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Op-eds

Whatever your view, express it with clarity and conviction

  • Howard Feldman 2018
Natalie Portman is not an anti-Semite. She is probably not even anti-Israel. To label her such is stupid. Nearly as stupid as her vague and embarrassing statement about her decision not to travel to Israel in order to accept the Genesis award. She did no one any favours. Not even BDS, which she very clearly does not support.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Apr 26, 2018

There were no winners of this prize.

Some months ago, Zapiro, the well-known and gifted South African cartoonist, sat across the desk from me in the radio studio. We had agreed to discuss the launch of his latest book but not his views on Israel. He is openly critical. I am openly a Zionist. I also consider him to be an enormous talent who has shaped political discourse in South Africa through his gift.

Despite the rules of engagement, I decided to venture a bit closer to the elephant in the room and ask him what it felt like to be a pariah of his own community because of his Israel stance. His pain was palpable and although I disagree strongly with his approach, I felt for him.

I, too, have been on the receiving end. More than once. It is, in fact, safe to say that I continue to receive an equal amount of derision from every segment of society. But the one that hurts. For me, the only one that hurts is that which comes from community. I have been labelled a “self-hating Jew” because I suggested that there needs to be an alternative approach to the egalitarian issue at the Kotel. I have been told I am the cause of anti-Semitism when I raised concerns about supporting a singular cause of “white farm murders”, and I hope to continue to do so with other subjects in which I engage. It is vital to have an authentic view, even if it’s unpopular.

Portman was wrong. Not because she has a view that is inconsistent with ours. And not because she expressed it and risks damaging the united front that we might hold dear.

She is wrong because she didn’t.

Instead of a (poorly) crafted explanation that links the birth of the state of Israel to the Holocaust, she needed to engage in real dialogue. Even if she chose not to accept the award because she disagrees with the Israeli prime minister, she could still have gone to Israel, made sure that her information was correct and then debated and engaged the subject properly. Either that or had similar conversations whilst still in the US. Her name carries enormous responsibility and she has to know that. Instead, her statements were at best dismissive, at worst offensive, but most definitely lacking in gravitas.

But that doesn’t make her an anti-Semite and it doesn’t make her anti-Israel.

Portman is entitled to a view, even if it’s not in line with our opinion and even if we would love it to be something different. But with her name comes the responsibility that her fame has awarded her. She needs to understand how powerful her voice is, and she needs to use it carefully. And that means engaging properly, not simply through a pleasant sounding but substance-lacking publicist-worded statement.

Our responsibility is not to react so aggressively when an opinion is different to ours. It’s to curtail the hyperbolic language and to swoon a little less when we hear that thought. We are not likely to die from it. On the contrary, it might even make us a little stronger.

1 Comment

  1. 1 David B 29 Apr
    We need to accept that Natalie Portman has been successful in what she has achieved not because she is a good debater , but good at her chosen career. 
        She obviously has a equitable opinion but has processed and publicised it questionably, in the general S.A.Jewish community's opinion.

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