Why Celebrities Don’t Defend Israel
During a recent TV interview in Israel, I said that my organization holds celebrities who attack Israel accountable. One of the examples I gave was Natalie Portman, who was born in Jerusalem. I told the interviewer that Portman had attacked Israel recently.
I was not ready for the reaction — because the anchor mounted a determined defense of Portman. Yet 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 Hollywood 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.
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.
So what accounts for Jewish recalcitrance to speak up for the Jewish state?
I believe it’s these three things:
The first is the culture of conformity in Hollywood. In Hollywood, everyone tries to look alike and think alike. Israel is controversial because the world is not used to nor comfortable with seeing Jews fight back. Hollywood loves making films about Jews as disempowered victims. But willful Jews who resist, unless they’re in the Warsaw Ghetto, were rejected by Hollywood long ago.
The second factor is that Hollywood loves consensus and shuns controversy. A politician can win an election with 51 percent of the vote. But an actor or actress feels that they need 85 percent 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.
And the third reason is that Hollywood loves the underdog — the weak victim who is persecuted. And amazingly, Hollywood has decided that the 400 million oil-rich Arabs who surround Israel are the underdogs to Israel, the superpower. Normally this could be seen as a compliment. 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.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “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.