Yitzhak Laor

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Yitzhak Laor was born in Israel in 1948 - in Pardes Hannah (a Jewish colony which was established in 1929). His father, a Galician immigrant to Germany, had moved from Bielefeld, Germany, to Palestine in 1934 (changing his name from Laufer to Laor when he did so) and his mother had come from Riga in Latvia.

Laor is a poet, playwright, novelist and journalist - some of his essays appear in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

He is also the editor of the Hebrew-language literary journal, Mita'am

Laor refused army service in the occupied areas to 1972. In the 1980s he wrote poetry condemning the war in Lebanon. In 1985, Israel censorship prevented the staging of his play "Ephraim Returns to the Arms" because "as it is disparaging to the military rule in Judea and Samaria". In 1990, the then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir refused to sign the Prime Minister's Prize for Poetry which had been awarded to Laor.

Laor brought a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against the Film and Play Censorship Board, which led to the cancellation of censorship of plays (but not of films).

To his credit, he is one of the few Israeli writers who have signed the the appeal for peace in Palestine which was issued by the International Parliament of Writers.

Gabriel Piterberg reports (November 2013):[1]

In a thought-provoking set of essays, the Hebrew poet and critic Yitzhak Laor sets out to explore what he calls this 'strident new pro-Israel tendency' in Western Europe. Trumpeted complaints in the liberal media of a 'new anti-Semitism' are themselves aspects of a 'new philosemitism', Laor argues, which mobilizes a highly selective form of Holocaust remembrance, together with the noxious residues of European colonialism, in order to negate the reality of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Laor himself commands a position of signal importance in Israeli cultural life. He was born - like the state itself - in 1948, in Pardes Hannah, halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv. His father, he writes in the Introduction to this collection, was a Jewish German factory worker and spd militant, until he was asked in 1933 not to come to cell meetings any more because it was 'inconvenient'; his mother was from Riga, a member of Betar. Both got out of Europe 'in time'. Their son studied literature at Tel Aviv University and, in 1972, was sentenced to prison for refusing to render military service in the Occupied Territories. He went on to develop a powerful voice as a poet - his 1992 collection, A Night in a Foreign Hotel, is arguably one of the peaks of modern Hebrew literature.

The gamut of his activity has been equally impressive: novelist, playwright, translator, activist, editor and literary critic. His 1987 play, Ephraim Goes Back to the Army - the title is a reference to S. Yizhar's 1938 novella, Ephraim Goes Back to the Alfalfa - was initially banned by the state censors, who objected to the depiction of Israeli soldiers' brutality. Narratives with No Natives (1995), a collection of essays on Hebrew literature, remains a foundational critical text. In 2005 Laor launched the journal Mitaam, a 'review of literature and radical thought' that became a beacon of high culture in Israel. Mitaam allowed Laor to combine his gifts as editor, critic and outstanding translator into Hebrew, producing two potent special numbers on Pasolini and on Brecht. Not since the tragic suicide of Baruch Kurzweil in 1972 has there been such an incisive and iconoclastic voice in Israeli culture. There are obvious differences between them, yet the similarities are telling: both share a contempt for the purveyors of the ruling ideology and, above all, a sensitivity to the danger Judaism has faced from attempts to Zionize it. Unlike Kurzweil, Laor is not religious, but neither is he a secular Zionist; he is intimately familiar with Jewish liturgy, theology and history. Cast in a different register, exemplified by the ire with which he reviewed Shlomo Sand's Invention of the Jewish People in Haaretz, his view on this issue is not unlike Kurzweil's.

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