It’s hardly surprising that rightwing Israel supporters are hurling invective at Natalie Portman for her refusal to attend a prize ceremony in Israel because Prime Minister Netanyahu was to share the stage, and she is distressed by Israeli “atrocities” in Gaza. The Israeli-born actress has betrayed the Jewish “family.” She is aiding anti-Semites. She has “absurd, uninformed, inaccurate, dangerous views on Israel”– Portman, who helped Alan Dershowitz write The Case for Israel 15 years ago and recently directed a movie of an Amos Oz novel.
More interesting is the divide among liberal Zionists over Portman’s decision to boycott the ceremony. Jane Eisner of the Forward accuses Portman of seeking to “salve her conscience” and “escape social opprobrium” by turning away from the country, rather than engaging it by going to the ceremony and speaking her mind.
Eisner’s concern is that Portman has given permission to other liberal Zionists, who have been weathering “social opprobrium” in leftwing circles because of their support for Israel, to turn away.
That is the real impact of Portman’s bravery; she has put pressure on other liberal Zionists who are critical of the Netanyahu government to take action against him. No wonder her move has been embraced by many on her left who support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
Ron Kampeas reports at JTA that Portman’s action “has resonated like no similar statement in decades.” And though the Israeli government is going haywire, with ministers accusing Portman of borderline anti-Semitism, liberal Zionists feel that there is hope for a leftwing Jewish nationalism after all.
Jill Jacobs, the director of T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights groups, said Portman provided relief from the squeeze that liberal Zionists feel from both sides.
Debra Shushan of Peace Now enthuses that Portman has renewed the left in Israel politically:
““While the far left and right are bent on mischaracterizing Portman’s stance as BDS, we take her at her word. Natalie Portman is more dangerous [to Netanyahu] than the BDS movement because she can’t be dismissed as an anti-Zionist Israel hater.”
But other liberal Zionists are plainly uncomfortable with Portman’s stance because it isolates Israel. Jane Eisner’s advice — swallow your outrage and stand up to Netanyahu personally — is indistinguishable from neoconservative Josh Block (link) or “progressive” Hen Mazzig.
Jerry Haber writes at Facebook that Portman will sort out the real liberal Zionists from the pretenders:
[T]he real split that is occurring is not between liberal Zionists and leftwing anti-Zionists — that’s old news — but between liberal Zionists and liberal Zionists. We may start talking soon about the Portman litmus test, If you are critical of the Occupation but disturbed by Portman’s cancellation because of how it may be interpreted by others, then you qualify as a illiberal liberal Zionist. If, however, you are cheering her decision lustily and don’t give a hoot for the interpretations, you qualify as a truly liberal Zionist. Or: if you condemn unequivocally the IDF’s conduct in Gaza over the last few week, then you are truly a liberal Zionist. If, on the other hand, you are uncomfortable about the conduct but don’t like others outside the tribe criticizing it, you are an illiberal liberal Zionist.
So Portman is setting the bar for other liberal Zionists, to actually strike a blow against Israeli atrocities. Mairav Zonszein:
Just imagine the possibilities if more and more famous and privileged Israelis and American Jews refused merely to cooperate with the racist and violent leadership
I imagine that the pressure is most intense on centrists like Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street. He has to cover both flanks, the Jane Eisner/Tzipi Livni diehard Zionist flank, and all the young Jews in his organization who are clamoring for real pressure on Israel. He has been only mildly critical of the Gaza shootings. Now he supports Portman even as he seems to want her to engage openly with the Israeli government:
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.
Further, they should think seriously about why a prominent and proud Israeli-American might be so distressed by the situation in Israel today
Another centrist, Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum, expresses keen sympathy with Portman as a lover-of-Israel; and warns the country’s leaders, you aint seen nothin yet.
There is this incorrect notion among many Israelis that American Jews who are turned off from Israel either are inveterate Israel haters, or are so disconnected from Israel and Judaism that it doesn’t really matter… The Natalie Portman saga is the ultimate cautionary tale, because it demonstrates just how wrong this is…
If the Israeli govt thinks this will just go away, or it can just be waited out, and that there will be no longterm consequences for its relationship with American Jewry or for American support for Israel, then they are ostriches with their heads in the sand
Zack Beauchamp sees the same future. At Vox, he observes that the tensions between young liberal American Jews and Israel are “boiling over.”
This is why prominent Israeli politicians — who are, notably, right-wing — have called for her citizenship to be stripped, or tried to marginalize her as somehow anti-Semitic. They worry, not without cause, that she’s a harbinger of future conflict between Israel and its most important international ally…
So long as Israel continues its rightward drift, incidents like this will almost certainly become more and more common.
I would go further and say that recent events– Gaza, the Jerusalem embassy, and the jailing of Ahed Tamimi for eight months for slapping a soldier — have caused many young American Jews to want out of Zionism. At J Street I heard such a person call for “delegitimization” of the idea of a Jewish state. By taking action, and risking a lot personally by doing so, Portman will inspire a lot of these young people to confront the so-called leaders of the Jewish community. Once again, the non-Zionist group IfNotNow is leading the liberal pressure inside that community.
While the president of the Zionist Organization of America is busy spewing sexist garbage, we will continue to be the leaders our community actually deserves.
American Jews: Which side are you on? pic.twitter.com/CheKjklgFs
— IfNotNow (@IfNotNowOrg) April 25, 2018