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Israel First, Always

By Marsden Epworth, Lakeville Journal


Golda Meir was one tough woman.

No. Make that one tough person.

Playwright William Gibson in "Golda's Balcony" has Israel's fourth prime minister begging Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger for arms as Arab forces moved on the Jewish state in 1973.

Kissinger's heritage gave Meir no advantage, though.

He tells her that he is an American, a secretary of state and a Jew, in that order. There's no soft spot for Israel here, he is saying. So Meir threatens to unleash her country's atomic weapons on Egypt and Syria (a bomb is projected on the set in this TheatreWorks production with "Never Again" in Hebrew stamped on the slick casing), a move that would likely start world war III.

We do not know if this really happened - the Israelis have never owned up officially to possessing nuclear arms - but by the time Gibson gets us into this scene, we believe it could have happened. In any case, U.S. military aid came through. In time.

"Golda's Balcony," the place, from which this singular and not always likable woman viewed her world, uses one character to describe an extraordinary time. And Sonnie Osborne's Golda is just right: tough, of course, funny, and even bewitching as she bends others to her way of thinking. Kissinger and Nixon may have been a hard sell, but nothing compared to Jews interned in Cyprus.

Many Holocaust survivors, unwilling to face their wrecked communities and the continuing pogroms in Eastern Europe after World War II, were detained in camps, awaiting entry to Palestine. But legal immigration was very slow and visas, measured.

Meir, determined to establish a Jewish homeland, went to a camp in Cyprus to urge the refugees to give up their visas to the orphaned children around them.

"If we lose the chidren, we lose our future," Meir tells them.

Some, Gibson tells us, were persuaded.

"The cause was my life," she tells us.

And we believe her.

Meir knew the Egyptians, in attacking Israel, would go through her daughter's settlement. But Meir did not warn her.

"Does Israel always come first?" her daughter asked later, when she heard this.

"How could I tell you and no one else?" her mother replied.

Hard, droll, remorseless, Gibson's Golda takes the stage for 90 uninterrupted minutes and tells her story. Director Jane Farnol monkeys with lights and projections of clocks and bombs and aircraft and has her Golda moving around a stepped platform, a lot of this more distracting than dramatic.

Still, this is a powerful piece, and sobering when you consider that in the 35 years since Gibson interviewed Meir and wrote this play, a Jewish homeland in Arab territory remains in constant and terrible jeopardy.

As Meir told world leaders, the Arabs can lose again and again. Israel can lose just once.

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