Open letter to Natalie Portman from an Israeli progressive

We are a family, indeed and you’ve made a mistake.

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.
Dear Natalie,
How did we get to this? I was always a fan, even of your politics. I could relate to your frustration about much of Israel’s politics. As an LGBT Israeli liberal from an Iraqi-North African (Berber) background, I know full well how much work is needed to improve our country. I’m definitely not a fan of right-wing politics in Israel and do not support the current leadership. However, your actions this week were disturbing.
You always pride yourself on being Jewish and Israeli, even though you are living in your comfortable and protected home in the United States. You made sure that your opinions are known in Israel and around the world. You supported the V15 campaign, that was pushing to influence the Israeli elections, back in 2015. You were always vocal about your criticism of Israel’s politics. When you were told that you would get an award for your Jewish activism, it took you a month to get your representative to say you would not participate in any “public event in Israel” because of the “recent events.”
Later on you posted on Instagram that your representative does not speak for you (seriously?) and that you are only partially joining the boycott of Israel, stating that you “can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation.” Well, thank you for not boycotting the entire nation. But shame on you for your terrible behavior.
Yes, Israel can be criticized – ask every Israeli and they will have criticism about the government, even the ones that support it fully. But it’s the style of dissent that matters. Israeli author David Grossman was one of 16 recipients of the Israel Prize last week, in a ceremony that concluded Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations. In attendance were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Grossman is a vocal critic of Netanyahu and Bennett, but he was there.
In my work, in my publications and online, I try to make the progressive case for Israel, because I want people with different political views to feel comfortable supporting Israel. I do not want to see the Right as the only political wing that supports Israel. I work to make sure that the Left and progressives like myself are not represented by a small minority that is perceived as “traitors” or self-hating Jews. Education Minister Bennett said during the ceremony last week that “the Right doesn’t hold a monopoly on patriotism... not only the Right loves the land of Israel and not only the Left seeks peace. Both aspire for the best of the state.” Is it not shocking to you that a right-wing Israeli politician articulate a message of unity while yours was just divisive?
Indeed, we are living in a divisive time and age. We are being pitted against each other and polarization of the debate on Israel is stronger than ever. But I’m in pain to see you, of all people, making it worse. I do not think that you are anti-Israel, but as one Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activist wrote online, “I can eat a salad and say I don’t eat healthy, but I’m still eating the salad. Portman boycotted Israel.”
The BDS movement is not about economic boycott that will lead to the collapse of the Israeli economy; they know that cannot succeed. It is also not about a real cultural boycott that will lead to a full isolation; they know that will fail as well. It is about creating the facade of a successful boycott and influencing young people to think it is a movement they need to join, since it has traction and massive support. It is also about dividing the pro-Israel community, just as you did.
Like all Israelis, I am the product of a miracle. A miracle happened to my family in 1951, when they were in the middle of the life-changing crisis of expulsion from Arab and Muslim countries (North Africa and Iraq) because they were Jews. The miracle was that for the first time in 2000 years, there was a Jewish state to take them home. This is the same miracle that is happening today to French Jews escaping antisemitism – and it is the same miracle that will save many other Jews in the future.
It should be clear that Israel is not only here to serve American Jews. I was in the army for five years defending Israel and working side by side with Palestinians. Today I speak up in the public arena because I understand the issue is bigger than me and my political agenda. Politicians come and go but the State of Israel is much bigger than you or the current prime minister. And contrary to your statement, the State of Israel was not “conceived as a haven for Holocaust refugees.” The Zionist movement began to establish a state way before the First World War. It is a rebirth of a nation, not just a home for Holocaust survivors.
We are a family, indeed and you’ve made a mistake. You made it worse over and again. We are calling you out on it. It’s not about criticism, which we welcome here, it is about the way you do it, at this moment in time. I know you are used to a different type of political debate in the US, but we don’t need you to bring it here. Come to Israel, make things right, speak your mind at the ceremony and let’s put this to rest. It is not too late to correct your mistake. I promise that I will do all I can to support you if you do. As much as you love Israel, Israel loves you more, and we will not turn our back on you when you need us. Do not do us wrong.
With brotherly love,
Hen Mazzig
@HenMazzig is an Israeli writer, public speaker and strategic communications consultant from Tel Aviv.