CHULA VISTA, California — Lately, it seems as though Natalie Portman has transformed herself into a human lightning rod. She created a storm of controversy and gave the Palestinians in Gaza far more respectability than they deserved by canceling plans to receive a prestigious Genesis Award in Jerusalem. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this award, the Genesis Prize was originally established in 2012 as a US $1 million award given annually to Jewish people who have attained recognition and excellence in their fields. Initially, she said she did not feel comfortable about participating in public events in Israel. Soon she added that it was because of her disdain of the Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu.
The Genesis Prize Foundation does a tremendous amount of good in the world; this organization promotes women’s rights and other worthy charitable causes. In December, a Jewish philanthropist named Morris Khan donated another million dollars so that Portman could distribute the money as she saw fit. If Portman hedged about whether she wanted to be a recipient or not, she should have responded much earlier when they originally contacted her—and not at the last minute just prior to the award ceremony.
As Jews, we often like to talk about “Tikkun Olam” improving the world. Do we not say every day in our daily prayers, “litakane olam b’malchut Shaddai,” loosely translated as “when the world will be fixed (or “perfected”) under Your rule.” These lofty words call for a thoughtful implementation and engagement with society.
I think Portman had an opportunity to make a substantive difference in the world envisioned by this particular prayer. But by choosing to accentuate her political thoughts, she not only diminished Israel in the eyes of the world—and especially its enemies — she failed to perform an act of goodness for many worthy people.
More seriously, she disrespected the country that raised her. She forgets a valuable Jewish value: “All Jews are guarantors for one another.” Portman disrespected the people, which only wanted an opportunity to take pride in Portman’s many fine cinematic accomplishments.
Jews, who sit in the comfort of this country, do not have to face the daily threats of terror that common Israeli citizens experience whenever they go on a bus or drive a car, or simply walk down the streets. The average American Jew does not have to worry about terrorists firing bombs or missiles at large population centers. Because of this displacement, many of us lack a genuine empathy for the courage that everyday Israelis demonstrate in their daily lives.
Israeli technology has proven that security fences around a country provides important security that literally saves lives. I remember the days when Israel didn’t have the security fences in the West Bank; suicide shadim (“martyrs”) blowing themselves up in buses or pizza shops seemed like a monthly occurrence. Whether you agree with the political leaders of Israel or not, a fence around the rabid State of Gaza is necessary. Instead of bettering their people’s lives, the Palestinian leaders in Gaza pilfer billions, while keeping their people wallowing in poverty. Western countries are largely responsible for enabling and abetting this criminal phenomenon. With proper stewardship, Gaza has the potential of becoming a Middle Eastern Singapore—a country that is roughly the same size as Gaza. If any place in the world was ready for a modern French-styled Revolution Redux, it would be Gaza. Can you imagine the possibilities?
Had Portman donated the monies to Israeli hospitals trying to find cures for cancers and other diseases, she would have truly made a difference—and she would have certainly won our respect, despite her personal disdain of the Israeli PM.
But in a way, I cannot blame Portman per se; she has succumbed to the neurosis that is a permanent part of the Hollywood political and psychological landscape. Actors in Hollywood often think that because they are “celebrities” they have the right to “enlighten” our fellow citizens about the righteousness of their political views. For those who live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, preaching about the political issues such as the refugee crisis sounds hypocritical while they drink wine and have festive parties behind their gated homes that have ample police protection 24/7. Save the preaching to the ministers and rabbis, and just continue doing what you do best–acting.