Fauda’s Lior Raz to keynote Federation Presidents Dinner

‘I wanted to talk about the price those warriors are paying’

By Michael Fraiman, The Canadian Jewish News

For three years, Fauda has been a slow-growing international hit. The Israeli serial drama — available on Netflix — is about Israel’s mista’arvim, counterterrorism units trained to infiltrate local Arab populations.

Now renewed for its third season, Fauda concerns a retired operative brought back to finish off a Palestinian terrorist he thought he had already killed. It was created by Avi Issacharoff, an Israeli reporter on Arab issues, and Lior Raz, a former special forces operative who is also the show’s lead actor. Raz will present the keynote speech at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton Presidents Dinner on June 3.

What first inspired you to write about the mista’arvim?
Two things: first, nobody in Israel knows about it. It’s kind of in the shadows. It’s really complicated — as an undercover agent you have to be yourself, but also someone else. The complexity is really interesting. Second, I wanted to talk about the price those warriors are paying — with their families, their friends, everyone.

Did you know you would star in the show yourself?
Yeah, in the beginning — you know, I’m an actor. To me, it was obvious that I’m going to be the lead. But still, I had to do an audition. We auditioned many people to do this part, because I wanted to know that it’s not just because I wrote it. I deserve to do this part. I wanted to know I’m the best for this role.

Well, you did write it with yourself in mind, so you had an advantage.
Listen, I wasn’t in the meetings about me. Just the director and casting director were there.

Lior Raz. Photo: The Jewish Standard.
Lior Raz. Photo: The Jewish Standard.

Tell me about the casting process.
There are many Israeli Arabs in the show, and it was very interesting to find lead actors. They didn’t know if they wanted to participate, because of how it sounds — they thought they would be the bad guys, and many of them didn’t want to participate.

But after they read the script, they saw that we are respecting them, we are respecting their language, and they can really act, not just be a bad guy.

Were any members of the cast or crew Palestinian?
No, they are Israeli Arabs. Palestinians are not allowed to work in Israel.

Hisham Suliman, the Arab-Israeli actor who plays the lead terrorist, made a comment a couple years ago about an Israeli soldier being killed in Palestine, which caused a bit of media controversy. How did the personal politics of the cast and crew affect the filming process?
We were shooting during Operation Protective Edge, and we were in the war zone. But still we worked together, 100 Israelis and Arabs creating a peaceful bubble during the war. It was amazing. It was the kind of cooperation you don’t see so much in Israel.

So no personal politics, disagreements during the filming process?
We had some arguments, healthy arguments, but we got to know each other much better through our conversations. The Arab population in Israel is very complicated, and this was actually the first time in my life that I sat down with them, listened to them, talked to them about the complexity of their lives.

What parts of Fauda are accurate reflections of real life?
In the show, there’s a woman who dies in an explosion in a terror attack. This was based on a true story that happened to me — my girlfriend, Iris Azulai, was stabbed by an Arab terrorist when we were together — and we showed how it affected her boyfriend like it affected me.

Why did you revisit that in public?
This is art. In order to make good art, you have to bring it from your experience in life. For me, it was actually quite a healing process. I didn’t talk about Iris for 20 years, I think, and now I’m talking about her all the time.

Whenever a character dies on the show, it’s violent and sudden, and I found myself in disbelief every time. What was your approach to filming death?
We’ve had to say goodbye to characters we really love and actors we really love. But you know, this is life. People are dying. This is the kind of show where people are dying, Israelis and Palestinians. So you want to show it in the show. But it’s hard. It’s hard to say goodbye.

What was your original goal with the show?
I wanted to get everything off my chest. We didn’t know it was going to be such a successful thing, even in Israel — we thought the only people watching were going to be me and my mother, and Avi’s mother. For us, every day is a big surprise. Our goals were just to create. We don’t want to change the world, we don’t want to make peace.

I want to, of course, in my personal life, to make peace, but this is not the purpose of the show. The byproduct is that people all over the world are seeing it, Arabs and Jews — and Arabs love the show, and Jews love the show. You can make people get closer. You can make them become friends and understand each other and feel compassion to the other side. This is the by-product of it.

When did you realize Fauda was a hit?
In Israel, the first time I went with the character Boaz — the actor, Tomer Kapon — we went out for a beer. And immediately, hundreds of people were starting to run toward us to take a picture. Then, I truly understood that it’s getting crazy. And when I came to Miami last year, the immigration officer, instead of asking me what is my purpose of visit, she asked me about Fauda.

The Jewish Federation Presidents Dinner with keynote speaker Lior Raz will be held Sunday, June 3 (cocktails at 5 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m.) at the Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Dr., Centerville. Tickets are $75 adults, $36 ages 30 and younger, with additional giving levels available. Tickets may be purchased at jewishdayton.org. For more information, call Juliet Glaser at 401-1558.

The Jewish Federation will also host a free screening of the Netflix drama series Fauda starring Lior Raz, at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 14 at the Boonshoft CJCE. Raz will be the guest speaker for the Federation Presidents Dinner on June 3. The New York Times named Fauda one of the best international television shows of 2017. R.S.V.P. to the Federation, at 610-1555. 

Related: Israeli cellist to perform, present case for giving at Federation Presidents Dinner

Related: Hollywood execs support Netflix after BDS movt. asks it to scrap Fauda


To read the complete May 2018 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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