This Is not about Natalie Portman

Michael Lesher argues that talking about Portman’s refusal to visit Israel to receive a prize provides a useful distraction from thinking about Israel’s murders of Gazans

This article first appeared in The Forward and is reprinted by permission

Come on, folks. Since when is one actress’s discomfort about sharing a stage with Israel’s blood-stained prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, more newsworthy than the Israeli atrocities against Gaza that presumably spurred it? (And let’s face it, these are just the most recent horrors in Israel’s war on the 2 million inmates of the world’s largest concentration camp.)

Since when does a cancelled award ceremony take precedence over murdered children and defenceless demonstrators getting their legs blown off?

And what sort of Jewish media, or public intellectuals, would have more to say about one performer’s refusal to be window dressing for Israel’s latest crimes than about the crimes themselves?

But — oh, if only these were rhetorical questions!

Since March 30, when Israel undertook the systematic killing of unarmed demonstrators at the Gaza prison fence (some 17 protesters were executed that day alone), Jewish publications have resorted to almost any trick — no matter how cynical — to avoid facing the facts about the unfolding massacre.

Which should command our attention, the killing of a Palestinian Cameraman or Natalie Portman
Which should command our attention, the killing of a Palestinian Cameraman or Natalie Portman

In fact, the first significant analysis of the carnage in Forward took the form of an inquiry into “the Palestinian publicity machine” that, we were told, “kicked into high gear” once “the body count and the number of injured rose.” Get it? The trouble wasn’t the IDF’s premeditated murder of Gazan protesters; it wasn’t Israel’s inhuman siege, which has rendered Gaza all but unlivable. No, as ex-ambassador Michael Oren claimed, the problem was that Israel didn’t properly “prepare the media” — meaning, perhaps, that reporters weren’t told in advance that “there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” as Avigdor Lieberman (Israel’s nightclub-bouncer-turned-Bully-in-Chief) would afterwards explain. You know — a little genocidal logic can go a long way.

Read also: Dear Natalie Portman, your liberal Zionism won’t save your Jewish values

Orthodox media agreed with the Forward: the banner atop the April 11 issue of Ami Magazine read, “Gaza Riots: Who’s Winning the PR War?” Inside, Palestinians were depicted as “extremists” who are forever “calculating the logistics required to push every last Jew into the sea.” As for the “alleged” violence against “30 Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded,” Ami worried only about whether so many maimed bodies might amount to “a winning strategy” for Hamas. PR-wise, you understand.

Gaza ignored and ignored

Mainstream organizations were no less resourceful at ignoring the facts in Gaza. Keeping to the leftward end of the spectrum — let’s not even mention the cheerleading for the killings to be found on the right — what was one to think when Tzipi Livni publicly thanked J Street’s annual conference this month for defending Israel from criticism over its targeting of protesters with live ammunition? Not to mention this chestnut, delivered in the same speech:

I also know the ethical code of the IDF [Israel Defence Forces]. So if a soldier breaks that ethical code or violates the law, he is prosecuted and punished and I want you to know that because the state of Israel, with the values that it represents, does not and should not tolerate it.

Remember, this was the same Tzipi Livni who boasted of directing Israeli soldiers to use “real hooliganism” in Gaza during the Cast Lead slaughter of 2008-2009. How did the J Street leadership respond to Livni’s nauseating hypocrisy, while still more Palestinians were being gunned down along the Gaza prison wall? With the honorable exception of Zoe Goldblum, president of J Street U, they — and the rest of the “Zionist left” — just sat on their hands.

And so it went. Until — well, until you-know-who did you-know-what.

Now the floodgates are open; at last Jewish pundits have plenty of rewarding topics to chew on, none of them requiring any actual reporting about Israel’s war on Gaza. Such as: Is the Jerusalem-born actress secretly an instrument of Hamas propaganda? (Boy, that Hamas must have tentacles everywhere; my hate mail accuses me, too, of working for Hamas.) Or was she somehow duped by boycott proponents? Should she be stripped of her Israeli citizenship? (After all, what Israeli citizen in her right mind expects Israel’s government to obey international law?) For that matter — is she an anti-Semite in disguise? Forward’s Jane Eisner even questioned whether the actress would have done better to express her misgivings at the award ceremony itself — and held up Elie Wiesel, who publicly blamed Gazans for the massacre of their children during Operation Protective Edge, as a moral model for her to emulate. Comment seems superfluous.

But really, now. Does anyone actually believe that Natalie Portman is worth more news coverage and punditry than all those killed in Gaza over the last three weeks put together?

Or is this just one more way of changing the subject — a speciality of Israeli hasbara whenever the going gets rough? (Like, when protesters burn tires in the hope that the smoke will make it harder for Israeli snipers to murder them, and the propagandists fret about Palestinians causing an “ecological catastrophe”…)

Bullets that mangle limbs

Since my own answers should be obvious by now, and since some Jewish publication editors may be reading this, let me propose a couple of recent items that might deserve attention, whenever the frisson of the Portman story subsides. • Mounting evidence suggests that the IDF is using particularly destructive bullets on Gaza protesters, designed to mangle a limb so completely as to require amputation. If so, this is a sinister development that demands investigation into who has ordered such tactics, and why. • Israel’s forces have just killed another Palestinian child, 15-year-old Mohammed Ayoub. This brings to four the number of children killed during the Gaza protests over the last few weeks. Israel’s public explanation for Ayoub’s killing is that he got too close to what Israel euphemistically calls “the security fence.” Defence Minister Lieberman predictably went farther, claiming the boy was really a front for “the leaders of Hamas” (it’s always Hamas) to “continue digging attack tunnels and carrying out terror attacks against the State of Israel.” Since, as everyone knows, there have been no “terror attacks” during the protests, and since in addition not a single attack on Israeli civilians has ever been made from one of Gaza’s tunnels, the circumstances of this unarmed child’s killing might merit some honest reporting.

These are just two of the obvious candidates for up-to-the-moment journalism — that is, for anyone interested in describing what is actually happening in Gaza, not just how some Jewish celebrities may be reacting to it. And, of course, there’s the criminal siege of some 2 million people — half of them children, 100,000 of them homeless — who are robbed of drinkable water, electricity and medical care every day of their lives: a topic that might be worth some attention too. And not just because the siege could tarnish Israel’s “PR.” And meanwhile, please, let’s not talk about Natalie Portman. Not while apartheid, ethnic cleansing and periodic mass murder — as inflicted on today’s Gaza — are in full flower in the so-called Jewish State.



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