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Natalie Portman opens a BDS Pandora’s Box for liberal Zionists

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Natalie Portman’s recent decision not to attend the Israeli Genesis Prize ceremony has made loud noise across the world.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev said that she “was very sorry to hear that Portman fell like a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters” and Minister of Strategic Affairs and Hasbara, Gilad Erdan invoked the Star Wars analogy in response to her move: “Anakin Skywalker, a character you know well from Star Wars, went through a similar process. He began to believe that the Jedi knights were evil, and that the forces of the Dark Side were the defenders of democracy. I call on you not to let the Dark Side win”, he wrote.

For her part Portman tried to distance herself to some degree from the actual BDS movement in a subsequent statement:

“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 [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] 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”, she wrote.

Still, Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev depicted Portman as a ‘canary in the coal mine’:

“Despite her effort to diminish the significance of her move, Portman is like a canary in the coal mine for liberal supporters of Israel everywhere. Her decision dovetails with, and could very well deepen, the growing disaffection of the Democratic left from Trump-toting Israel and its policies. It could jolt many Israel-supporting liberal Jews, who have hitherto kept their opposition to Netanyahu and his policies to themselves, to speak up, perhaps to cross the line into pro-boycott agitation altogether,” he wrote. (His Haaretz piece was also re-published by the Forward under the heading “Natalie Portman Is Biggest Canary In Israel’s Coal Mine”).

We are already seeing this “jolt” in action among liberal supporters of Israel in the United States.

Let’s look at J Street, one of the most prominent ‘liberal-Zionst’ groups in the US.

On its official statement, J Street declares:

1) “We do not advocate for or support any boycott, divestment or sanctions initiative whatsoever”

2) “J Street has always been and remains opposed to the Global BDS Movement”

But still –

3) “We do not oppose boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory beyond the Green Line.”

J Street’s language here adheres to a line of thinking in ‘liberal-Zionist’ circles concerning BDS which advocates for a “selective boycott” aimed solely at Israeli activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

But even with this in mind, this is how J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami responded to Portman’s recent move:

“Natalie Portman has every right to listen to her conscience and express her concerns when it comes to the current policies and direction of Israel and its government — concerns that are shared by so many American Jews and supporters of Israel around the world. Instead of responding to her decision with indignation, Israeli officials and supporters of Israel should respect this right and encourage Portman to speak out openly and honestly”, he said.

Ben Ami hedges with “concerns” regarding “current policies and direction of Israel and its government”, but it cannot go unnoticed that he is supporting an act which is a direct opposition to the whole of the state of Israel, as it directly and explicitly targets its head of state. Portman’s act is not focusing upon “occupied territory beyond the Green Line”. This is not “selective boycott”. Has J Street suddenly changed policy because it’s a prominent ‘liberal Zionist’ doing the boycotting?

Another prominent ‘Liberal Zionist’ organization, Peace Now, has now started a Portman-support campaign called “I’m with her”, saying: “Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, equality, and the abuse of power.”

Wait a minute – Chemi Shalev disparagingly wrote that Portman has become “a new poster girl for the anti-Zionist left and the BDS movement” – but now it appears she has become a poster girl for the ‘liberal-Zionists’ too!

What is going on here?

What is happening is, that Natalie Portman has created an opening – possibly and probably unwittingly so.

She wanted to make a stand against Netanyahu himself, as if he was a sole representative and cause of the “recent events” which have “distressed” her – but you cannot separate Netanyahu from his position as Prime Minister, neither can you separate the Prime Minister office from the State of Israel, nor can you separate Israeli policy today from its history, which is completely to do with Zionism, and starts way before Netanyahu was born. It’s all connected.

Portman may have been acting on instinct to some degree, experiencing a “selective” fit of repulsion at this point in time; and she might have thought that her act would be read to be aimed solely against Netanyahu and the right-wing in Israel. But her act is in fact targeting the whole of Israel from its top down, non-selectively so, whether she likes it or not.

This is a Pandora’s Box. And it’s not just a match between those who avidly oppose BDS and those who support it. This is hitting the middle – the ‘liberal-Zionists’ — who have at best wanted a ‘selective boycott’ and are now endorsing a boycott of the Israeli government.

The ‘liberal-Zionists’ who are rushing to her protection against right-wing accusations of treachery, anti-Semitism and what not, have to protect her right to “speak out openly and honestly”, and to “stand up against violence, corruption, equality, and the abuse of power.” So even ‘Liberal-Zionists’ are now effectively endorsing the targeting of the Israeli state as a whole for it’s actions and policies.

The taboo of “selective boycotts” has been effectively shattered – by the ‘center’.

If Portman indeed is a ‘canary in a coal mine’ as Shalev suggested, and if this ‘coal mine’ is indeed about boycott of Israel, and the canary lives, then the notion of boycott of the state of Israel as a one unified entity has been justified.

In the mythology of Pandora, after she opened the box, a swarm of troubles escaped, and by the time Pandora managed to close it again, there was only one thing left – Elpis, representing hope.

The taboos have escaped Natalie Portman’s box, they cannot be put back. But there is now hope, that we may finally call a spade a spade.

About Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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18 Responses

  1. echinococcus
    echinococcus
    April 23, 2018, 1:42 pm

    3) “We do not oppose boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory beyond the Green Line.”

    There’s absolutely no contradiction between this LibZio maneuver and their Portman protest that only targets a Likud leader.

    But her act is in fact targeting the whole of Israel from its top down, non-selectively so, whether she likes it or not.

    Not at all. One wonders which facts allow you to make that up. It has been very explicitly stated by that actress that her only objection is to the Yahoo’s presence. Far from being “the whole of Israel”, he represents the rival gang of Zionists, ie those who are too uncouth and illiberal and give the game away, so endangering the future of the Zionist colonial cancer in Palestine (which is more competently defended by the Lib-nazionists of J-street.)

    This is a Pandora’s Box.

    Any evidence of unintended consequences? On the contrary, it looks exactly as calculated poneying for a relative political advantage by the Lib-nazionists.

    • rhkroell
      rhkroell
      April 23, 2018, 10:44 pm

      I am certainly not a “liberal Zionist” (by any definition you may choose to employ) or any other kind of Zionist (qualified by any adjective whatsoever). I am not a Zionist. Period. Never have been.

      I have also already made it clear in previous comments that I believe that the so-called two-state solution is dead and buried — dismantled (or razed if you prefer) by the criminal expansionist policies of the Zionist state over the past 51 years. Beyond that, I think the one-state (or bi-national) solution is, at best, quite simply a utopian idea with little or no chance of ever succeeding. I’d prefer to see the economic and military hegemon(s) of the current (or future) world system create some little itty bitty Zionist enclaves around the world (including one in Palestine called Israel), walled enclaves with sophisticated defense systems designed to thwart terrorist attacks.

      Having outlined my preferred “solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in radically simplistic terms above, I must say that I believe boycotting the Israeli Genesis Prize ceremony by a highly-celebrated Israeli-American actress — no less than Natalie Portman herself — is a gift that all BDS activists should celebrate and embrace with open arms. I would even agree with Jonathan’s proposition that Natalie’s boycott has indeed opened a Pandora’s box. This is a major coup for the Palestinian people and their supporters around the world! Don’t try and diminish the symbolic implications of her gesture. Zionists are not going to hand Palestine back to the Palestinian people on a silver platter. This is a protracted struggle. Celebrate minor triumphs. Don’t be so monomaniacal in your ideology.

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        April 24, 2018, 11:33 am

        Kroell,

        Very well said!

        Don’t try and diminish the symbolic implications of her gesture. Zionists are not going to hand Palestine back to the Palestinian people on a silver platter. This is a protracted struggle. Celebrate minor triumphs. Don’t be so monomaniacal in your ideology.

        There are two ways to use minor (or major) triumphs and build on them. One is uncritical glee and exaggeration, hoping that things are generally seen that way in society at large. The other is a critical examination of exactly what is happening, in order to identify how exactly to leverage it.

        By all means, one should encourage Ms Portman to stand fast and we must try to exacerbate the conflict among Zionists. It’s just that I don’t believe it’s useful to deceive ourselves.

      • Misterioso
        Misterioso
        April 24, 2018, 3:39 pm

        https://mail.yahoo.com/d/folders/1/messages/AHnS4DUKPWU_Wt94oQpr-LdMl64

        “Natalie Portman and the Anti-Semitism Smear by Mohamed Mohamed”

        The Jerusalem Fund, April 24/18

        “The oldest trick in the Zionist handbook is to quickly allege anti-Semitism against people who speak out or take a position that is even in the slightest opposition to the state of Israel, its leaders, or its many oppressive policies. This is a smear tactic that is meant to paint the person speaking out as a bigot or racist, which of course can undermine their perceived credibility and integrity.

        “The ruthlessness of this tactic is apparent when considering the fact that Jews, and even Israeli Jews, are not immune to this attack. For criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestinians and repression of their rights, Senator Bernie Sanders was blasted as a ‘sick man’ and a ‘self-hating Jew’ by a Jewish-American conservative talk radio host. Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist who writes for Haaretz and frequently advocates for the rights of Palestinians, was labeled in an Israeli newspaper as a self-hating Jew who has ‘surpassed them all.’

        “The latest victim of this assault is the Israeli-American, Jerusalem-born, and Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman. In November of 2017, she was awarded the ‘Genesis Prize,’ which has been described as ‘the Jewish Nobel.’

        “This prize is meant to honor ‘extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement and commitment to the Jewish people and Jewish values, such as social justice, tolerance and charity.’

        “An awards ceremony was scheduled for June 28. However, a representative for Portman informed the Genesis Prize Foundation that ‘recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,’ and that ‘she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.’

        “Presumably, this decision is alluding to recent Israeli aggression against unarmed protesters in Gaza, which has left at least 39 people dead and over 4,000 injured. These Palestinians have been protesting for four weeks in what has been called the ‘Great March of Return,’ with demonstrators calling on the Right of Return to their homeland based on UN Resolution 194, which was passed almost 70 years ago in 1948. Protesters are also trying to draw attention to their horrid living conditions in Gaza, which has been under a cruel Israeli siege since 2007, and which is frequently referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

        “From the Israeli point of view, concerns about Israeli brutality against unarmed Palestinian protestors are unacceptable. But any human being with a conscience would take issue with snipers firing upon unarmed civilians trapped in what amounts to a cage, and who pose no physical threat to Israeli forces anyway.

        “It is worth noting that Portman never even mentioned Gaza, and that after the backlash from Israelis, she decided to clarify that she made this decision in order to avoid appearing as if she was endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was supposed to give a speech at the ceremony. It was not because of pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which she does not endorse.

        “Last November in a statement after the award announcement, Portman said, ‘I am proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage; they are crucial parts of who I am.’ Portman is not a right-wing Zionist, but she is undoubtedly a liberal Zionist and a firm supporter of Israel.
        Despite this, Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources, Yuval Steinitz, said that Portman’s decision to boycott the awards ceremony ‘bordered on anti-Semitism.’ Oren Hazan, another right-wing member of the Israeli parliament, called on the government to revoke Portman’s Israeli citizenship.

        “Once again, like clockwork, we see the vicious personal attacks against anyone who dares to speak out against Israeli government policies. It does not matter that the person speaking out is in fact a supporter of Israel. Dissent is intolerable, even if the dissenter happens to be a Jewish Israeli. And if the dissenter happens to be anyone else, or even worse, a Palestinian, the attacks are guaranteed to be much more malicious.

        “Rachel Azaria, a more centrist member of the Israeli parliament, warned that Portman’s decision is a sign that support for Israel is decreasing among younger American Jews. She is correct, and this observation has been noted by others in recent times. In fact, a leader of the Jewish Agency recently described this trend as ‘extremely worrisome.’ This is why such baseless charges of anti-Semitism and other personal attacks may continue to increase, because Israel is slowly but surely becoming more unable to defend its oppressive behavior, which is in violation of international law.

        “Back in 2002 while Natalie Portman was a student at Harvard University, she wrote a letter to the editors of the university’s newspaper in which she criticized another writer’s characterization of Israel’s behavior as apartheid. She wrote that ‘Outrageous and untrue finger-pointing is a childish tactic that disregards the responsibility of all parties involved.’ Ironically, she is now being subjected to outrageous finger-pointing tactics that she once complained about, except from the Israeli side. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call of how Israel deals with those who dare to speak out.”

    • Jonathan Ofir
      Jonathan Ofir
      April 24, 2018, 1:59 am

      Echinococcus, I repeat:
      “Ben Ami hedges with “concerns” regarding “current policies and direction of Israel and its government”, but it cannot go unnoticed that he is supporting an act which is a direct opposition to the whole of the state of Israel, as it directly and explicitly targets its head of state. Portman’s act is not focusing upon “occupied territory beyond the Green Line”. This is not “selective boycott”. Has J Street suddenly changed policy because it’s a prominent ‘liberal Zionist’ doing the boycotting?” –

      You opine that it is not the whole state – only the head of state – but boycotting the head of state is not like selective boycotting of settlements – he represents the whole state, not just the settlements.

      Yousef Munayyer made a similar point in his ‘open letter’ to Portman in the Forward:
      “I think I’m on safe footing when I surmise that your issue with Netanyahu is not personal. It is not about his choice of hair dye or persistent use of lame gimmicks and sound bites during his speeches, but about the politics and policies he embodies — policies which violate international law and the basic rights of Palestinians, executed by the Israeli state every day. And in refusing to condone these policies and their champion, you are signaling that you recognize that the Israeli state doesn’t believe that their policies are a problem.”
      https://forward.com/opinion/399400/actually-natalie-portman-you-are-practicing-bds/

      I actually had this section in the draft at first, but it was reduced for brevity.

      The “unintended consequences” is that if you see how this is a boycotting that is not selective as I had mentioned, then the ‘liberal-Zionists’ who advocated for selective boycott are now supporting her in non-selective boycott.

      You appear to disagree with the notion that it’s ‘non-selective’, but in no way did the notion of selective boycotts mean to select a Minister, or even head of state, as a target for ‘selective boycott’.
      And if you target a head of state for their state policy, you target the state.

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        April 24, 2018, 2:47 am

        Ofir,

        Probably I wasn’t clear enough, so you got a wrong impression of my objection.
        You look at it as if this were some act of “boycott” as we understand the act of opposing Zionist occupation. I’m saying that this is no boycott at all but merely one more internal spat between the “rightwing” genocidaires and the “liberal/human-faced” genocidaires.

        The fact that the PM represents the country’s government is not more significant here than with the uncountable public acts of disrespect in the US by the coalition of the Democrats and Liberals and Warrepublicans and the CIA towards Trump, who after all is also head of state (unimportant edit to your text: the Yahoo is head of the government, the head of state in the Zionist entity is the President.)

        Of course everybody, his brother, and Mounayyer too, tries to present things favorably and they are fully justified in trying to nudge this apparently famous actress towards anti-Zionist commitment or BDS etc. Right now, however, all we have are clear statements that don’t leave room for that kind of interpretation: all we have for now is the usual rivalry between two brands of the same abomination (as with Jstreet vs AIPAC, Sanders warmongering vs Yahoo warmongering, other intra-Jewish but all-Zionist Dim vs Puke theater, and the very many tiring examples of this stupid good cop-bad cop show.)

        [Besides, the Zionist “BDS” which is still a ball and chain on the official boycott movement cannot include the shunning of representatives of the state or a culture or academic boycott. That much is obvious. Generally your analyses are more accurate.]

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      April 24, 2018, 10:45 am

      https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/natalie-portman-real-story-180423142753277.html

      “Why Natalie Portman is not the real story.”

      “Something much more important is happening than Portman’s decision not to attend a prize ceremony in Israel.” By Catherine Rottenberg – Al Jazeera, April 23/18

      EXCERPT:
      “Natalie Portman is no anti-Zionist. She has a long history of supporting Israel and has often been described as a liberal Zionist. Let’s not forget that she directed and starred in, A Tale of Love and Darkness, expressing her immense admiration for Amos Oz, an iconic Zionist and one of Israel’s best novelists.

      “Yet, Portman’s decision not to travel to Jerusalem to receive the Genesis Prize has, not surprisingly, generated a violent and vitriolic response from the Israeli government and many right-wing politicians. There are calls to revoke her citizenship as well as lots of name-calling: from ‘naive’ through ‘hypocrite’ to bordering on being anti-Semitic.

      “On the other side of the political spectrum, supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement maintain that despite her claims otherwise, Portman is unwittingly endorsing BDS, since her refusal to participate in the prize ceremony is related to the politics and institutions of the Israeli state. BDS, after all, is not about boycotting individuals or Israelis per se but, rather, state institutions.

      “In order to prove these assertions wrong, Portman explained her decision to withdraw from the prize ceremony, announcing that she will shortly be naming the Israeli charities to which she plans to donate.

      “These predictable reactions, which have drawn an immense amount of media coverage, should not obscure the real issues involved in Portman’s unanticipated announcement. While she has managed to stir public controversy because of her fame, this story is more about the changing conditions that have pushed her to make this decision than the decision itself. Three developments on the ground are particularly important.”

  2. Citizen
    Citizen
    April 23, 2018, 1:49 pm

    Really? I don’t see any pundits on US mainstream news telling us that attacking Trump has opened up the pandora ‘s box about all our corrupt institutions and the wo=party system. Do you?

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      April 23, 2018, 2:01 pm

      two party system

      • pabelmont
        pabelmont
        April 23, 2018, 3:33 pm

        woe-party system. So far. recently.

    • inbound39
      inbound39
      April 23, 2018, 10:51 pm

      If there is a Pandora’s Box to be opened it will be the one Palestinians are attempting to open by charging the Zionist Regime of Racism and Discrimination. If proven it will open the door to reimpose the Resolution Banning Zionism that previously was overturned.

    • Jonathan Ofir
      Jonathan Ofir
      April 24, 2018, 2:05 am

      Citizen, Netanyahu is being ‘attacked’ all the time in Israeli political debate. But this is different. Portman, while being also an Israeli citizen, was supposed to be coming essentially as a Jew who lives abroad, to receive a ceremonial prize where Netanyahu would be there as a ceremonial representation of Israel.
      She didn’t want any association with him in that context. But it can’t be reduced to the person Netanyahu. Because he represents Israel in the most literal way.

  3. echinococcus
    echinococcus
    April 23, 2018, 1:49 pm

    The poster, recycled from the one supporting the election of a career criminal against humanity and a Zionist warmonger, already tells you who the actors will be in this campaign for gentler, kinder genocidaires.

  4. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    April 23, 2018, 2:41 pm

    I wonder how Yaacov Lozowik is these days. He was featured in Mondo in 2014.

    “Yaacov Lozowick is the state archivist of Israel. A scholar who moved to Israel from Europe, he is a true believer in the necessity of Jewish nationalism. Scott Roth and I once met him in West Jerusalem and had a polite conversation that became adversarial when it was continued on email subsequently.
    Yaacov has an active twitter account in which he trumpets Israel; and on August 4 he tweeted:
    Lesson of this war: The Jews will defend themselves even if it means killing children. Just like every warring nation in history.”

    It’s very hard to sell that line to ordinary people in the West. Ms Portman knows that.

    • eljay
      eljay
      April 23, 2018, 3:13 pm

      || Maghlawatan: … ” … Yaacov has an active twitter account in which he trumpets Israel; and on August 4 he tweeted:
      Lesson of this war: The Jews will defend themselves even if it means killing children. Just like every warring nation in history.” … ||

      Impressive: Yaacov’s brief sentiment manages to incorporate…
      – anti-Semitic conflation of Israel with Jews and Jews with Israel;
      – whataboutism; and
      – the Zionist tenet Jews are entitled to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them.

      That particular tenet’s stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming: Zionists like Yaacov would waste no time condemning – and, for good measure, accusing of anti-Semitism and “Jew hatred” – anyone who suggested that it’s acceptable for warring Palestinians to kill Jewish children in self-defence.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      April 23, 2018, 3:25 pm

      “The Jews will defend themselves even if it means killing children.”

      Now, there’s a great line for a Zionist to take. Have any of them ever learned to count past 23?

  5. JWalters
    JWalters
    April 23, 2018, 6:51 pm

    “Because I care about Israel” – Natalie Portman

    The Israel Natalie cares about is an Israel that’s in her mind, an image of an ideal, an aspiration. An occupation was sold to her as being that ideal. This may have been a deliberate deception. e.g. http://warprofiteerstory.blogspot.com
    Due to the internet it’s harder and harder to keep secrets like this.

    The subjegation of ideals to money is seen when
    “Rabbis want to criticize Israel but fear donors (and NYT buries the news)”
    http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/rabbis-criticize-donors

  6. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    April 24, 2018, 8:08 am

    Natalie Portman using her power and position in an honorable way.
    Always better late than never.
    Shaking it up…

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