Progressively Speaking: Reaction to Natalie Portman’s Israel snub

Progressively Speaking: Reaction to Natalie Portman’s Israel snub

Rabbi Leah Jordan takes a topical issue and looks at a response from Liberal Judaism

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman

 As an American Jew, I found out recently that I care more about what the Israeli-American Natalie Portman [pictured] does than first thought.

In fact, the uproar after the actress revealed that she would not attend the Genesis Award ceremony in Israel – to receive its top honour – suggests we in the Jewish community all care more than we thought.

But maybe our reactions say more about us than about her.

This is certainly true of the president of the Zionist Organization of America. Morton Klein said Portman gave “credibility and legitimacy to the ludicrous, false, nonsensical belief that beautiful women aren’t too bright”. Thanks for the misogyny, Mort.

It is equally true of the IfNotNow (the Jewish anti-occupation movement) leaders, Ethan Miller and Jill Raney, who praised Portman, saying: “We welcome our favourite galactic advocate for peace and freedom to our rapidly growing cohort of young American Jews who know that we must stand up for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.”

Jane Eisner, editor of Forward (the largest Jewish newspaper in the US), lamented the good Portman could have done had she gone and used that pulpit to speak truth to power.

Personally, I find myself in the camp of the Haaretz writer Gideon Levy, who in essence said, “That’s the spirit, Ms Portman, but it’s just a start.”

In a clarifying statement, Portman wrote: “I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu.”

What is it that specifically Portman does not want to seem to be endorsing? I hope it is what Peter Beinart wrote this past week: “Our community’s complicity in the human nightmare in Gaza should fill every American Jew with shame. The first step toward ending that complicity is to stop lying to ourselves.”

Portman joins a cohort of famous Jewish-American women, including the comedian Sarah Silverman (whose sister is a rabbi in Israel), who are unafraid to question Israel’s policies of injustice and human rights violations, in what I and the American journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin hope is a growing “spirit of intersectional resistance”.

Long may it continue.

  •  Rabbi Leah Jordan is Liberal Judaism’s student chaplain


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