Sometimes a cluster of unrelated events transpiring in close succession seem to have an invisible dialogue all its own. This past week seems to have been just such a week.
It started with the emotional milestone of modern day Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, with an emotional pinnacle being the prestigious Israel Prize ceremony whose centerpiece was none other than the stirring words of Israel Prize recipient Miriam Peretz.
At the heart of her speech, it almost seemed as though Peretz were conducting a private conversation with fellow Israel Prize recipient, David Grossman.
She is an immigrant from Casablanca, religious, more to the right of Grossman on Israeli politics. He is first and foremost a noted Israeli author, but also outspoken, whose political position is a leftist, often clashing with and even highly critical of government policy.
Both are bereaved parents. Grossman buried a son and Miriam Peretz buried two.
The land has absorbed the blood of each of their kin.
The visage of Grossman during Peretz’s epically loving and wise speech said it all. In case there was any doubt left as to the power of her words truly penetrating all who heard her, including an outspoken author diametrically opposed to her views, Grossman’s and Peretz’s heartfelt hug afterward left no doubt.
This was a moment so rich in humanity, brave and humble and real.
It was also a peak moment showcasing the nobility and the best of what Israeli society can be, and is, even if all too rarely and fleetingly.
On this note, on this incredibly high precious note of very real and vulnerable unity, came the announcement from Natalie Portman that she was reneging on accepting in person the Genesis Prize at an upcoming ceremony in Israel. After many reacted to what felt like a serious betrayal and insult from one of their own, a “Member of the Tribe,” she clarified that her choice stemmed from her dislike of Bibi Netanyahu. No one actually knows her reasoning.
What we can know is that back in November, no one put a gun to Natalie Portman’s head when she was offered the $2 million prize and accepted it. Bibi was prime minister. To dis Israel so rudely and publicly, on her 70th birthday, and at a time when she is already so vulnerable, was a huge mistake and the damage is real.
It also smacks of deep hypocrisy when Portman has had no issue participating in award ceremonies and work projects in China, a government whose signature is human rights abuses.
Possibly, the victory Portman handed on a golden platter to BDS and its philosophical partners was an unintended consequence of someone so disconnected from her people, so desperately wanting to ingratiate herself with an anti-Israel leftist milieu, that it blinded her.
BDS has been pretty clear about the boycotting of Israel, especially endeavoring to halt the visits of visible cultural icons. So whether Portman intended to or not, and from a follow up statement it seems that was not her intention, she was too late. Instantaneously, Portman has become the poster person for anti-Israel activists, including a chilling Al Jazeera video that appeared overnight.
It is upsetting to have someone who sits in the safety of a distant country criticize a government for protecting its borders to ensure that their own citizens can live in the same safety she already enjoys.
But what struck me was the contrast of Natalie Portman’s criticism and statement — which rang very hollow as well as Jewishly vacuous and detached, never mind problematic and shallow, for if she has a moral beef with Israel, isn’t it unethical to come to Israel just for pleasurable pursuits such as dance, food and books? — to the presence, criticism and commitment to Israel of outspoken critic David Grossman.
He paid the highest price. He disagrees strongly with current Israeli policy. But he showed up.
He didn’t decline the prize or make a scene around attending and accepting it. This, even as not two days before the ceremony he didn’t mince words about his concerns for the direction Israel is taking.
Grossman’s political views usually don’t resonate with mine. As a reader of his literature I have great respect for him as an author and writer. Even if I don’t see eye to eye with him on Israeli issues, he is an important voice balancing the Israeli discourse. Not to mention that, heartbreakingly, Grossman paid with the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel and that means protecting us all, including you and me.
Grossman shows how you disagree with Israeli policy. By being part of Israel. Not by throwing Israel under the bus, publicly insulting and humiliating her and essentially buttressing the case of BDS, especially when Israel is so unfairly ostracized already by a community who will not be satisfied until Israel is crushed.
That’s not how you show your love for Israel. That is how you break with Israel.
Another comment in Portman’s statement — something to the effect of Israel being founded 70 years ago as a refuge for survivors of the Holocaust — could not have been more inaccurate. Yes, the unfathomable genocide of the Holocaust no doubt impacted the UN vote to establish Israel. But on the eve of WW II, before the Holocaust, Palestine had over half a million Jews and the city of Tel Aviv was more than 30 years old. Herzl’s dream for a reborn revived modern Israel had already been conceived in the previous century, and students of the Gaon of Vilna had started making their way to the land about 80 years before that.
Yes, indeed, having experienced the Holocaust in our time, the Jewish people regard Israel as that much more precious and poignant and fraught.
Which brings me to the beginning of the column about random events in quick succession that seem to be having a dialogue all their own.
Due to the resurgence of anti-Semitic attacks in Germany only seven decades after the Holocaust, survivors still among us in cities across Germany, in Erfurt, Cologne, Potsdam and Berlin, held the Germany Wears The Kippa event. People of all stripes and faiths marched in the streets of Germany in solidarity with Jews who are once again experience, openly, a rise in anti-Semitism.
Thank G-d for Israel. Thank G-d we have a homeland. Since when is there a perfect society that does not need repair? By all means, what demands repair ought to be repaired. But Israel a home for our people. An incredible home to be proud of that is constantly building, contributing, growing.
So instead of fleeing when times get tough, we need to stick with Israel and stay the course during the good and also during the challenging times.
In the spirit of today’s march in German, to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy and to echo the writings of earlier Yiddishists, now more than ever we need to internalize the words “Ich Bin a Yid” and stand with our people and our country.
Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News