wednesday - a far cry from the alternately nebbish and erupting George Costanza he played for nine seasons on Seinfeld.
He praised the young writers for bridging the gap between their cultures with comedy, such as a scene from one of the films in which an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian boy point guns at each other with murderous expressions only to laugh and squirt water from the guns a moment later and then to use them as mock cell phones.
"God knows if you can make people laugh, it's the best way to heal wounds," he said.
But he also cautioned: humor is a language that doesn't always translate.
"Jewish humor is self-deprecating humor," said Alexander, who is Jewish. "Nothing makes a Jew laugh more than jokes about Jewishness. It's purely speculation, but my guess is that's probably not as true for the Arab world."
Alexander said he came to Israel for the first time in 1990 with arms folded and heels dug in, thinking "I would not have a positive experience." Instead, he said, he discovered a deep, personal connection with the country and has returned many times, often doing work for One Voice.
Alexander was disappointed, though, that his fellow Americans so often know Israelis and Palestinians only through stereotypes about the conflict.
"People here get painted throughout the world with a very wide brush," he said. "To most of the world, to most people I know, Israelis are two things: victims or occupiers. Palestinians are two things: victims or terrorists... But when you sit down and you talk to people on both sides, everyone's humanity and the similarity we all share comes out."