It seems Jews aren’t allowed to play Cleopatra, despite Mideast roots

Why the outcry over Gal Gadot playing the Egyptian queen? Because whatever is considered unacceptable in every decade is what the Jews are said to be.

GAL GADOT (photo credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
GAL GADOT
(photo credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
An announcement that actress Gal Gadot, who is Jewish, would play the Egyptian queen Cleopatra has been met with shock and claims that an “Arab” woman or some European actress should have been chosen.
In short, Jews are no longer allowed to be cast in most roles, or they are now accused somehow of displacing others.
 
In the last century, antisemites told Jews they were rootless foreigners from the Middle East; now Jews are told they aren’t supposed to play Middle Eastern roles, no matter where they are from.
 
The bizarre controversy began on Sunday when reports indicated that Gadot, famous for her role as Wonder Woman, would play the role. The most normal comments wondered why an Egyptian had not been chosen. Abdul el-Sayed, an expert in public health and apparently a commentator on CNN according to his Twitter bio, wondered why no Egyptian women had been cast to play an Egyptian queen.

ALEXANDRA HALABY, who has 20,000 followers on Twitter, noted that “we are now pushing for diverse and authentic representation in Hollywood.” Sameera Khan asked “Which Hollywood dumbass thought it would be a good idea to cast an Israeli actress as Cleopatra (a very bland looking one) instead of a stunning Arab actress like Nadine Njeim? And shame on you, Gal Gadot. Your country steals Arab land and you’re stealing their movie roles.”
 
Many of those who responded noted that Cleopatra was actually of Greek descent. Randa Jarrar, who describes herself as a “queer Egyptian Palestinian Muslim” wrote: “yeah Cleopatra was Greek. I get it. But casting a Zionist whose family is Polish/Austrian/Czech as the queen of Egypt in 2020?”
 
The message is clear: Jews are not permitted to play the role of a pagan Greek queen of Egypt from 2,000 years ago.
It doesn’t matter that Jews have lived in Egypt for thousands of years. And it doesn’t matter that Jews lived in Greece: They can never play Cleopatra. And it doesn’t matter where Gadot’s family is from, even if they were from Jerusalem for 3,000 years. The message is that being Jewish or “Zionist” means one can play no roles of anyone from the Middle East – or even from southern Europe.
 
The expectation that women from Tunisia or Lebanon should have more high profile roles in Hollywood is totally understandable. However, it doesn’t have to come at the expense of Jews. The constant attack on Jews and Israel is not in line with the new peaceful coexistence being built in the Middle East. It illustrates how Israel and Israelis are still not seen as part of the region, if no actress born in Israel can play “Middle Eastern” roles, or even Greek ones.
 

THE GOAL of the anti-Gadot tweets has nothing to do with looks or where people are from. No other European minority group, whether Basques or Albanians or Sardinians or Maltese, are told they are not allowed to play Cleopatra – and no other Middle Eastern group, whether Kurds or Turks, are told they can’t. Only Jews. Only Israelis. There is no other small group in the world, like Jews, that are told systematically that they are not allowed to play a role of someone who existed thousands of years ago.
The goal of this attempt to police the roles, only regarding Jews, is part of an agenda to redefine Jews as “white.” The implicit claim that Jews are not allowed to play roles of Greeks or Egyptians is that they can only play “European” roles, but not “people of color.”
 
The goal here is to pretend that Jews are not from the Middle East. The code word “Zionist” is used as a stand-in for “Jews.” In no other cases are political-ideological code words like this used. No one uses the word “Stalinist” as a stand-in for Russians when discussing if they can play the role of a famous Ukrainian. No one uses “Baathist” as a stand-in for Syrians when discussing if they can play the role of Saladin, who was of Kurdish background. Only with Jews.
 
The attempt to redefine Jews as “Polish” and “Austrian” is part of the way Jews, who were told a hundred years ago that they are not Austrian or Polish, are rebranded as rooted in Europe to deprive them of their rights to be from the Middle East, and their rights to be people of color. This rebranding of Jewish identity is used as part of a switch by those who always define Jews as the other.
WHATEVER IS considered unacceptable in every decade is what the Jews are said to be. That means in the 1930s, when it was better to be European, white and Christian, Jews were said to be Asiatic, foreign and rootless. They were “wandering” like the Roma or “Gypsies” were said to wander.
 
Now Jews are automatically said to be northern European, not even southern European, in order to restrict them as far as possible from proximity to the Middle East. Even ancient Jewish communities who are more dark-skinned than most people in the Middle East are not allowed to be considered for the role of Cleopatra. Jews are either too white, or too dark, but never acceptable in this new ethnocentric concept of casting.
 
Even The National in the UAE critiqued the choice of Gadot. In an article about five actresses of Arab descent who could play Cleopatra, the author notes that she was actually of “Macedonia-Greek heritage.” The author notes “it also raises the theoretical question: If Gadot wasn’t in the frame, does the Arab world have stars of its own with sufficient stature to be considered for such an ambitious project?” The article admits that since Cleopatra was of Greek background, “the casting call could have been spread far and wide.”
 
So why does “far and wide” never include any Jews? How about Jews from Ethiopia, from Egypt, Iraq, Kurdistan, Yemen, Morocco, Libya or Syria? There are millions of Jews whose ancestors were from the Middle East just one or two generations ago and who live in Israel. Why are they neglected?
 
The message is: No Jews allowed – not those from the Middle East recently, or those from the Middle East 1,500 years ago, or those from southern Europe. Jews, alone among the world’s peoples, are basically the only people who are told they can’t play Cleopatra. Arabs? Yes. Greeks? Yes. Jews? No. Not any Jews. Not Greek Jews. Not Egyptian Jews.

 
JEWS LIVED in Egypt long before the Arab invasion of Egypt. Nevertheless, they still can’t be considered. Jews lived in southern Europe, like some of my ancestors who lived in Odessa and would have known and even intermarried with Greeks. But still, they can’t be considered. They can only be considered for the role of Cleopatra if they convert to Christianity or Islam. That is the message.
 
An Egyptian Jewish family that converted to Islam would be considered for the role. A Greek Jewish family that converted to Christianity would also be allowed to have the role. But not Jews who remain Jews. What does that remind us of? The Inquisition.
 
The new Inquisition is apparently to always police the Jews. Jews are “white” when white means “privileged.” They are non-white when non-white means being sent to gas chambers. Wherever Jews are, except in Israel, they are policed for how they look, and they are always told that they have the “wrong” look. Not Arab enough to be a Greek Egyptian queen from 2,000 years ago. But also not Greek enough to be an Egyptian queen and also not Egyptian enough, even if their ancestors have been in Egypt 2,000 years.
 
The list of actresses given in the National article who might have been considered includes Salma Hayek, Yasmine al-Massri, Sofia Boutella, Hend Sabry and Emeraude Toubia. What the article says is that women from Mexico, Tunisia, Algeria or Lebanon would be acceptable.
 
Of interest in the various lists of actresses that were better than Gadot is the fact that some are of Maronite Christian descent in Lebanon, or Tunisian descent, but the one factor that is clear is that none can be linked to Jews. Boutella, for instance, has lived in France for most of her life, yet according to the critics she is acceptable – but an Algerian Jew would not be. Hayek has said that her descent is half Spanish and half Lebanese. But still, more palatable than any actress who is in any way linked to being Jewish.

 
IT WOULD be interesting to know whether the critics, if they ran Hollywood, would give any roles to a Jewish woman. It’s not about looks, because many Jewish women look similar to the actresses mentioned above. And it’s not about roots in the Middle East or Greece, because Jews have that, too. It’s about being Jewish.
 
One wonders whether, should it emerge that one of these actresses had a Jewish ancestor hundreds of years ago, they would then be disqualified, given that it appears no other group is automatically disqualified from being linked to Cleopatra. In this new ethnocentric policing of roles, Jews cannot play characters from the region they are from, the Middle East. They are said to be “taking” the role from Arabs.
 
The idea that an actress of Egyptian descent might play Cleopatra makes sense. However, that means including Jews who have links to Egypt, and not just Arabs. It makes no sense to exclude Jews from playing roles from the Middle East, when Jews are primarily a people from the Middle East, either having distant or recent roots.
 
The idea that casting should exclude Jews is shameful and shows a lack of education for the commentators.