Entry updated 6 October 2021. Tagged: International.
Israel's traditional orientation towards the West, the initially Utopian character of Zionism – partly inspired by founding Zionist ideologue Binyamin Zev (Theodor) Herzl's polemic Der Judenstaat (1896; trans as The Jewish State 1946) and short novel Altneuland (1902; trans as Old-New Land 1947) – and the country's adherence to its own form of democracy ought to have made it a promised land for speculative literature. But, despite the seminal influence within the genre of Jewish writers and editors, sf has never attained more than marginal stature within Israel.
Survival in this pressure-cooker region has stunted the capacity of many Israelis to contemplate alternate realities. Indeed Hebrew, the new lingua franca of Israel, seems ill suited to sf. Unlike Yiddish, whose rich cadences nourished the dreamlike imageries of an Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991), modern Hebrew is leaner and less fanciful. Redeemed from a language hitherto used for liturgical purposes, it was also more limited, early on, in its ability to describe Technology. Indeed, merely agreeing a Hebrew term for sf (initially mada dimioni ["imaginary science"] and ultimately, in the late 1970s, mada bidioni ["science fabrication"]) severely challenged the semantic abilities of Israel's small sf community.
In the 1950s, brief forays by publishers tantalized would-be fans with a few Hebrew translations of novels by Robert A Heinlein and Fredric Brown before ending in bankruptcy. So too ended three plunges into sf magazine publishing with Mada Dimioni (1958, 13 issues), Cosmos: Sipurei Mada Dimioni ["Cosmos: Stories of Science Fiction"] (1958, 4 issues) and Flash Gordon (1963, 7 issues); none published work by local authors. The only Israeli sf writer of note in this period, Mordecai Roshwald, had his apocalyptic novels Level Seven (1959) and A Small Armageddon (1962) published abroad; neither was translated into Hebrew, and Roshwald, whose work is unrecognized in Israel, eventually settled in the USA.
The election to power of the Likud bloc in 1977 heralded a period of consumerism in Israel that permitted a brief boom in sf. Encouraged by young Israelis' new spending power and by the success of such films as Star Wars (1977), publishers embarked upon ambitious schedules of mostly translated sf. By the onset of the long recession following the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, nearly 200 of the classic books of modern sf had been translated.
Of several new sf magazines, few survived long, but Fantazia 2000 merits special notice. Launched in 1978, it nourished a group of local writers and a small, vigorous fan community during its 44-issue, six-year life. Among its writers was Hillel Damron, author of the critically well received Milchemet Ha'minim ["The War of the Sexes"] (1982), set in a Post-Holocaust underground colony where a society of sexual equals devolves into full-scale subjugation of males.
Before the Lebanon War, Israeli sf tended to be reticent on Politics, but the 1982 watershed altered this. Another Fantazia graduate, David Melamed, whose first collection, Tsavua B'Corundy ["A Hyena in Corundy"] (coll 1980), contains stories with little immediate relevance to Israel, powerfully recounted in his third novel, Ha'Halom Ha'Rivi'i ["The Fourth Dream"] (1986) – unequalled for its nightmare tones if not for its narrative drive – the travails of an Israeli refugee in Germany after a Near-Future fall of the Jewish state.
Melamed's dystopian excursion followed two other landmark works. In 1983 the prominent left-wing columnist Amos Kenan published Ha-Derech L'Ein Harod (1983; trans as The Road to Ein Harod 1986), which postulated a Near-Future military takeover of Israel. It was not his first speculative novel – that being the more surreal Shoah II ["Holocaust II"] (1973) – but it was the only Israeli sf novel ever awarded a peace prize by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Although the book embraces well-known sf and Technothriller tropes, Kenan vehemently denied its genre roots, no doubt because of the Israeli literary establishment's low esteem of sf. A second significant Dystopia was written by the established novelist Binyamin Tammuz (? -1990): Pundako Shel Yermiyahu ["Jeremiah's Inn"] (1984) is a broad comic Satire about an Israel taken over by religious zealots. A grimmer version of the future is Yitzhak Ben-Ner's Ha'malachim Ba'im ["Angels are Coming"] (1987), in which world atomic apocalypse has spared Israel, but by the twenty-first century life within the theocratic state is characterized by street violence, persecution of the secular minority and widespread alienation.
Zirmat Ha'hachamim ["Genes for Genius, Inc."] (1982) and Luna: Gan Eden Geneti ["Luna: The Genetic Paradise"] (1985) by geneticist Ram Moav, about Genetic Engineering of humans, inspired accusations of fascism on the part of the author, who had written the two books while terminally ill. Ruth Blumert's Ha'Tzariach ["The Turret"] (1983) is a fantasy reminiscent of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.
Israel is not an important centre for sf film-making. The most notable foreign production has been Menachem Golan's low-budget, Post-Holocaust feature America 3000 (1985; video release only), directed by David Engelbach with a cast of comely Israeli and US Amazons. Poet and avant-garde film-maker David Avidan directed Sheder Min Ha'atid (1981; vt Message from the Future) in English about future humans visiting present-day Israel; it is execrable. Ricki Shelach's James Blish-influenced short film Ishur Nehita ["Permission to Land"] (1978) tells of a visiting alien. Both films may have reflected that Sense of Wonder inspired among Israelis by the visit of Egypt's President Anwar Sadat. The 1989 adaptation, shot in English, of Amos Kenan's 1983 novel as Freedom: The Voice from Ein Harod failed to achieve Western distribution. Directed by prolific producer/director Doron Eran and shot for $2 million, Freedom was one of the most expensive films ever produced domestically, but suffered from the Israeli army's refusal to donate the use of military matériel; the peculiar lead casting of US actor Anthony Peck and Italian model Allesandra Mussolini (granddaughter of Il Duce) also detracted from its believability. In 1990 the Israeli film-maker Avi Nesher wrote and directed a Los Angeles-shot $7 million technothriller, «Nameless» (vt «Timebomb»), as yet unreleased.
A small body of sf criticism emerged in the 1980s, the first regular column outside the sf magazines being Sheldon Teitelbaum's in the Jerusalem Post (1981-1985). Orzion Bartana, a professor of literature at Tel Aviv University, published Israel's first critical book on sf: Ha'fantazia b'siporet Dor Hamdina: Fantasy in Israeli Literature in the Last Thirty Years (1989). The vagaries of the sf scene are discussed in "Sociological Reflections on the History of Science Fiction in Israel" (Science Fiction Studies March 1986) by Nachman Ben Yehuda, a Hebrew University sociologist and early contributor to Fantazia 2000. A retrospective anthology sequence published in English is Zion's Fiction edited by Emanuel Lottem and Sheldon Teitelbaum, with two volumes published and a third projected [see further reading below].
Further significant Israeli authors with entries in this encyclopedia are: Shi'mon Adaf, Uri Dan, Yael Furman, Ofir Touché Gafla, Guy Hasson, Eli Sagi, Lavie Tidhar, Vered Tochterman and Nir Yaniv. [ST]
- Emanuel Lottem and Sheldon Teitelbaum, editors. Zion's Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature (Simsbury, Connecticut: Mandel Vilar Press, 2018) [anth: Zion's Fiction: illus/pb/Avi Katz]
- Emanuel Lottem and Sheldon Teitelbaum, editors. More Zion's Fiction: Wondrous Tales from the Israeli ImagiNation (place not given: Zion's Fiction Partners, 2021) with Emanuel Lottem [anth: introduction by David Brin: Zion's Fiction: illus/pb/Avi Katz]
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