I was being interviewed live on Israel’s most-watched evening newscast about my trip to Israel with Roseanne Barr when the female anchor asked me about our ongoing efforts to bring people of influence to Israel. I responded that, indeed, while we bring many celebrities to Israel, we also hold celebrities who attack Israel accountable. One of the examples I gave was Natalie Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, was protected by the IDF, but chose to boycott Israel and later compare the Holocaust to the regular slaughter of livestock, which is both disgusting and incredibly stupid.
I was not ready for the reaction. The anchor mounted a determined defense of Portman, despite her public condemnation of Israel trying to protect itself against the Hamas terrorists of Gaza. I responded and a spirited defense ensued.
I understood why.
Israel is desperate for celebrities – especially homegrown – who can lend the country legitimacy. And if it means embracing even those Israelis who unfairly condemn the country, so be it.
It’s a dilemma that has to be confronted. Why is that Hollywood is populated by so many Jewish actors, directors and studio heads who are utterly silent on defending Israel?
I’ve been on a tour of Israel for the past week with Roseanne Barr doing public speeches and media appearances. The trip was designed to coincide with our son Dovid Chaim’s bar mitzvah and it’s been nice on this occasion to mix family, business and pleasure.
It’s been interesting to say the least.
Last May, Roseanne lost her TV show on ABC after her now infamous tweet about Valerie Jarrett. The Nielsen ratings published in December confirmed that Roseanne’s show was the #1-rated program in America in 2018, and still she lost her show after the tweet. This despite the fact that she offered a lengthy and tear-filled explanation and apology on my podcast in the aftermath.
Yet in Israel, the crowds for our joint speeches have been huge and enthusiastic. People are cheering Roseanne all over the country and the media interest and coverage have been overwhelming. We can barely walk into the halls where we are speaking and – swarmed by fans afterward – can barely leave.
I attribute this to two factors. The first is that Israeli society is more forgiving than American society. People screw up. They say things that they later regret. They should be allowed to take responsibility for their words, correct them, repent and move on.
This is especially true – and here I cite the second issue – if they are seen as having put themselves on the line for Israel.
Yes, Roseanne is a controversial figure. She is a comic, after all, and all great comics – indeed, all great artists – are controversial. But Roseanne has consistently stood up for Israel when almost no one else in Hollywood has, and the people in Israel know this and are showing their love.
Which begs the question, why are Jews in Hollywood so silent when it comes to Israel? Worse, they’re usually critical of the Jewish state.
I don’t need to use the extreme example of Natalie Portman to make my point. The silence on Israel of most of Hollywood’s Jewish community is positively deafening. Even people like Steven Spielberg who are excellent – beyond excellent – on the Holocaust are apparently silent when it comes to speaking up for Israel.
The only two celebrities in Hollywood whom I know to be stalwart defenders of Israel at great personal expense is Roseanne Barr and Jon Voight, whom I have known for nearly three decades. And Voight isn’t even Jewish!
What accounts for Jewish recalcitrance to speak up for the Jewish State? I believe it’s three things.
The first is the culture of conformity in Hollywood. Think about it. In Hollywood, everyone tries to look alike and think alike. Take an actor who will get up at the Academy Awards and call President Donald Trump a jerk. Everyone will clap. Everyone.
Now, surely there is one person there out of a thousand who supported Trump, no? But they would never admit it. The same is true of anything else that is controversial, like Israel.
Israel is controversial because the world is not used to, nor comfortable with, seeing Jews fight back. The world has shown a serious dislike of Jews in a military defensive posture. Apparently, the people of the book are expected to die holding the book. Indeed, the world is mystified that Jews are currently fighting back so ferociously to protect their lives and their land. Whether it’s pushing legislation in the US to boycott supporters of BDS, or watching the IDF now attack Iranian bases in Syria, Israel and the Jews are tired of being targets.
Hollywood loves making films about Jews as disempowered victims. But willful Jews who resist, unless they’re in the Warsaw Ghetto, died in Hollywood depictions long ago, along with Paul Newman in Exodus.
The second factor is that Hollywood loves consensus and shuns controversy. A politician can win an election with 51% of the vote. But an actor or actress feels that they need 85% approval rating in order to win at the box office. The last thing they want to do is lose audience numbers by putting their neck on the line for the Jewish state.
The third reason is that Hollywood suffers from a severe case of underdogma. Hollywood loves the underdog, the weak victim who is persecuted. Amazingly, Hollywood has decided that the 400 million oil-rich Arabs who surround the miniscule Jewish homeland are the underdogs to Israel, the superpower. Now normally this could be seen as a compliment. Wow, the Jews finally have power. But Hollywood depicts Israel as abusing its power.
Of course, Hamas is not an innocent victim, but a vile and genocidal group of terrorists who persecute the Palestinians under their authoritarian rule even more than they menace Israel. Hezbollah is nothing but an Iranian proxy army and to believe that Iran – with its nuclear ambitions and vast oil reserves – is anyone’s victim is just silly. As for the Palestinians, they are brutalized by their dictator Mahmoud Abbas who is now 10 years past the date he was supposed to face an election and has made his sons oligarchs of Palestinian wealth.
Which leads to the following conclusion. Israelis appreciate people like Roseanne Barr because they are amazed that they actually exist. That the occasional Hollywood celebrity who will speak up for Israel regardless of the consequences actually exists.
Thousands of stories have now been written about my trip to Israel with Roseanne. A huge number have appeared in the Israeli press.
Which just proves the point. That even if you make a mistake, as long as you sincerely apologize and repent, and as long as you fight for a great cause, good people will support you and salute you.
The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. He served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>