Roseanne Barr sounds off on the one subject that has given her solace: Israel

In an exclusive interview, comedian Roseanne Barr discusses being Jewish and her awakening on Israel.

Graffiti Portrait of Roseanne in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market by Painter Solomon Souza (photo credit: FMHT STUDIOS)
Graffiti Portrait of Roseanne in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market by Painter Solomon Souza
(photo credit: FMHT STUDIOS)
Roseanne Barr has always been the outsider looking in. It is a status that is perhaps the one consistent characteristic of her eventful life.
As a child, she grew up Jewish in Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City, Utah.
As an emerging comic, she was a rare female voice speaking out about her life experiences when to do so was predominately the domain of her male contemporaries.
As a bona-fide megastar portraying the rougharound- the-edges loudmouth mother in her hit series, Roseanne, when pristine, immaculately put-together matriarchs were still the television norm.
And, most recently, as a Green Party presidential candidate with a socialist platform during the 2012 US election (four years before anybody was interested in anti-establishment rhetoric).
But it is in Israel where Barr – for once in her life – feels like she belongs.
“When I’m here, I don’t feel excluded. That’s palpable,” she says while sitting in the lobby of a Tel Aviv hotel. “I feel included. It’s a great feeling. I don’t feel like a token, or an example, I feel like I’m part of a people and community.”
During her one-hour sit-down with the Magazine, Barr is a toned down version of her bombastic on-screen presence.
It’s an hour in which she vacillates between being intense, exhilarating and amusing. With her rapid- fire opinions and unfiltered take on Israel and Hollywood, Barr is not afraid to look you in the eye and say exactly what’s on her mind.
“What the f***, I might as well stay home if I’m not allowed to say things. That’s what turns me on,” she chuckles.
But staying home is not an option for the comedian whose devotion to being Jewish has shaped her identity throughout her life.
“Philosophically, everything I did was very Jewish. Everything I said,” she says of her work up to now.
She became alarmed at how Israel is perceived in America during her failed 2012 presidential run, where she’d meet with delegates and would be asked unrelated – and uninformed – questions about Israel.
“I’d talk to them about stand-your-ground gun laws and they’d fire back about Israeli occupation,” she scoffs.
Barr wasn’t always in Israel’s corner, though.
Prior to her run, she was often very critical of the Jewish state.
“It was an awakening,” she says, explaining her change of heart. “My awakening was based on all the stuff I learned. I [had] believed it. I believed what the Left said, I believed leftist philosophy,” she explains.
“I DIDN’T understand it. I had an outsider view of Israel and I didn’t trust Israelis enough to fix their own problems. I thought they needed an American opinion. Of course, now I know they don’t. That’s about the last thing they need,” she adds.
The itinerary for her jam-packed trip was planned by the pro-Israel NGO StandWithUs, which concluded on Tuesday, ran the gamut of must-do Israel experiences. From touring holy sites to participating in an anti-BDS conference in Jerusalem, to dancing on table-tops with her 83-year old mother at the trendy Georgian restaurant Nanuchka in Tel Aviv, Barr came here to see and do it all.
In a statement, Michael Dickson, executive director of StandWithUs, said, “We were proud to host Roseanne in Israel so that she could experience more of the modern reality of our historic homeland for her to share with her huge audience. We also salute her willingness to take an outspoken stand against the BDS movement.
“She powerfully unmasked those on what she called ‘the fascist fake Left’ who abandon tolerance and justice in order to pander to anti-Semitic vilification of Israel.”
“Barr has undergone a tremendous personal journey; she made the effort to learn more, she opened her eyes to the history, to the facts and to the real people of Israel. Roseanne is on the right side of history – we hope she will pave the way for more personalities in the public eye to follow her journey and follow her lead,” he adds.
However, Barr is battling a rising tide of anti-Israel sentiment among her contemporaries.
“All Jewish comedians talk about Israel – 24/7. We fight, we argue, we’re family… we’re all in the big stew pot together,” she explains.
However, Israel’s negative perception around the world has made many Jewish comedians reluctant to join the ranks of Jerry Seinfeld, Chelsea Handler – and of course, Barr – and come to Israel and check things out for themselves.
“People don’t want to come to a country that they believe is doing horrendous things to innocent people. Is it insurmountable? I don’t know,” she says.
Beyond Hollywood, it is the flagrant preoccupation Americans have with Israel, though, that convinced her a great injustice to Jews and Israel was being waged.
“There’s racism. And nobody wants to say it, but Jew-hating is racism,” she asserts.
“They couldn’t do it to black people anymore, because, they wouldn’t dare. They’d get smashed in the face or worse. They wouldn’t go into a black neighborhood and go, ‘You people…’ But it’s okay to say these things about Jews and the Jewish state because all of their best friends are Jewish kids,” she says.
Jews are complicit in generating anti-Israel sentiment as well, she believes.
“You have a lot of very privileged, Ashkenazi Jews in America. I’m talking about college campuses, where the war and uprising will happen,” she explains, saying those Jews have turned a blind eye to Sephardic Jews who have been expelled from the Middle East since 1967.
“There are very privileged Ashkenazi Jews that ‘pass’ and are assimilated, they have no idea that they are helping to purge every Arab state of ‘brown’ Jews… This is a class war, which has racial elements to it,” she adds, alluding to what some people call the Jewish Nakba.
It’s an issue she’s shouted from the social media rooftops and has messaged presidential candidates on Twitter about, imploring they address the matter. So far, there’s been radio silence.
“They don’t answer. I ask all of them. They don’t understand anything about Israel or the Jewish people,” she laments.
“They don’t understand Arabs either. They don’t understand that Arabs and Jews are cousins. They just want to get in there and keep making money,” she claims.
AS FOR the current election keeping the entire world at the edge of their seat, Barr too is closely following the circus.
“It’s all mixed up and it is crazy,” she laughs.
As a former candidate herself, Barr can’t help but see both GOP front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders echoing some of the sentiments she voiced four years ago.
“When I see Bernie out there, he’s like directly quoting me. So is Trump. Because I said that none of the politicians or parties – everything they say is irrelevant to voters. Now Trump is saying that, and it’s like ‘Wow,’” she marvels.
As for Trump himself, she believes his candidacy has initiated a much-needed reassessment of what it really means to be a Republican these days.
“I think it’s a correction that needs to happen, the Republican Party is so old and out of touch and he’s doing it a big favor by shaking it up to its root. It needs to happen,” she says.
That praise is hardly an endorsement.
When asked whom Barr plans to vote for in November, the comedian unabashedly confesses her plans to write in her own name on the ballot.
“I write myself in. I’ve declared myself the president for life,” she says quite cavalierly, making it difficult for this reporter to discern if she’s joking.
She’s probably not.
While Barr continues to do standup intermittently and has a documentary film, Roseanne for President, scheduled to come out this summer, she acknowledges that the glitz and glam days of Hollywood are well behind her.
“Oh, that’s over,” she says with a casual flick of her wrist when asked about her career as a comedian.
“Every now and then I want to work, but you know, I’m 63. I was lucky enough to have a great show that people liked,” she explains, adding that she’s essentially given up on the industry that never really embraced her in the first place, even as she was making them boatloads of money.
“When you break rules, you’re a rule breaker forever,” she says defiantly. “Why would I want to hang out with people who don’t speak the same language I do? They look at me like… I don’t know, it’s just weird.”
“Why do I want my life torn apart on the phone with lawyers instead of picking nuts in my nut farm [in Hawaii] and looking after my grandkids and jumping naked into my pool and drinking a lot and writing when I feel like writing? I have a life now. I’ll do something else someday. Or maybe I won’t. I don’t have to.”
And considering Roseanne Barr has spent a lifetime doing exactly what Roseanne Barr wants to do, it seems doubtful she’d want it any other way.