Noa Tishby and the World

by Benjamin Domenech on 2:47 pm August 25, 2010


“We’ve been living with terrorism for years,” Noa Tishby says. “We know the mentality. We know what radical Islam is about. We understand it. But so many people don’t.”

It’s easy for young, beautiful actresses in a town of young, beautiful people to blend into a crowd—but Tishby stands out as a proud Israeli woman, speaking with a passionate intelligence about the country she loves.

“I’m coming at this from a different world, a different view—not from politics, but from a straightforward understanding about the way things are,” Tishby says.

Even as a young teenager in Israel, Tishby adored the process of creation. A star at a young age for her singing voice and her acting talent, Tishby was always interested in the production side of creating and telling stories, not just what happened on the stage.

“I still remember calling up the local press people and saying ‘hi, this is Noa, you don’t know me, but I want to talk to you about our show,’” she says. “It’s different in the entertainment industry here in the States, but in some ways, it’s still the same.”

Tishby has become a groundbreaking exporter, adapting successful entertainment from Israel to the U.S. market. Besides her acting roles on television and the bigscreen, she’s a co-executive producer of the first Israeli television show to become an American TV series: the award-winning drama In Treatment, starring Gabriel Byrne and populated with a host of superb character actors (it began as BeTipul in Israel). Her production company, Noa’s Arc, owns the rights to several shows in Israel and the United States, and is focused on projects that feed into that export spirit—including one of the first musicals she was in as a child, on the life of King David (a hit in Israel, it ran for twelve years).

Yet what sets Tishby apart is not just her unique career track, but her straightforward and outspoken views on international politics and the Middle East—views that she shares via her columns for The Huffington Post and on her blog.

In the current celebrity culture, Tishby knows this openness about her views can come as a surprise to people.

“I’m not an expert,” Tishby says, “I’m just saying what I think and what I know from experience, what I grew up with and hope others will understand.”

Tishby says that while many of her friends consider themselves knowledgeable about the world they live in – “they really are educated people,” she adds – but have little knowledge of the truth about Israel and the reality of life in the Middle East. She tells the story of another young woman in the industry who was surprised she didn’t have to wear a head-covering.

“There’s just a complete lack of knowledge there,” Tishby says. “Before I came to the states, I thought ‘of course the world knows how modern we are here, why wouldn’t they?’ I assumed it was obvious… Instead, I found a disappointing number of people think of it as all one big mush. Afghanistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, as if it’s all the same… It’s a lack of understanding about how progressive Israel is, and how much human suffering and cruelty there is under the systems of nations whose views some people reflexively support.”

Tishby is a progressive, avowedly so—but her frustration with the media’s acceptance of spoon-fed storylines has led her to be more outspoken about her views.

“Again and again, we see this double standard. Davutoglu calls the flotilla their 9/11,” Tishby said. “But how many Kurds did the Turk kill in the last few years?”

On a recent trip to Gaza, Tishby was surprised to find that one group of friends who share her views had no knowledge of Gilad Shalit.

“He’s been rotting with Hamas for four years, he’s held in complete confinement, he’s kidnapped, not even a prisoner of war, with no visitors from the United Nations and no contact from the outside world,” said Tishby. “And yet people want to talk to me about the Geneva Conventions?”

Tishby’s frustrations regarding the coverage of the flotilla incident are still palpable—she thinks it exemplifies how Israel works and how the enemies of Israel are thinking and adapting to the new media environment.

“Not all the people on the flotilla knew how they were going to be used, but the leadership certainly did,” said Tishby. “Those images and videos were pushed online almost immediately, used to define the incident.”

She strongly believes there needs to be a more sophisticated response not just from Israel but among her supporters to push back against these storylines and keep people informed of the truth.

“Within Israel, I think people don’t see how skewed the view is outside. Israel is being looked at with a magnifying glass. When Israel responds, it’s very deliberate, but that also slows things down,” Tishby said. “We need to create a nexus of information. Distributing that information real-time, will take a great deal of work—I think something along those lines needs to exists, and needs to be something that’s accessible around the world, moving at the speed people need today.”

Tishby favors a two state solution, and feels the progress in Ramallah is real. She points to Vice President Joe Biden’s recent appearance on Charlie Rose, where he said the current conflict “would end tomorrow if Hamas agreed to form a government with the Palestinian Authority on the conditions the international community has set up.”

“He’s a centrist, and I think he understands this,” said Tishby. “And he couldn’t be more right. I wish more people understood what is obvious to Israelis—that the sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah is connected intrinsically with the sponsorship of Al Qaeda, the bombings in Bali, Madrid, London, Tel Aviv—they never make the connection.”

Others have urged Tishby to consider taking up her own political career, but she says that’s not in the offing—for now.

“Being in the entertainment industry, being an actress and producer, altering people’s views—not just on politics, or Israel—is something that moves me,” said Tishby. “I’m taking this road for now, and later on, who knows?”

Tishby does think that there are still ways to tell this story to the American people. She is working on projects that can tell this story in innovative ways, bringing the truth about her experience and the experiences of other Israelis into American lives not through the news headlines but through the storytelling of Hollywood.

Her aim is not necessarily to convince the viewer of Israel’s rightness—“ I do not support the Israeli government all the time, I think we should do whatever it takes to have a peace agreement , stop the settlements immediately and make tough decisions. Of course no nation is right about everything,” but she wants to cause many people to reexamine the way they think about Israel, to learn more and decide for themselves.

“Israel is on the front line of a global conflict, a war that pits a medieval approach to human rights, an authoritarian way of controlling how we live, against societies built on the freedom of men and women,” Tishby says. “My issue is not with people who decide to support or not support Israel—it’s with people who are aligning themselves with people who, if the political left really looked at what they are doing, stand for nothing in common with their aims. All I am trying to do is to get people to reexamine the reality of what’s happening, to reconsider their preconceptions, and to see the truth—it’s not always black and white.”

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