Helen Mirren: Israel must exist ‘for eternity’ because of the Holocaust

Speaking to Israeli TV about her film role as PM Golda Meir, star actress declares she would join anti-government protest movement if she had the chance

Screen capture from video of actress Helen Mirren talking about playing Israeli leader Gold Meir in the film 'Golda' during an interview with Channel 12 broadcast August 28, 2023. (Channel 12. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of actress Helen Mirren talking about playing Israeli leader Gold Meir in the film 'Golda' during an interview with Channel 12 broadcast August 28, 2023. (Channel 12. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

British actress Dame Helen Mirren believes Israel must exist forever, saying it was a lesson learned from the Holocaust, though she opposes the direction the current government is taking the Jewish state.

In an interview aired by Channel 12 on Sunday, Mirren spoke about her leading role in “Golda” depicting Israel’s first and only female prime minister, Golda Meir, during the period of the fateful 1973 Yom Kippur War. The interview was recorded in July when Mirren was in Israel for the premiere of the movie at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“I believe in Israel, in the existence of Israel, and I believe Israel has to go forward into the future, for the rest of eternity,” Mirren said. “I believe in Israel because of the Holocaust.”

She revealed there were those who had tried to talk her out of making the film due to Israel’s controversial position on the world stage, but, she said, “I’ve met such extraordinary people in Israel.”

“I know there is a base, a foundation of deep, intelligence, thoughtfulness, commitment, poetry even in Israel that is very, very special, I think,” said Mirren.

Regarding her position opposing a cultural boycott of Israel, she said, “It didn’t seem right” to “abandon artists in Israel” that she had met.

“It is the artistic community that I believe will carry Israel forward,” she said.

Mirren admitted that before making the film, “I didn’t know a lot about Golda” but said she clearly recalled “the feeling of triumph and satisfaction and of awe actually that a woman had been elected to lead a country. It was a very exciting moment for women in general.”

She described preparing for the role by reading Meir’s autobiography and watching footage of the Israeli leader. For Mirren, “understanding her physical suffering….as well as the mental suffering of dealing with this enormous burden of the war… that was a revelation for me.”

Related: Not your standard biopic, ‘Golda’ is a gritty warning about the cost of victory

The film also depicts the relationship between Meir and then-US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who is also Jewish.

The film, she said, lends itself to “deep, deep, conversations about what it means to be Jewish and where in your consciousness of who you are, where that sits.”

“It is something I feel strongly about,” Mirren said of her various depictions of Jewish women in such films as “The Woman in Gold” and “The Debt.”

Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv on August 26, 2023 (Gitai Palti)

Asked about her views on the political turmoil in Israel over the government’s planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary, which has been met by months of mass protests by opponents, Mirren said, “My people are the people who are out demonstrating.”

“If I was here at the weekend I would definitely… find my group in the crowd and I would be there with them,” she said.

But, she noted of the political strife, “it’s not just Israel, is it?”

“It’s so many countries in the world, this sort of weird right-wing wave that is breaking upon the shore of the world and whether it’s some sort of human reaction to the rise of liberalism.”

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in a scene from. the film ‘Golda.’ (Bleecker Street via AP)

Mirren first visited Israel in 1967 after the Six Day War and volunteered on Kibbutz HaOn next to the Sea of Galilee. She also hitchhiked around the country.

“I witnessed things that were wrong,” she said of her visit. “I saw Arabs being thrown out of their houses in Jerusalem. But it was just the extraordinary magical energy of a country just beginning to put its roots in the ground. It was an amazing time to be here.”

As for her staying power as an actress, continuing to secure roles despite her age, Mirren, 78, said, “I think I’ve just been really lucky. I’m very fortunate to still be alive through an era that is realizing the huge contribution that women have made historically, in art, in science, in politics.”

Meir has been called Israel’s “Iron Lady,” alternately lionized as a founder of the state, scorned for her dismissive statements about Palestinians and, most notoriously, held responsible for Israel being caught by surprise at the outbreak of the bloody Yom Kippur War of 1973. The film recreates Meir’s experience during the 19 days of that war, which would indelibly mark both her legacy and the Israeli consciousness. Directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won an Oscar for his 2018 short film “Skin,” “Golda” opened in theaters across the United States on Friday.

JTA contributed to this report.

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