Playwright Wallace Shawn translates ADL ad justifying Israeli child murder into plain English

ADL ad that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.

Playwright and actor Wallace Shawn has responded to this Anti-Defamation League (ADL) ad blaming Palestinians for Israel’s mass slaughter of children in Gaza.

Shawn’s brilliant “translation” of the ad into plain English is below.

Five hundred and sixteen children are among the 2,142 Palestinians killed by Israel’s current bombardment of the Gaza Strip, according to the latest tally from Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

The ad, which appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, was signed by a number of show business executives. It quotes an infamous statement by Golda Meir, the American colonial settler in Palestine who became Israel’s prime minister, justifying Israel’s slaughter of Arab children during her time.

Along with ADL National Director Abraham Foxman and National Chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher, The Hollywood Reporter identifies some of those who signed the ADL ad as MGM chairman Gary Barber, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer, Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, Nu Image/Millennium Films co-chairman Avi Lerner, Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Amy Pascal and Saban Capital Group chairman and CEO Haim Saban.

Adults care for Palestinian children wounded in an Israeli air strike at a hospital in Gaza City, 23 August.

Mohammed Asad APA images

Shawn’s response, which also appears in The Hollywood Reporter, is masterful. Here is Shawn’s “translation” of Meir’s words, as they were used in the ADL ad (reproduced in full with permission):

Over the decades, I’ve done quite a bit of work as a translator from various languages, and sometimes when I get home from work, I just can’t stop. Yesterday, for example, I saw an ad in The Hollywood Reporter. It was in English, but its meaning was not immediately obvious at all, so I felt an overwhelming impulse to translate it.

The ad featured a statement that former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir had made in the 1950s about “the Arabs,” but the ad (which leaves out the words “the Arabs”) suggests that “her haunting words” are “as current as today’s headlines. She could have been talking about Hamas.” The quotation, as it appears in the ad, is as follows: “We can forgive [them] for killing our children. We cannot forgive them from forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with [them] when they love their children more than they hate us.”

My quick personal translation of this would be: “When we kill the children of Arabs, the Arabs made us do it. They hate us so much, they are so angry, that they do things that enrage us and make us kill children. If they were decent people who loved their children, they would set aside their hatred and stop provoking us, and we would then stop killing the children.”

Sometimes a translator feels compelled to argue with the text he’s just translated, particularly when, as in the case of this ad, one is confronted by a photograph of the author that makes one vividly feel her presence. In this case, I can only say that despite her wise and thoughtful and grandmotherly face, Golda Meir can be interpreted as saying here that she plans to kill the children of Arabs up until the moment when, in her sole judgment, the Arabs stop feeling “hate” and become sufficiently unprovoking and pacified.

Applying her remarks to the present day, as the signers of the ad suggest we should do, the ad seems fundamentally to be saying that it ought to be up to the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to decide when the current killing ought to stop. I have to say, I feel that this ad, directed to members of the show business community, perhaps especially to Jewish members of the show business community such as myself, takes as its premise a false view both of history and of the present situation.

The broad outlines of the terrible history of the Jewish people over the centuries is relatively well-known to many of us. But unfortunately, many members of the show business community are not very aware of the tragic history of the Palestinian people. And yet the fact is that in my own lifetime (I was born in 1943) the Palestinian people have been expelled from their land and subjected to unceasing and unjustifiable torment, including a brutal occupation and, in Gaza, a regime in which an entire population has been placed on a starvation diet.

Anyone who learns more about what has happened can’t help but realize that the anger of the Palestinians cannot be ended by killing their children. That is a fantasy. Human beings simply aren’t made that way.

Shawn is reacting to what Columbia University professor Joseph Massad has called “an old Israeli casuistry used to justify Israel’s carnage of Palestinians.” In his 2011 article “Are Palestinian children less worthy?,” Massad shows how the demonization of Palestinian children and their parents has always accompanied Israel’s frequent massacres.

Palestinian children, among almost 400,000 people displaced by Israel’s assault, play a game at a UN-run school in Gaza City where they are taking shelter, 24 August.

Mohammed Asad APA images

Shawn’s response comes after forty survivors of the Nazi genocide and 287 descendants of survivors and victims published a letter as an ad in The New York Times condemning Israel’s massacre and rejecting a previous ad by anti-Palestinian author Elie Wiesel accusing Palestinians of “child sacrifice.”

Shawn is well-known for his plays, later turned into films, The Designated Mourner, Marie and Bruce, My Dinner With Andre and The Fever. His voice is far better known to millions of children than his face through his roles in many animated films, including as “Rex” in the Toy Story films.

He is on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace.




Means not only kids but also sons and daughters no matter the age. In this sentence she was refering to soldiers.


So you think Meir was saying that although she could forgive Arabs for killing Jews, she couldn't forgive them for making Jews kill Arab soldiers?


Listen. You may be able to convince yourself with desperately shallow nonsense like that - but no one else.


God bless Wallace Shawn for this courageous act of truth-telling. As a Jew, his words make me feel so much less crazy than anything the ADL has to say about Gaza.


We kill your children, stop hating us, or we kill more so stop hating us, love us we can kill more ..... Where is the logic? I think it is a circular reference, even mighty excel can't handle this equation!


It's a terrible burden. People will do anything to escape it, including wasting good money to try to explain themselves in the press. I doubt it will help.


Thank you, Mr. Shawn, for being a voice for PEACE and an advocate of the TRUTH!!!


I'm gladdened to see any Jewish voice speak out against the current peak in violence toward the essentially defenseless Gazan prisoners.

It was a bit disorienting though. Was there a translation there as much as an explanation?


"All or nothing"? Yes, I believe even psychopathic Israel would be forced to bend under the weight of that determination. The World would have to concede, do we stand by whilst Israel annihilates the whole Nation of Palestinians, the rightful residents of these ancient homelands, or do we finally intercede to kick Israel into the twenty first century.The World has been complicit in this struggle for too long, we have taken too many Israeli pieces of gold and shekels, and, to their everlasting shame, this includes all other Arab and Muslim States World wide. I for one would like to hear the protestations and arguments all other Arab and Muslim states will advance to explain or justify, their lack of action to support Palestinian justice; lets call upon them to speak and explain. Do not use the excuse relating to Israeli possession of nuclear weapons, that is irrelevant, especially if the World will unite against this Israeli oppression; will they "nuke" the whole world? Also tell me this, which Nation will they occupy next? and, where will they stop? Read their history of pronouncements over the last one hundred years; read their religious texts, they see themselves as the "chosen" race, and everyone else exists either to "serve" them or be dead. Now think where have you heard those teachings before. Israel must be brought down to Earth, so it must be "All or nothing"all Peace negotiations are a farce simply used to punctuate the periods of Palestinian death and destruction. Palestinians have nothing left to lose. Now is the time to keep Israel on the "defensive", the World will act to finally bring Israel to account for their evil actions; take courage and be defiant, your claims are just, you will win, and yes there will be Martyr's, Blessed be their names, but there is no better time and no better reason to give lives, than this cause. Unless the Palestinians keep up the pressure of their resistance, forcing Israel to choose.


None of this is unique, it's the self-pitying cry of every abuser, killer, rapist of women, children and the vulnerable: "she/they made me do it". They can only get away with this plea if their audience fails to see how deranged and selfish they are. These advertisers clearly believe that the readers will automatically side with the abuser and not with the victim. A risky venture: by pleading mitigating circumstances, they are pleading guilty.


I like Wallace Shawn a lot, but... that's not that great. weak at best.
it's worse than an ad, it's an ad for ethnic cleansing, and Shawn knows it.
I'd rather have seen a hashtag take off...
"we can forgive them for living in Palestine, but not for making us take their houses"
"we can forgive them for becoming refugees, but not for wanting to come home"
it could be infinite.
(oh, but Golda looks like such a grandmother! give me a break!!!)


Greetings! Thhis is my first comment here so I jusdt wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I
really enjoy reading through your posts.
Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?

Thanks a ton!


I've always loved Wallace Shawn as an actor; I respect the fact that he has chosen to use his voice to speak the truth about this issue and to advocate for peace.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.