Will Smith's Oscar slap: What do Israelis think?

Puzzled by the ‘slap heard round the world,’ many doubt Israeli actors would have reacted this way.

 WILL SMITH and Jada Pinkett Smith pose before the 94th Annual Academy Awards – and the slap – in Hollywood, March 27.  (photo credit: Mike Coppola/AFP via Getty Images)
WILL SMITH and Jada Pinkett Smith pose before the 94th Annual Academy Awards – and the slap – in Hollywood, March 27.
(photo credit: Mike Coppola/AFP via Getty Images)

Sivan Avneri feels bad for Will Smith.

But the Tel Aviv resident, who has done acting and comedy, said Smith was wrong for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, and she doesn’t condone violence.

Before presenting the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Rock mentioned he loved Jada (Pinkett Smith) and said, “G.I. Jane II, can’t wait to see it,” joking of an imagined sequel to the film featuring a head-shaven Demi Moore in the US military. Smith initially laughed in his seat, then slapped Rock in the face, sat back down and twice yelled to the comedian to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth. He used a curse word for emphasis.

In a July 2021 Instagram post, Pinkett Smith explained she shaved her head because she’s been struggling with alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss. About 147 million worldwide have it, and in some cases the hair can grow back. 

“There’s a lot of stress from their open relationship and from past comments when Rock hosted in 2016,” Avneri said. “But everybody forgets that [rapper/actor] Tupac [Shakur] was her first true love in terms of their closeness. Smith feels like there is nothing he can do to be Tupac. This was the only way he could come through for her in front of the whole world.”

 SIVAN AVNERI, an actress who dabbles in comedy, says Smith was wrong but she feels bad for him. (credit: Barry Morgenstein) SIVAN AVNERI, an actress who dabbles in comedy, says Smith was wrong but she feels bad for him. (credit: Barry Morgenstein)

As the show’s host in 2016, Rock joked that Pinkett Smith wasn’t invited. She’d said she was boycotting due to lack of diversity. Rock also implied Smith didn’t deserve $20 million for starring in Wild Wild West.

Avneri said that while those jokes were still in Smith’s mind, so was his insecurity.

“Nothing was ever gonna be enough, she said. “Not even winning the Oscar. He has spoken about this before, how he knows he will never live up to Tupac’s legacy. Nobody gets that he has never felt like he’s good enough for her.”

According to his memoir, Smith was tortured by the connection of the pair when he started dating Pinkett Smith, because even though she and Shakur “were never intimate, their love for each other is legendary.”

While many in America are obsessed with the slap, Avneri said that for Israelis, it obviously pales in comparison to more pressing issues, such as stopping terrorism, making sure countries don’t threaten the safety of Israel, and helping Ukrainian refugees.

Avneri, who plans to open Art Bar in Tel Aviv in a few months, said she sympathizes with Pinkett Smith having alopecia.

DAVID KILIMNICK, a comedian who owns Off The Wall Comedy in Jerusalem, said Rock’s joke was likely not one he would have made, but it should not have resulted in violence. He believes there will be ramifications.

“I don’t think the ripple effect will hit Israel but I think it will hit America,” he said, referring to comedians being fearful of a negative response for controversial jokes. “I don’t think Israelis are looking to American icons like they used to. I think they are laughing at them. Israelis are better at taking jokes.”

Originally from Rochester, New York, the comedian, who made aliyah, said that while nobody ever slapped him, he did once have an altercation with an audience member. A man threw a glass and charged the stage at a Jerusalem show, after he joked about fake antiques, and the man called the authorities.

“A business card flew out of his pocket and it said he was a jeweler,” he said. “I guess somehow he thought I was personally calling him a fraud. The police were surprised to have been called due to a joke.”

Comedian Gil Rosenberg said that at a comedy show in Tel Aviv a few months ago some members of the audience were causing a disruption and were asked to leave. One of them returned and headbutted the host onstage.

Rosenberg, who performs in English and Hebrew and runs an open mic at Blaze Rock & Sports Bar in Jerusalem, said he wasn’t totally sure whether the Smith slap was real or planned. He guessed it was real.

“Will Smith is a comedian, too, and he laughed at first, but he saw his wife’s face and became serious,” he said. “I guess he wanted to show that ‘I am the man.’”

The Ramat Gan resident said the part of him that wonders whether it was real is the fact that no security officials took action.

According to comedian Benji Lovitt, who made aliyah in 2006, it was important to know whether Rock had knowledge that Pinkett Smith had alopecia when he made the joke. At his show in Boston, Rock told a crowd he is processing what took place and will speak about the event eventually.

“If Will Smith hadn’t lost his mind, would we be talking about how cruel the joke was?” Lovitt wrote to the Magazine. “No. And why aren’t we focused on the host’s jokes earlier in the night about the couple’s infidelity? Because a woman made the jokes? Because he didn’t punch them?”

Early on, actress Regina Hall, one of the three hosts, took a shot at the couple’s open marriage, as she called attractive single male actors up to the stage.

“Will Smith – um, you’re married but, you know what, you’re on the list, and looks like Jada approved you, so you get on up here,” Hall quipped.

The crowd laughed, Pinkett Smith smiled, and her husband shook his head to show that, no, he wouldn’t come on stage.

Actress Maya Simchi Atar, from Kibbutz Nir Am, said Rock was wrong to make the joke, and Smith was wrong to slap him. She said she doubts such a fiasco could happen with Israeli actors, but has learned to “never say never.”

Izzy Sacks, 14, a student at the Amit school in Modi’in, also doubts it could take place with Israeli actors and said the event showed celebrities think they’re above the law. He said young people might look up to Smith more after the incident.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable,” he said of Smith’s behavior.

Tel Aviv singer and actress Noam Amit said Smith’s actions weren’t a good example.

“I wouldn’t want my man to react like that,” Amit said. “I would want him to hit with words and have a witty response.”

Not long after the slap, Smith accepted the award for Best Actor for the role of Richard Williams in King Richard.” He cried and apologized to the Academy, but not to Rock.

He would eventually apologize to Rock in a public Instagram post. He also resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a statement to the media where he also said he would never allow violence to overtake reason.

In terms of connecting the slap to Israel, it is likely that New York attorney and children’s book author Josh Becker won in that regard, posting on Facebook: “Waiting for the UN to condemn Will Smith for a disproportionate response.” 

The writer’s articles have appeared in The Jewish Week, JNS, The Forward and other publications.