'Violent Incitement': The Israeli Right Is Furious at This Legendary Actress

Rivka Michaeli, 84, one of Israel's most famous actresses, has become the subject of a ‘violent incitement campaign’ after announcing her participation in a joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony

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Rivka Michaeli. Will read a poem at the alternative Memorial Day event on Tuesday.
Rivka Michaeli. Will read a poem at the alternative Memorial Day event on Tuesday.Credit: Hadas Parush

Veteran Israeli actress Rivka Michaeli has been denounced and received threats from right-wing extremists online following her announcement that she is participating in Tuesday’s joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony – which is held on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Following the attacks on social media platforms, the ceremony’s organizers posted a petition signed by 22 prominent figures in politics and entertainment offering support for Michaeli in the face of the “violent incitement campaign” against her. Among the signatories: former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Shin Bet security service chief and government minister Jacob Perry. 

Michaeli, 84, is a “pillar of Israeli culture” and deserves “honor and respect,” the petition said. The campaign against her “by the far right is a mark of Cain on Israeli society,” it added. 

The annual joint ceremony is billed as an alternative “opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to both grieve together and stand strong in demanding an end to the cycle of violence,” in place of the traditional “Israeli Memorial Day, which justifies the political status quo, and asserts militarized nationalism and a narrow one-sided narrative.”

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Michaeli revealed her plans to participate last week, saying she would be reading a poem by Yehuda Amichai, “The Place Where We Are Right,” together with Arab-Israeli actor George Iskandar. 

Asked in a television interview why she had decided to take part, she said only that “the poem I am reading explains exactly why I am participating in this Memorial Day ceremony.” She proceeded to quote the short verse: “From the place where we are right / flowers will never grow in the spring. / The place where we are right / is hard and trampled like a yard. / But doubts and loves dig up the world like a mole, a plow. / And a whisper will be heard in the place where the ruined house once stood.” 

The alternative Memorial Day event in 2018.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

While many prominent Israeli artists, authors and musicians have appeared at the ceremony in previous years, the participation of a beloved and mainstream figure like Michaeli seems to have struck a nerve on the right. 

The most prominent denouncement came from far-right rapper The Shadow, aka Yoav Eliasi, who posted on Facebook: “Why are you participating in an event of contempt for the memory of our warriors who sacrificed their lives for you?” He accused Michaeli of putting Israel Defense Forces soldiers “in the same category as child-killing terrorists trying to destroy us” and “attending an event that just came to hurt and put salt on the bleeding wounds” when over the past month Israel buried 14 victims of terror attacks.

He slammed Michaeli and others associated with the ceremony as “sick and disconnected smug people, full of self-hatred in the guise of enlightenment sitting in their ivory tower.”

Michaeli may be “a great actress,” he continued, but she was “a bad and resentful person who aligns with haters and enemies, and hurts bereaved families.” Her next step, he said, should be participating in a “joint day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, and the Nazis.” 

The alternative memorial ceremony, which began in 2006 at the initiative of a bereaved parent, is co-sponsored by the Parents Circle-Families Forum and Combatants for Peace. From small beginnings, its size has grown annually and a long list, including many overseas Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, have donated to the ceremony over the years. According to the group, 9,000 people attended 2019’s event and more than 200,000 worldwide watched the event online during the COVID pandemic in 2020. This year's event will also be available online, beginning at 8:30 P.M.  

Over the years, there have been multiple political and legal battles over the granting of permits to Palestinians to enter Israel and participate. 

Israeli rapper The Shadow, aka Yoav Eliasi.Credit: Moti Milrod

Both of the ceremony’s sponsoring organizations said they were “proud” of Michaeli’s decision to take part, along with other artists and public figures.

Michaeli has been a leading performer in Israel for more than 60 years. Born in 1938, she was performing on Israel Radio at the age of 14 and has been a stage performer since the 1960s, combining acting with a career in radio and television broadcasting.

She is best known for her comic performances in the iconic ’70s satire show “Nikui Rosh” and hosting the country’s most-watched variety show in the years when the country only had one television channel. In recent decades, she has forged a reputation as a fine dramatic performer on both stage and screen.

Michaeli’s political leanings are no secret: she serves on the public council of B’Tselem, an NGO that works to document human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, and has publicly participated in activities of other anti-occupation groups like Breaking the Silence.

She joined other artists in 2010 who refused to perform at a cultural center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. Six years later, she was targeted by right-wing activists as being one of the “moles in culture,” in a campaign attacking prominent Israeli artists and performers associated with left-wing organizations.

But the past week’s attacks across Twitter and Facebook, following The Shadow’s post, were notably vicious. They called her “garbage” and a “terrorist,” told her to “disappear” and that it was time for her to “go to her grave.” Some called for a boycott of the play in which she is currently performing.  

MK Gaby Lasky (Meretz) spoke out in the media against the attempt “by bullies to terrorize cultural and spiritual figures. Attacking bereaved families while they are preparing for Memorial Day is a combination of incitement and silencing. Rivka Michaeli – we stand behind you.”

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