Wednesday, July 01, 2020


Is it antisemitic to like a post of a Louis Farrakhan video that has nothing to do with Jews? Or is liking such a post just plain ignorance of the fact that Farrakhan is an ugly antisemite? A sign of cluelessness?

Is it antisemitic to criticize Israel and its duly elected leadership? Or could it be an honest opinion or about not knowing any better: not realizing you’ve been fed a load of propagandist hogwash? 

By letting lesser antisemites earn the label, do we dilute the significance of our cause? 

These are questions at the heart of the hot debate generated by last week’s column, an attempt at building a comprehensive list of antisemitic celebrities, a work in progress.

The article in question begins with the statement that building such a list is probably impossible. First, there’s the question of whom to include. Some wanted me to include, for instance, Barack Obama, who took pains to hurt Israel whenever possible. Obama is no longer a politician, and since he is famous, he certainly qualifies as a celebrity. Keeping things simple, however, meant sticking to a narrow definition of the celebrity as entertainer: singers, actors, and the like.

Speaking of Obama, some said that if we’re going to include actors for liking Handler’s Farrakhan post, we should include all the actors who supported Obama.

Others said we should include all the entertainers who supported the Iran deal, which surely poses an existential threat to the Jewish State.

Satisfying IHRA

Some commentators, notably CAMERA UK’s Adam Levick, felt that some of the celebrities listed had clearly crossed the line, while others hadn’t, and that the inclusion of the latter diluted the significance of the word antisemitism, by conflating the former with the latter. Levick referenced the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, stating that this should be the only accepted criteria for such a list. While I respect and appreciate Levick’s thoughtful disagreement, I find that interpreting a celebrity’s behavior according to the IHRA definition is somewhat subjective.

In fact I had referenced the IHRA definition in building my list, in particular noting the examples listed below the definition for illustration purposes, including the following:

“Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Mental Boxes

Keeping the above in mind, prior to including a name on the list, I asked several questions, ticking off mental boxes:

Had the celebrity leveled similar accusations against other countries? Or are the accusations made only against Israel?

Is the celebrity voicing benign tourist-type complaints about the weather or the food in Israel? Or is the celebrity with the public platform singling out Israel for criticism by insulting Israel’s leadership and/or accusing Israel of malfeasance in relation to its Arab population and its legal maritime blockade of Gaza?

If the latter, it seems to me such criticism of Israel is dissimilar to criticism of other countries, and directly targets the Jewish State based on anti-Israel propaganda, alone. But should we blame celebrities for believing what they read in the media? For not taking the time to read more varied reports from which a truer, more positive picture of Israel might emerge? 

Yes. Because in antisemitism, as in life, ignorance is always a choice. Especially when it comes to singling out the Jewish State from one’s very public platform.

Liking A Public Figure

The same is true of liking a post of Farrakhan speaking out against racism—a post having nothing to do with this public figure’s very vocal and infamous expressions of antisemitism. If you’re going to put yourself out there and like a Farrakhan post, you better know what you’re liking. And by now, who doesn’t know who Farrakhan is, and what he represents? And if you don’t, why don’t you? You’re an adult. You are putting yourself out there in the public eye on a variety of causes, using your celebrity to stump for presidential candidates and to advocate for change.

The use of a public platform is a responsibility, and like all responsibilities, requires a familiarity with current events and a thorough study of the subject in question. If you like a Farrakhan video, you better know all about the man. That, in essence, is your job as a celebrity voicing support for a movement or a cause.

When Israel is singled out for criticism—or when a celebrity favors a post highlighting the views of a notorious antisemite—I believe the IHRA working definition of antisemitism has been satisfied.

Natalie Portman's Calculated Insult 

Take Natalie Portman. The Jewish actress, who was born in Israel (hence an Israeli citizen), received the coveted Israeli Genesis Prize but refused to attend the awards ceremony because she “did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.” But Portman announced her decision not to attend six months after she had confirmed her attendance to the Genesis Prize Foundation, and a full nine months after the award was announced. From the Genesis Prize website:

“This announcement was made almost six months after Ms. Portman confirmed her attendance at the Genesis Prize ceremony. Prior to accepting the Genesis Prize, Ms. Portman was made aware that the Genesis Prize is a partnership between our foundation, the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, and The Jewish Agency for Israel. Moreover, we informed Ms. Portman that the Prime Minister of Israel presents the Genesis Prize and also delivers a keynote address at the award ceremony.”

So Portman accepted the award knowing that Netanyahu partners with the foundation, presents the prize, and delivers the keynote address at the award ceremony. But she let everyone think she was coming to Israel to accept the prize, then used her public platform, at the last minute, to insult the elected leader of Israel and to bash Israel’s policies on Gaza. In fact, Portman kept changing her mind: was she not coming to the awards ceremony to insult Bibi or to make a point about Israel’s policies in Gaza? Whatever the reason, it was a concerted attack on Israel: an insult, planned and calculated to embarrass Israel—to make Israel look bad.

Dave Lange (Aussie Dave) of Israellycool feels that Portman is within her rights to criticize Israel and Netanyahu, in part because she is an Israeli citizen. I disagree. Portman doesn’t live in Israel, doesn’t vote in Israeli elections and uses her celebrity to accuse Israel and Israel’s duly elected leadership of malfeasance. Her last-minute announcement regarding the Genesis Prize was planned, timed, and calculated to demonize Israel and its democratically elected leadership. Portman’s dissent with Israel’s prime minister and the policies of the Israeli government are based on a narrow, unflattering view of the Jewish State, an obvious byproduct of anti-Israel propaganda/biased media reports.

Comparing Israel to the Nazis

Portman’s statement (quoted in the above-linked Israellycool piece) regarding her decision to skip the awards ceremony further fulfills the IHRA working definition of antisemitism by accusing Israel of “atrocities” and appearing to compare Israeli actions in Gaza with Nazi activity during the Holocaust:

“Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”

IHRA examples of antisemitism include: "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis."

Portman seems to own her Israeli citizenship when she can use it to hurt Israel. But when she stumps for Obama in Ohio, she’s suddenly “Very Ohio,” though Obama’s intention to fund the mullahs’ nuclear program, with its expressed intention of obliterating the Jewish State, was well known.

Will the real Natalie Portman please stand up? Actually, I believe she has. Which is why she stays on the list. Of course, part of the problem of creating the list was how to document antisemitism while keeping things simple.

Portman Email Chain Scandal

Each celebrity’s name was linked to a single news item. In Portman’s case, I could have listed many more such items. There was, for example, that public temper tantrum about having her email address outed on an email chain about Gaza. Was Portman only upset about having her address exposed, or was she upset at being included in an effort supportive of the Jewish State of Israel? From Gawker:

“A few weeks before sending the email, Kavanaugh, an outspoken supporter of Israel, had become the first major studio head to denounce a letter, signed by actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, that condemned the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip. He later wrote an editorial for The Hollywood Reporter calling for the film industry to stand with Israel against Palestine.

“Kavanaugh and Rotholz's forwarding habits were irritating enough to Portman that she'd previously asked Kavanaugh to remove her from the list: ‘you should not be copying me publicly so that 20 people i don't know have my personal info,’ she admonished the producer. ‘i will have to change my email address now.’

"’Sorry,’ he replied. ‘You are right jews being slaughtered for their beliefs and cannes members calling for the boycott of anything Israel or Jewish is much much less important then your email address being shared with 20 of our peers who are trying to make a difference. my deepest apologies.’ (Grimace emoji.)”

Antisemitic Or Just Clueless?

Moving along, many voiced disgruntlement at Jennifer Aniston’s name being included on the comprehensive list of antisemitic celebrities. Her name is linked to a story about all the celebrities who liked Chelsea Handler’s Instagram post with Farrakhan’s video about racism. She liked a post?? Why does that earn her the sobriquet of antisemite?

Because ignorance is a choice: lather, rinse, repeat. Farrakhan is a notorious public figure who has said so many horrible things that simply appearing in a photo with him is enough to damage reputations. The Southern Poverty Law Center called his organization Nation of Islam, a "hate group" (and so apparently did Martin Luther King). 

If Aniston doesn’t know about Farrakhan, she should. She has a duty to know before approving any message issuing forth from his mouth. But just for the record, here are a few choice Farrakhan quotes (see HERE for more examples):

“Satanic Jews have infected the whole world with poison and deceit.”

“The Jews have control over those agencies of government.  When you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door.”

“Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out, turning men into women and women into men…. White folks are going down. And Satan is going down. And Farrakhan, by God’s grace, has pulled a cover off of that Satanic Jew, and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through.  You good Jews better separate because the satanic ones will take you to hell with them because that’s where they are headed.”

What makes anyone think Aniston would be woke enough to know about Farrakhan? Aniston has, in the past, used her celebrity platform to take a stance on other political issues, which suggests she keeps up with current events. Aniston’s political activism goes back to at least 2003 and the Second Intifada, when she, along with ex-husband Brad Pitt, created their “One Voice” peace initiative.

Aniston: Describing A False Equivalence 

At a time when Israeli civilians, including children, were being blown to bits on buses by suicide bombers, I found it particularly insensitive when Aniston and Pitt, in their joint statement, drew a false equivalence between Arab and Israeli society, suggesting that Israeli children, like their Arab counterparts, were growing up learning to hate:

"The last few years of conflict mean that yet another generation of Israelis and Palestinians will grow up in hatred. We cannot allow that to happen."

A quick glance at the work of IMPACT-se, shows that the opposite is true. Arab school children are inculcated with hate by their teachers and their textbooks every day in their UNRWA classrooms. Israeli textbooks, on the other hand, contain no such incitement or racism. Because this is contrary to Jewish values and the values of the Jewish State. Which is why Arabs are found alongside Israelis in every Israeli sector and sphere, including in the Israeli parliament, where Arabs make up the third largest party in the Israeli Knesset. Which is why accusations of Israeli “Apartheid” are equally spurious. (Also: Israelis were not blowing up buses of Arab civilians in 2003 or at any other time.)

Aniston and Pitt, with their false assertion that another generation of Israeli children are growing up in hate, fulfill this IHRA example of antisemitism: "Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such . . . "

Some might suggest that Aniston is merely clueless for liking Handler’s Farrakhan post, or for suggesting a false equivalence between Israeli and Arab children. But actions have consequences and if you use your celebrity platform to prove you are woke, you better actually BE woke, by being conversant with current events and the varied perspectives on these issues. Is Farrakhan worthy of a like when he speaks out against racism? Is he an upright human being one should like or quote? Are Israelis actually growing up “in hatred” or is that something you say to make you feel better about Arab terror?

Silverman: Defending An Assailant Of IDF Soldiers

Sarah Silverman was another addition to my list to which some readers took exception. Silverman’s name was linked to her support for then 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested for physical and verbal abuse of IDF soldiers. Linking to an Amnesty International campaign for Tamimi’s release, Silverman tweeted, “Jews have to stand up EVEN when—ESPECIALLY when—the wrongdoing is BY Jews/the Israeli government."

The IHRA definition of antisemitism includes this example: "Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation."

Is it wrong to arrest a 17-year-old who assaults the military? Would it be wrong in America? Or is it only wrong when Israeli soldiers are on the receiving end of the assault?

This is “as a Jew” criticism of Israel at its worst. Tamimi has been assaulting Israeli soldiers for years. From the link I supplied with Silverman’s entry:

“Many Palestinians consider her a political icon as she has a history of confronting IDF soldiers. Ahed Tamimi had first came to public prominence when, aged 11, she appeared in another video threatening to punch a different soldier.”

Exploiting Fame

Dave Lange has been documenting Ahed Tamimi’s behavior at Israellycool for years, dubbing Tamimi “Shirley Temper” due to her youth, her big blond frizz, and her temper tantrums. The Tamimi family is notorious for using its children to attack the State of Israel. The whole family is involved in one way or another in this effort. Why not? This is, after all, the same clan that is responsible for masterminding the Sbarro Pizzeria Massacre. Which is why none other than Arnold Roth, responding to Silverman’s tweet, wrote:

“Entertainers exploiting their fame are often a poor choice for clarifying what’s moral or good. Sarah, did you stand up for our daughter Malki and the other 15 Jewish lives extinguished by Ahlam Tamimi, Ahed’s cousin and role-model-in-life? Do you stand with Ahed’s call to kill?”

If Silverman is going to stick her neck out and criticize Israel, she has an obligation to know all the facts, from every angle. A simple Google search would have led her to Lange’s comprehensive coverage of Tamimi’s antics. Is it fair for Silverman to single out the Jews and Israel for criticism in regard to Tamimi’s arrest? In my opinion, her tweet is antisemitism according to the IHRA definition. Because a girl of 17 with a long, documented record of assault, no matter in which country the assault occurs, and no matter the religion of the victims she assaults, should be held culpable.

When celebrities use their public platforms to demonize Israel on the basis of propaganda, that's antisemitism. If you're going to single out the Jewish State, you better be basing your assertions on fact, or we'll call you out on them. Otherwise, it's gratuitous hate.

Criticism Of Israel, Alone

Is Portman leveling accusations against the democratically elected leaders of other countries? Is she turning down awards from other countries based on what she thinks about their leaders? No. Her accusations extend to Israel, alone.

Is Aniston merely clueless? No. She is a person who follows current events enough to start a peace initiative on behalf of people who don’t live in her own country.

What about Silverman, who fights for the freedom of a girl who has been made into an anti-Israel propaganda tool by her family? Does Silverman have a right to criticize Jews and Israel for detaining this “girl” who is now on the cusp of adulthood? Context is everything.

Silverman used her celebrity to call for the release of a person with a long record of assaulting Israeli soldiers. That cannot be understood in a kind light. Silverman is singling out Israel. We don’t see her demanding the release of anyone else assaulting soldiers in any other country. No. She only holds the Jews, her own people, to account. Only the Jews are not allowed to pursue justice in response to physical assault, according to Silverman.

Shades Of Antisemitism

I do understand that there are levels and gradations of antisemitism. I understand those insisting on nuance and proof. Because there is a difference between making a political statement and outright Jew-hatred. There's a difference between Mel Gibson calling Jews "oven dodgers" and liking a tweet that has nothing to do with Jews.

The point of making a comprehensive list, however, is that it should be comprehensive. The idea of such a list is to let these people know we see them. We know what these celebrities are doing. And their behavior is unacceptable, no matter how rich, talented, and beautiful they are.

When celebrities use Israel to virtue signal, they turn Israel into a common icon for everyday condemnation and abuse, in which Israel becomes the pivot on which all attacks turn. Celebrities use Israel to get attention. Because when they demonize Israel, they know they will receive applause and approbation. And this is disgusting.

It's Not Torah M'Sinai

The “comprehensive list of antisemites” is not Torat Moshe M’Sinai. My suggestion is that you use it as a tool to take a stand and defend your values. One commenter suggested as much: “I think the list is fine even if—especially if—it's as blunt a tool as those used by the critics. Let them stand on their own values and defend them. We are in an either/or world now. Take a stand and live with it.”

My feeling is that the links on each name in the list tell us to be careful about these people at a minimum. We need to be careful about people who like a post featuring a notorious antisemite, even if that “like” was totally innocent and clueless. There are all kinds of (poor) excuses for bad behavior. But ignorance is no excuse at all. Just as we wouldn’t give the Nazis a pass because they had “no choice” or because they were swept away by Hitler’s charisma.

Some say that being cavalier in my determination of who is and isn’t an antisemite is not strategic. Guilty as charged. I am not a strategist. I believe in speaking out against even a hint of antisemitism. You don’t have to be a Mel Gibson to make it onto my list. At the same time, there has to be something to look at. One friend wanted me to include John Travolta because of an old (dismissed) lawsuit in which the complainant alleged Travolta said Hollywood was run by old Jewish homosexuals "who expect favors in return for sexual activity." 

The case was dismissed. It’s hearsay. I have no reason to believe this report and neither do you. It’s a rumor, it’s only slander: an anecdote. So Travolta stays off the list. Unless you have something real to show me.

Ignorance Is A Choice

Clueless about the antisemitism of Farrakhan? Ignorance is a choice. So is speaking out against what you don't know about. Of the famous four sons of the Passover Seder, the last is an ignoramus. The famous commentator Rashi calls him “evil.” Because . . . wait for it . . .  ignorance is a choice.

Which is why some of those who made it onto my list are, according to one commentator, “just ignoramuses and dolts, not antisemites. Useful idiots. But, still, stupidity is not an excuse when the issues are not trivial. They are taking a position, and should be called on it.”

I concur. Antisemitism is an important topic and we should be able to discuss it with due frankness. We need to be aware of our enemies, their supporters, and their enablers. Sometimes the three are indistinguishable.

If we lived in a kinder, softer world, we could ignore the threat and be fine. But considering the times, we need to take note. And when push comes to shove, it doesn’t much matter if a celebrity is motivated by ignorance or hatred. Liking a post about Farrakhan is as bad as admiring Hitler’s paintings. It’s fruit of the poisonous tree.

You may disagree with this or that entry on the comprehensive list of antisemitic celebrities. But the IHRA working definition of antisemitism tells us that when you slander Jews, it's wrong. The IHRA working definition of antisemitism tells us that when you take a position against Israel, singling Israel out for criticism, it’s wrong. It stands as a basic denial of the right of the Jewish people to be a people, it's a denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and self-defense. It’s siding with the enemy narrative. As such, there is no practical difference between anti-Zionists and antisemites.

Speech Has Consequences

One commenter wrote that in Judaism, we have a commandment to guard one’s tongue. “Because there is [the] realization that [the] consequences of one’s speech can be far-reaching and extremely damaging to others.”

We need to let people know that when they like a post focused on a notorious antisemite it makes us nervous. We need to let them know that when they single out Israel or the Jews for criticism, it’s wrong. Jews are made of DNA like every other people and we have a right to be treated as normal people. Our country has a right to be treated as any other normal country.

In this light, creating a comprehensive list of antisemitic celebrities serves as an attempt to dissociate ourselves from those who, with their unthinking actions and words, put the Jewish people in greater danger. Perhaps their deeds are unwitting. All the same, they aid our mortal enemies. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand, and ignore the things they do, clueless or not.

I will end this by saying thank you to all who helped to form the debate. I think the discussion helped to refine my own views. Thank you for letting me learn from you. I am sure you can see yourselves in this piece.

And to the world at large, know this: when you like a video of an antisemite or speak out against Israel and only Israel, or without fully knowing the facts, it makes you a willful ignoramus. Which makes you an antisemite. Because ignorance is always a choice.

No matter how famous you are.



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