Golda Meir’s grandson defends casting of Helen Mirren as former Israeli PM

Shaul Rahabi tells Jewish Chronicle his late grandmother would have loved casting, and being Jewish ‘doesn’t matter at all,’ amid renewed ‘Jewface’ debate

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in HBO's 'Golda.' (Jasper Wolf)
Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in HBO's 'Golda.' (Jasper Wolf)

Golda Meir’s grandson defended on Thursday the casting of non-Jewish actress Helen Mirren as Israel’s only female prime minister, in an upcoming biopic set during the Yom Kippur War.

Shaul Rahabi told The Jewish Chronicle his late grandmother would have loved the casting. “I am sure Mirren is great and being Jewish or not doesn’t matter at all,” he was quoted as saying.

The comments come after British actress and comedian Maureen Lipman questioned the casting earlier this month, reigniting an ongoing squabble over the casting of non-Jewish actors as Jewish characters.

“With that I disagree, because the Jewishness of the character is so integral,” Lipman told the Jewish Chronicle.

“I’m sure she will be marvelous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there,” Lipman said.

Lipman was one of a number of leading lights in British television and theater, along with Miriam Margolyes, to sign a 2019 open letter about the casting of non-Jewish actors to play Jewish characters — a practice that some have labeled “Jewface.”

Actress Helen Mirren attends the 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, on January 30, 2016. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

But Rahabi said having a non-Jewish actress play his late grandmother “doesn’t matter at all.”

“If anyone was to portray my grandmother, they should know that she glowed, she had an amazing, powerful aura about her. Whenever she entered the room, you immediately felt it. She carried a powerful aura — that was what I felt,” he said.

Read more: Who can play a Jew? Celebs claim double standard over onscreen representation

Production on “Golda” began last year and it is currently being shot in London with a star-studded cast that includes “Call My Agent” star Camille Cotin as Meir’s longtime personal assistant and Israeli actor Lior Ashkenzi as her chief of staff.

The feature-length movie is being directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won the 2018 Academy Award for best short for “Skin,” a film involving neo-Nazis that he later made into a feature.

Israeli Premier Golda Meir during a press conference at the Israeli Embassy in Rome, on January 15, 1973. (AP Photo/Giuseppe Anastasi)

The news of the biopic followed the announcement of another star-powered production on Meir, a series titled “Lioness,” led by Israeli actress Shira Haas of “Unorthodox” fame.

While “Golda” will focus on the turbulent Yom Kippur War period, “Lioness” will follow Meir from her birth in Kyiv to her American upbringing in Milwaukee, her role in the formation of Israel and her rise to become the new nation’s first and so far only female prime minister.

JTA contributed to this report.

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