Opinion

How Seth Rogen’s serious concerns about human rights and Zionism have turned into dispiriting Jewish shtik

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The Seth Rogen story is really one of the more dispiriting stories we’ve ever covered on this site, and I need to say why.

Last week, of course, the Hollywood actor and producer did a podcast with a comedian, Marc Maron, in which he said that Israel “makes no sense,” that the Jewish state is an “antiquated,” “ridiculous” idea and that Jews are safer being spread out, not collected. Also: Rogen said he had been fed a “huge” number of lies about Israel in Jewish day school in Vancouver, including that there were no Palestinians in Israel and that the door was just open for Jews to rebuild a homeland.

These are all very serious statements. And Rogen said, “I’m afraid of Jews” in making them. Because that’s who would come down on him. Even though he ought to have autonomy, as a famous Jew.

We were the first to report the comments, and our traffic exploded, and Seth Rogen trended on Twitter. He began walking it back then, saying people didn’t know how to take a joke, and the quotes were out of context.

Then Isaac Herzog the head of the Jewish Agency (and former Labor party leader in the Israeli parliament) got in touch with Rogen’s mother in Canada, by letter, and she reached out to her son, and Rogen had a long discussion with Herzog, and Herzog tweeted that Rogen had “apologized” for his comments.

Then Rogen gave a long interview to Haaretz in which he said he had not apologized to Herzog, but: “I don’t want Jews to think I don’t want Israel to exist and I understand how they could have been led to think that.”

Seth Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg attend the "Good Boys" Premiere 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW)
Seth Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg attend the “Good Boys” Premiere 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW)

The thrust of the interview with Haaretz is that Israel is a good complex fascinating place and yes his Jewish day school didn’t tell him the whole truth. But Rogen’s parents met on a kibbutz, Beit Alfa, and Rogen himself met his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, in bar mitzvah class, so, as reporter Allison Kaplan Sommer put it, “See, if not for Judaism, where would you be?”

One lesson of the story is that Rogen is plainly afraid of other Jews, as he said. Some day I will write a whole article about Jewish pressure I have felt over the years, from Eric Breindel the neocon getting me to stay away from Israel in college to my old friend and editor Peter Kaplan asking me whether I was also a Holocaust denier to my mother answering any criticism of Israel with the line, “You have to talk to Golda,” her dear friend who lived in Israel, who ultimately told me I was critical because I hadn’t worked out my father issues and my literary career was a bust. These are real forces; and it is important to talk about the Jewish mishpocheh, or extended family, to try and give Seth Rogen some solidarity. Not now.

It is probably also true that Rogen felt industrial pressure to shut the fuck up. He has a new Jewish-themed movie coming out, “An American Pickle,” and Haaretz said he had potentially alienated some of his target audience with his comments to Maron. It’s not hard to imagine Rogen’s agent or fellow producer telling him he had to walk the comments back because folks in Hollywood would be upset.

That’s not why this story is so dispiriting. It is dispiriting because a very serious discussion about Israel’s human rights abuses has been turned into a Jewish farce about a Jewish comic’s mother and the head of an international Jewish organization and all the great Jewish culture that made Seth Rogen the actor we know and love… No doubt Jewish culture formed Seth Rogen and his parents, and his comedy too. Wonderful.

But Rogen wasn’t talking about Jewish culture; he was talking about the depredations and ideological bankruptcy of the Jewish state, which is a Political Entity recognized as a valid state by most other countries in the world… And which has nukes and a captive population of millions of occupied Palestinians with no rights.

It’s scary to think that leaders of this state with such grave powers makes an international incident out of — a Hollywood actor criticizing it? Are these people really so thin-skinned? Imagine how they would treat an actual real threat… I suppose they care because propaganda is everything to Israel, and because some Jewish cultural celebrity is more important to Israel than international law. So maybe the Israelis should get out of the governing business and fall back on the Jewish culture business…

It’s scary to think too, that Jews with cultural power (Haaretz, other writers covering this as farce) then allow this discussion to devolve into a question of what Seth Rogen did or didn’t get out of his Jewish education.

And the people who were actually the source of Rogen’s discomfort in that interview, the Palestinians, who were ethnically cleansed, including by the kibbutz where his parents met, are completely absent from the story. So they really get cleansed twice. First from the land. Then from Seth Rogen’s stated concerns about Israel.

This really is disturbing. And it shows again that any discussion of the Israel question that limits itself to Jews, no matter how smart or funny or compassionate they are, is going to become a joke or a distraction or a charade in about ten minutes. The only real discussion of this question has to include Palestinian voices.

Thanks to Scott Roth, James North, Adam Horowitz and Allison Deger.

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it’s better to tell the truth then muddy it up, than to never tell the truth at all.

Which is why I think it’s worse than a distraction to discuss nonsense like the whole “ancestral homeland of the Jews” stuff. More and more I think the proper response to people who bring this up is “yeah, sure, Israel is the ancient homeland of the Jews, whatever you say. What about making people homeless?” https://icahd.org/2020/08/05/july-2020-demolition-and-displacement-report/

Thank you Philip Weiss for this update – disappointing as it is. But if Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t overcome the slander (called anti-semitism) despite his years having to deal with much Tory party muck throwing at him, then it is hardly likely that a newbie in this endeavor of trying to speak truth to power will not buckle at the knees. The pressure will have been great (and not only the familial). Well, I guess work… Read more »

A student of Moses pursues justice (“Justice, Justice shall you pursue”). Seth Rogan is a victim of an extortion racket (“Or you’ll never work in this town again”). Perhaps there’s a neurotic comedy bit in that dissonance.

Poor Seth; I bet he thinks twice before he ever tries to speak to truth to power again.