Topol, worldwide star of Fiddler on the Roof was Mossad spy: family

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London: Chaim Topol, who gained international fame for his leading role in Fiddler on the Roof, had a secret life as an operative for Israel’s famed spy agency Mossad, his family has revealed.

The Israeli singer and actor, who died last month at the age of 87, worked for the Mossad branch in London as part of his intriguing double life, using his fame to gain access to high-profile locations around the world.

Chaim Topol, who died last month aged 87, is believed to have worked for London branch of the Israeli secret serviceCredit: AP

His widow, Galia, and children Adi and Omer told Israeli newspaper Haaretz the star even used his London home as a base to welcome spies for the Israeli national intelligence agency. He often visited embassies, airports and airlines of Arab countries.

Topol starred as Tevye the milkman in the 1967 London premiere of Fiddler on the Roof, and in the 1971 Norman Jewison film version. He toured in the role around the world for decades, reprising the performance more than 3500 times – including twice in Melbourne and in Sydney – and became one of Israel’s most famous actors, winning two Golden Globe Awards, and being nominated for both an Academy Award and a Tony Award.

“I don’t know exactly what the appropriate definition is for the missions and duties he performed,” Omer told the newspaper, adding he was “no James Bond.”

“But what is clear is that dad was involved in secret missions on behalf of the Mossad. His status in those years was that of an international star, and he could go anywhere he wanted. He had the ability to deliver documents and take pictures without anyone questioning anything.”

His family recalled that the actor had a small Minox camera and a tiny spool tape recorder and that he often made secretive trips abroad.

Director Norman Jewison, right, and Israeli actor Topol, who played protagonist Tevye.Credit: Zeitgeist Films

Born in 1935 in a poor home without electricity or running water in what was then British-mandated Palestine, he also played parts in James Bond film For Your Eyes Only and as a nutty professor in the 1980s cult hit Flash Gordon.

“What always motivated Chaimkeh [Topol] were ants in his pants, adventure and courage,” Galia said. “Therefore, no one was more suitable than him to be involved even in issues that are not discussed.”

During the shooting of the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof, Topol spent about six months in Yugoslavia, with filming taking place in a small village near Zagreb, and he rented a house on the farm of a local family.

Years later, he told his children about the terror that had seized him when he discovered that his camera had disappeared. After an investigation by Topol and the production crew, it turned out that the young son of the owners of the house had stolen the device.

“My father told me how relieved he was when they gave him back the camera,” Omer says.

The family said the actor’s contact person for missions was his good friend, Mossad officer Peter Zvi Malkin, who would visit their home by sneaking in through the backyard. The Israeli secret agent was one of the four agents who kidnapped the Nazi Adolf Eichmann from Argentina.

Galia said her last husband “was a kind of cover” for many of Malkin operations in Europe and the Middle East. The pair’s method was for Topol to create a diversion while Malkin carried out the mission objective, they recalled.

“He would come to London and live with us when he needed to,” Adi said. “Father would help Zvika [Malkin] with all kinds of things he wanted to check — such as an access point, recording programs and security arrangements.”

A production of Fiddler on the Roof.

Haaretz said that his daughter was apprehensive about opening boxes in her father’s London apartment. She said: “Who knows what I’ll find there? Maybe secret listening devices and hidden cameras.“

As an international star, Topol visited countries around the world including places where Israel had no local presence, such as China and the Soviet Union. The famed actor reportedly brought “sensitive equipment” to many locations during his travels.

He was introduced to many top security figures while living in London, and when the First Lebanon War began in 1982 he was sent to Beirut on missions to meet with foreign agents and journalists. On one occasion, he left alone to meet with a foreign journalist but had to abandon his car when he encountered a roadblock operated by the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

He devoted much of his later years to charity as chairman of the board of Jordan River Village, a camp serving Arab and Israeli children with life-threatening diseases.

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