An open letter to Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman poses at the premiere for "Annihilation" in Los Angeles, California, US, February 13, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/MARIO ANZUONI)
Natalie Portman poses at the premiere for "Annihilation" in Los Angeles, California, US, February 13, 2018.
It would take more than one infuriating statement to make me lose my deep affection for Natalie Portman. She’s talented, gorgeous and genteel – but in the present case, she happens to be wrong and misleading.
I’m not bothered by the fact that she’s given BDS – a movement that has lost its momentum and vitality and is doomed to failure – further ammunition with which to attack Israel. They have plenty of their own lies for that. However, I am very concerned about the negative impact her words may have on young Jews and Israelis who sometimes think that the positions taken by celebrities are the gospel truth.
“The State of Israel was established 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust,” Portman declared. Nonsense. Outside of Hollywood, countries don’t arise overnight, and as we all know, the Zionist movement began the process of establishing the State of Israel even before World War I. So to say that Israel was established as a haven for Holocaust refugees is simply untrue. Let’s review the facts one at a time.
1. The Holocaust annihilated the Jews’ human reserve
Let’s start with David Ben-Gurion who after the Holocaust said: “The people who conceived, contemplated, fostered and realized the great pioneering enterprise, the culmination of which is labor agriculture, this people has been destroyed and is no more....” The Holocaust annihilated Zionist human resources, an entire generation of young Zionists. On the eve of the war, in Poland alone, there were about 30,000 members of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, 35,000 members of the Betar movement, about 100,000 members together with members of the other movements such as Freiheit, Gordonia and Akiva – all of which were Zionist movements. The members of these movements were brought up on the ideal of the Land of Israel; they learned Hebrew and were given agricultural training during the summer months in hundreds of unique training farms that prepared them mentally and physically for pioneering life in Eretz Israel. The vast majority of these trainees were lost to the Jewish people; they – the leaders of the uprisings in the ghettos, the glory of the Jewish youth – did not survive.
2. Olim are not refugees
The large waves of immigration to Israel had already begun in the mid-1920s. In the waves of the first, second and third aliyas, an average number of about 30,000 immigrants arrived per wave. In the Fourth Aliya, which began in 1924 and lasted up to 1931, about 75,000 people arrived, more than double each of the previous ones. This trend continued in the Fifth Aliya, in the context of which some 180,000 Jews arrived in pre-state Israel. And they thronged to it despite the violent events it saw in the years 1936-1939.
3. A state within a state
The report of the Peel Commission of 1936, Chapter 5, began with the following words:
“The Jewish National Home is no longer an experiment. The growth of its population has been accompanied by political, social and economic developments along the lines laid down at the outset. The chief novelty is the urban and industrial development. The contrast between the modern democratic and primarily European character of the National Home and that of the Arab world around it is striking.”
This is a state within a state, said the members of the commission. The potash plants, concrete factories, the Tel Aviv harbor and the city of Tel Aviv, the largest city in the country with its population of 150,000, the dozens of kibbutzim and moshavim, the Hagana, political parties and election campaigns – all these already existed before the outbreak of World War II. The state had in effect already been established before the Holocaust.
4. International legitimacy
The international legitimacy of the establishment of a Jewish state has its source not in the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 1947, but in the League of Nations Conference in San Remo in 1920, which decided to include the Balfour Declaration as part of the Palestine Mandate and to appoint Britain to be in charge of its implementation. The conference determined that “the British Mandate was to be responsible for achieving the political, administrative and economic conditions to ensure the establishment of the Jewish national home.”
The gradual withdrawal of Britain from the writ of the Mandate following the Arab riots of the 1920s and 1930s in no way nullifies the international recognition accorded to the Zionist enterprise 20 years before World War II.
In summary, the Holocaust did not contribute and certainly did not lead to the establishment of the State of Israel. It contained no positive elements whatsoever. Of the 17 million Jews in the world in 1939, only 11 million remained in 1945, and to this day – after 70 years of independence –we have not yet managed to restore the situation to the status quo ante. Although I am a fervent Zionist, I would prefer for the Jewish state not to exist if the price for its establishment was the murder of six million Jews.
And there is one last point: from the moment one adopts the concept that the Holocaust was the prime factor driving the establishment of the State of Israel, the state becomes a narrow and limited project, merely a safe haven for those who carry Jewish chromosomes, denying its broad and true purpose: to be the cultural and spiritual center of the Jewish people.
Back to the Gaza border: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recently said, “We will prove to Israel that they are being faced by a generation that adores death.”
In Hollywood, death is also the subject of adoration; if you get shot, you’re probably a hero. In reality, however, it doesn’t work that way. Dear Natalie, if you are not an admirer of death, you ought to recalculate your route.
The author, head of the Tavor Leadership Academy, has an MA in diplomacy and security studies from Tel Aviv University and a BA in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Haifa. He served as a company commander in an elite IDF unit, with the rank of major.