You’ll have to excuse me for quoting The Guardian, but it has a fascinating interview with Jewish actor Jason Isaacs, perhaps best known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise.
Isaacs is a proud Jew, whose parents moved to Israel, and Isaacs discovered only last week the real reason why.
He was born in Liverpool 48 years ago to fourth-generation Jewish scousers. How come his parents moved to Israel? “It was always their dream.” Isaacs found out the full grim truth of why his parents wanted to leave Britain only last week. “My dad was very ill so I went to sit by his bedside in intensive care with my brothers. We thought he was dying, but he’s recovered now, thank God.
“In the wee small hours of the night when I was holding his hand, we had conversations about his childhood and they made it clearer why he hung on to this dream of moving to Israel. It wasn’t only that he’d been engaging with the blackshirts of the Nazi movement when he was 11 or 12. It wasn’t only that aged 13 he discovered there’d been a holocaust a few hundred miles away. He said it was also because there was still a Nazi movement here after the war.
“I said to him: ‘Dad, the timescale’s mixed up. You mean after the war, there were Nazis in Liverpool?’ And he said: ‘Absolutely.'”
Isaacs’s father was speaking of the riots in Liverpool and other British cities in 1947 after the hangings of two British soldiers in Mandate Palestine by Irgun militants. It’s a historical moment recently dramatised in Peter Kosminsky’s fine Channel 4 drama series The Promise, which Isaacs confesses shamefacedly not to have seen.
“After the hangings, my dad was cowering with his family in his flat in Liverpool while people were breaking windows and shouting: ‘Burn the Jews! Burn the Jews!’ I thought he was confused, but he wasn’t: these things were happening to him after the war when he was 16.
“So to discover that a country had been set up where this wouldn’t happen to you, where there wouldn’t have been a chance of you being carted off and put in gas ovens, moved him and my mother all the way through raising their children. They left when their fourth son was at university.” Did he ever imagine joining them? “I imagined, but didn’t want to go.”
And speaking of antisemitism, Issacs is charitable when it comes to his former Patriot co-star, Mel Gibson.
On the subject of Mel Gibson, what does he feels about his former co-star’s antisemitic rant, made while drunk at the wheel of his car to a Jewish cop? “He’s a very tender, troubled man whose rightwing politics I could never share. I still think of him on the set of The Patriot smoking a fag and telling some hysterically gynaecological gag and then turning round and accessing huge wells of emotion as he holds his son Heath Ledger’s dead body.
“The night of that rant he had come from a Jewish friend of mine who has an orthodox Jewish wife and had taken a gift for them – that got lost in the headlines.” Yeah, but . . . “I know, I know! I heard the tapes and I can’t make excuses. That said he will be enormously troubled about what he heard on those tapes. We all know people who when they’re drunk want to get people to hit them and that’s part of what he did.”
A few months after the tapes of Gibson’s rant were released, he and Isaacs met at a public event. “He came up to me, so I said: ‘Rabbi Gibson!’ And he said: ‘Give me a break – I was drunk.’ I hope he finds peace.”