Monica Sager, Scarlet Staff

March 19, 2021

As of recent, a few high profile celebrities have disproportionately faulted the State of Israel for Palestinian suffering.

On an episode of Marc Macron’s WTF podcast, comedian Seth Rogen made the following remarks: “[As a Jewish person] I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life,” “They never tell you that ‘Oh, by the way, there were people there.’ They make it seem like it was just like sitting there, like the fucking door’s open.”

In an interview with Jewish News, famed Harry Potter actress Miriam Margolyes said, “I am anti-Zionist and the reason why is that I have seen the devastation and misery the Palestinian population is experiencing and has experienced from the beginning of Israel’s creation. That makes me sad.”

The claim that Jews swooped in and stole land from the Arabs cannot be further from the truth. Jewish immigrants were not the only population to move to the area between World War I and World War II. In fact, the Arab population in the area more than doubled during that time period. The phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land,” however, is relatively commonplace. In this sense, Rogen’s comments are radical, but also misleading.

In any case, both Margolyes’ and Rogen’s comments undermine Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. While Rogen might have been joking, he still reiterates the same message that many Palestinians have been propagating for years: that Jews unjustly gained control of what is now the state of Israel. Rogen even agreed with the remarks that Israelis only think about whether others “deserve a country or can we kill them.” Margolyes’ assertion that Israel committed “similar” crimes to what the Nazis did is, plainly, ridiculous. This opinion is quite radical and on the fringe, as it implies that Israelis — many of whom are descendents of Holocaust survivors — are carrying out a genocide against the Palestinians. Rogen’s comments, while ignorant, are at least more mainstream; comparing Israeli actions to that of the Nazis resembles some of the most horrific antisemitic bigotry, and is even described as such by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

Yet, Rogen and Margolyes suggest Israelis are eager to kill Palestinians rather than live in peace. In reality, no country has acted as humanely as Israel when faced with threats. From the beginning, Israel agreed to support a partition resolution. On numerous occasions, Israel has even consented to an independent Palestinian state alongside one for Israelis.

Rogen doubts the modern need for Zionism, calling it an “antiquated thought process.” Yearning to return to Jerusalem and the land of Israel is an ancient idea, but it is not antiquated. There is an obvious need for a safe Jewish homeland. Antisemitism has not disappeared, and there is a need for a country that won’t subject Jews to the wrath of the majority, as many nations have historically done. Rogen and Margolyes simply negate the experiences of Jews who have been forced to flee their homes that need Israel to exist safely. Zionism and the need for Israel isn’t something of the past – simply look at the recent French Jewish exodus or the Jews in Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, rhetoric such as Rogen’s and Margolyes’ is not infrequent. In recent years, the country has faced opposition, largely from young progressives, who view Israel’s West Bank settlements and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negatively. JStreet – a self-described “home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” – unfortunately, takes advantage of this widespread thirst for measured criticism of Israeli policy within the young American Jewish community to further radical campaigns. It manifests on college campuses in many different ways, such as when campaigns to feature Palestinians on Birthright trips who threw rocks at Israelis. Additionally, JStreet recently shared an article in the Guardian chastising Israel for not providing vaccines to Palestinians, even though, according to the Oslo Accords, it’s the job of the PA to vaccinate its citizens.

Frequently, anti-Zionist activists attempt to silence students who speak out about Israel. For example, at UCLA, pro-Israel students have been met with protests and hate crimes during school events. College committees have voted for BDS reforms on multiple campuses, including Brown and New York University (NYU). At University of Southern California (USC), a student was bullied for being a Zionist; the vitriol was so intense that she resigned from her position as vice president of the undergraduate student government.

The IfNotNow Movement, which is a radical group of American Jews who oppose the “Israeli occupation” of the Gaza Strip and West Bank (Gaza, by the way, is not occupied by Israel), supported Rogen’s incendiary comments. “What Seth Rogen said is par for the course among our generation and the Israeli government has to wake up and see that their actions have consequences,” said Yonah Lieberman, a spokesman for the organization. This highlights the conflict brewing within Jewish discourse in America.

The idea that Israel’s existence represents an unforgivable injustice to be undone has been enthusiastically endorsed by Palestinian leaders for decades; they have repeatedly bragged of their intention to destroy Israel. “We plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state,” said Yasser Arafat, the former head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). “We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem.” To the Palestinian leaders who follow in his footsteps, the state of Israel and the Jewish people have no right to exist.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost. Movements such as Lana Melman’s Creative Community For Peace (CCFP), which is an entertainment-focused nonprofit devoted to countering the cultural boycott of Israel, its companies, and its people, uplift Zionist voices.

Melman, who spoke with CAMERA on December 6, 2020, has a history of inspiring activism. For instance, she “circulated a statement in support of Israel’s right to defend itself” that was signed by more than 300 Hollywood personalities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kelsey Grammer, and Sylvester Stallone. This proves that there is, in fact, a dedication to Israel and its people amongst public figures, fighting against anti-Zionist protests and petitions. Another campaign Melman created, Liberate Art, takes the discussion to a higher level and helps others understand the danger of the cultural boycott campaign and how it fosters antisemitism.

Efforts like these prove that Zionism can be strong and fortified without the ugly untruths that Rogen and Margolyes spread.

Many recognize Israel as a safe haven – a nation where Jews can thrive and self-determine. Comments such as Rogen’s negate the experiences of millions of Jews who have found refuge within Israel after experiencing persecution. Yet, it is important to point out that Jews are not forced into supporting Israel blindly. The majority of American Jews criticize Israel’s politics and government without suggesting that the country should not exist.

My question is: When will we accept Israel’s right to exist? Can’t we acknowledge the years of hate, death, and war it has taken to get to this point?

Once we do so, perhaps peace will be that much closer.

Monica Sager is a 2020-2021 fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.