Now that some time has passed since Natalie Portman announced her refusal to come to Israel to accept the Genesis Prize, it is appropriate to analyze a more important issue it brought to light: how actions perceived as a boycott against Israel will be addressed in the future by the greater pro-Israel community.
Many major Jewish organizations choose to ignore the problem, hoping this is an isolated incident, not wanting to offend a public figure who has been supportive of her Israeli identity. StandWithUs, however, pointed out that Ms. Portman did accept a prize from the Chinese government, which is a gross human rights violator.
Yousef Munayyer, a leading advocate of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel (BDS), wrote an op-ed in The Forward titled, “Actually, Natalie Portman, You ARE Practicing BDS.” BDS advocates like Mr. Munayyer believe, “What you’ve done is... found your own way to participate [in boycotting Israel].”
Progressive critics like Hen Mazzig, writing in The Jerusalem Post, contrasted Ms. Portman’s behavior with the ideas of progressive Israeli writer David Grossman, a harsh critic of Israel’s current government.
Despite being the political polar opposite from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Grossman showed up to accept his Israel Prize, knowing both the prime minister and Education Minister Naftali Bennett would be in attendance.
Let’s be clear, Ms. Portman is too well informed not to know that her refusal to go to Israel and accept her Genesis Prize would be hailed as a victory for BDS.
But what is much more disturbing and dangerous is that Ms. Portman’s actions will be used as a precedent to blur the lines between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and the real goal of boycotters – the destruction of Israel. This is part of a trend to legitimize boycotts against Israel, making it easier for far-left organizations to convince Israeli critics who up until now have been against the use of boycotts, to move over to the dark side. The double standard not addressed is that for Israel alone, it is considered reasonable to delegitimize the whole state if you do not like the current elected government’s policies.
SO WHAT is legitimate criticism that doesn’t cross a line?
1. Expressing concern about the ultra-Orthodox monopoly that undermines the rights of America’s more liberal religious movements in Israel.
2. Weighing in about the corrosive effects vs. the legitimate security needs of Israel in regard to its prolonged occupation of the disputed territories.
3. Complaining about the Israeli government reneging on a pluralistic space for liberal prayer at Robinson’s arch.
However, any support, direct or indirect for the BDS movement is not legitimate, even if you refer to yourself as pro-Israel.
One must question the pro-Israel credentials of organizations whose advocacy is primarily for Palestinian rights first, but never seem to make it a priority to denounce the UN’s despicable treatment of the Jewish state, or to condemn the antisemitic incitement that permeate the Palestinian Authority, or express outrage against Hamas’s use of human shields, which contravenes international law.
Everyone has a right to criticize Israel and even support boycotts in America, as long as you don’t commercially transgress the growing body of American municipal, state and federal laws against collaborating with companies that accede to international boycotts of Israel.
So if your actions are perceived to support a boycott of Israel, but you claim that you are not part of the BDS movement, is that credible? When J Street or its campus affiliates claim they are not part of the BDS movement, but give a platform to pro-BDS speakers, in effect legitimizing them, is that not being part of the BDS movement? The boycotters of Israel never call for boycotts against Russia and Iran for their support of Syrian genocide; or call for a boycott of Turkey for jailing more journalists than any other nation in the world; or show interest in boycotting Russia for its occupation of Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia.
Natalie Portman made a poor choice, and she must come to terms with the consequences of that choice, which supported BDS despite her protestations.
She should know that the goal of BDS is not about 1967 and the West Bank, it is the antithesis of two states for two peoples, in other words, the destruction of Israel. When she accepted the Genesis Prize she clearly knew Netanyahu would be there, and canceling one month later was interpreted as being someone who chose Hollywood politics over her professed love for her country of birth.
So here is your binary choice.
Legitimate criticism of Israel crosses a line when it supports boycotting Israel in any way, shape or form, because this is not about improving Israel’s Jewish democracy, it is about destroying it.
The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East and is a contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post,’ ‘The Hill’ and ‘The Forward.’