Dear Natalie Portman:
I know that you do not support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement.
I know that you love Israel, where you were born.
(I loved you as Amos Oz’s mother in “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”)
I get it. You simply did not want to appear at the Genesis Prize ceremony because Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also going to be present.
This is what you have said.
My decision not to attend the Genesis Prize ceremony has been mischaracterized by others. Let me speak for myself. I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it. Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.
Please do not take any words that do not come directly from me as my own.
This experience has inspired me to support a number of charities in Israel. I will be announcing them soon, and I hope others will join me in supporting the great work they are doing.
Natalie: You should have called me before all this happened. I could have given you some free advice (forgive the hutzpah!).
First, about the Bibi boycott (which we might call the “bibicott”).
I get it. Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu) has pulled some stuff — a lot of stuff — that cause those who love Israel to simply scratch their heads.
But, here is what you need to remember.
In an ideal world, it should be possible for you to simply say: “I love Israel, but I do not like her prime minister, and/or what he has done or failed to do. Therefore, I am not going to show up at the Genesis award ceremony, because he is going to be there.”
Yes, if we lived in an ideal world, that would be fine.
If we lived in a world that understood nuance, and gray areas, and intellectual distinctions, that would be totally cool.
We don’t live in that world. No one understands nuance anymore.
Because, Natalie, the folks on the left see your bibicott as criticizing Israel itself.
The folks on the right, including a Likud government minister, see your bibicott as bordering on anti-Semitism.
They’re wrong, wrong, wrong.
In the United States, you could refuse to appear at an event with a president, and no one would have called you anti-American.
But, sadly, when it comes to Israel, we have lost any kind of nuanced conversations. People misinterpret (perhaps even deliberately) a “dissing” of the prime minister with the dissing of Israel — and even of the Jews.
To quote the title of your wonderful movie: We know that you love. But, people love to find the darkness.
Second, about the meaning of Israel.
Natalie, you said: “Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust.”
I know that you have many survivors in your family.
And, your statement is partially right — because the horrors of the Holocaust gave added urgency to the creation of a Jewish state.
But, the Holocaust was not the reason for the creation of Israel.
As one of my Zionist heroines, Einat Wilf, has written in a tweet on the subject:
As Natalie Portman asked to be judged by her own words, it is worth repeating a thousand times: Israel was NOT created “as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust.” Israel was created so that Jews, as people and nation, could enjoy the universal EQUAL right to self-determination.
Natalie: You are so not an enemy of the state of Israel.
You are a Jew with a conscience.
You could have pulled an Elie Wiesel move (as the late humanitarian did with President Reagan when he appeared at a Nazi cemetery in Bitburg), and called Bibi out publicly for his failures.
You could have channeled Nathan, Elijah — even Amos.
If you had shown up, and gotten the prize money, you would have been able to give it to those Israeli charities that you so admire (which I bet I admire as well).
But, forgive me — you blew it. Now, others are going to take the money, and make their own decisions as to where it will go.
I suspect that neither of us would approve of their decisions.
Natalie: I know what you feel about Israel.
Israel is: where I was born. Where some of my eighteen-year-old friends spend their nights in bunkers sleeping with their helmets on. Where security guards are the only jobs in surplus. Where my grandparents were not born, but where they were saved. Where political parties multiply more quickly than do people. Where to become religious is described as “returning to an answer” and becoming secular “returning to a question.” Where I was born; where my insides refuse to abandon. (From What Israel Means To Me, edited by Alan Dershowitz)
That’s the Natalie Portman I admire.