In the Wake of Gaza Killings:

Israeli-born Actor Natalie Portman, Jewish-American Youth and Others Courageously Protest Israeli Crimes Against Palestinians

April 23, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


Israel’s blatant massacres of unarmed Palestinian protesters has sparked widespread revulsion and protests on different fronts, and, importantly, ferment and opposition among Jewish people.

Oscar-Winner Natalie Portman Refuses to Appear with Israeli PM Netanyahu: “I Must Stand Up Against Violence”

The most prominent protest has been that by Oscar-winning actor Natalie Portman, who was born in Israel and has starred in major films, including Black Swan and three Star Wars episodes. Portman has announced she would not travel to her country of birth to accept the Genesis Prize.

This is a major award, known as Israel’s Nobel Prize, and it includes a $2 million prize. According to the Genesis Foundation, it’s given to “extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement, commitment to Jewish values and to the Jewish people.” Her decision prompted the foundation to cancel the entire awards ceremony.

Portman’s rejection, coming in the midst of Israel’s murderous crackdown on unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, sent shockwaves through Israel and has reverberated globally. It has been widely covered in the international media and drawn forward support from other prominent artists. It has also triggered a vicious, reactionary counter-backlash from various Israeli officials and supporters. One official demanded Portman’s Israeli citizenship be revoked (she holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship). An Israeli legislator worried that her action was “a warning light,” and that Natalie Portman was “now speaking for many Jews in the United States, and essentially the young generation.”

In the face of these attacks and criticism, and the enormous pressures of being an international celebrity, Portman has courageously stood by her decision. In a statement, she explained:

My decision not to attend the Genesis Prize ceremony has been mischaracterized by others. Let me speak for myself. I chose not to attend [the Genesis Prize ceremony] because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it. Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance. 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.

(Of Netanyahu, Portman had previously said, “I find his racist comments horrific.”)

Natalie Portman’s courageous stance needs to be widely supported!

#IfNotNow to Sen. Schumer—“How many more Palestinians must die?”

The Jewish group IfNotNow has held 30 demonstrations against Israel’s violence against Palestinian protesters and the silence and complicity of leading Jewish institutions and politicians. Its press release states:

Over the past two weeks, 37 young American Jews have been arrested in six cities at the offices of various Jewish institutions and leaders as part of a campaign to protest Israeli violence against Palestinian protesters in Gaza.... including in Boston at the Israeli Consulate, in New York City at Senator Schumer’s office, in the Twin Cities at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota, in Los Angeles at the Jewish Federation, in San Francisco at Senator Feinstein’s office, and in Washington, DC at Senator Cardin’s office. At each location, the young Jews demanded a statement condemning Israeli violence against Palestinian protesters, and at each location the organization or individual chose to call the police to arrest the protesters instead of releasing any statement.

In New York, protesters barricaded the entrance to Schumer’s office after his staff refused to issue a statement condemning Israel’s use of live fire against unarmed protesters. “How many more Palestinians must die?” they chanted. “Is Palestinian freedom less important than our freedom?”

According to its website, IfNotNow is “a movement led by young Jews to transform the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.” Members have been “Moved to act by moral anguish and inspired by Hillel’s three questions,1 we too feel called to take responsibility for the future of our community. We know the liberation of our Jewish community is bound up in the liberation of all people, particularly those in Israel and Palestine... Our elders told many of us that because of our history, we should oppose oppression in all the places it lives, whether it preys upon us or others.” (See Interview with Eliana Fishman of IfNotNow)

April 14: 150 Protest “Birth Right” Celebration—#ShedLightonBirthright!

On April 14, over 150 students from New York and New England colleges protested “Birthright Israel” at its annual gala in New York City. “Birthright Israel” is a program sponsored by prominent Zionists and backed by the Israeli government that funds free indoctrination trips to Israel for Jewish youth in order to deepen their sense of Jewish identity and connection to and support for Israel.

The protest was held by Return the Birthright, which calls on young Jews to boycott the Birthright campaign and support Palestinian rights instead, declaring: “it’s unjust that we get a free Birthright trip, while Palestinian refugees can’t return to their homes.” The student groups demonstrating included Jewish Voices for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Palestine Solidarity Alliance, IfNotNow, and the Democratic Socialists of America.

During the protest, IfNotNow projected giant images of “Shed Light on Birthright” on the building with slogans including “Birthright Lied To Us,” and “Jewish Youth Demand the Truth.”

April 9: 50+ NYU Student Groups Endorse Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement for Palestinian Human Rights

According to an April 9 statement by New York University’s chapter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement:

A broad coalition of student groups at New York University votes to endorse BDS, calling on NYU to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation and pledging to boycott Israeli academic institutions and conferences sponsored by Israel. Earlier this week, 50 NYU student groups voted to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, refuse to co-sponsor any events with pro-Israel campus groups, and pressure the premier academic institution to divest any holdings from companies that do business with Israel.

Other Actions:

March 30, New York City: “Emergency rally: solidarity with Gaza #GreatMarchofReturn.” Some 90 people gathered in New York City’s Washington Square Park to uphold Palestinians’ right of return to their land and demand the lifting of the siege of Gaza and an end to Israeli violence. The event was sponsored by Within our Lifetime • United for Palestine and a number of other organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine from NYU and the College of Staten Island, NYU Jewish Voice for Peace.

Chicago, April 20: Shabbat Vigil—Honoring Lives of Palestinian protesters in Gaza

Some two dozen joined a vigil sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago to honor Palestinian protesters killed by Israeli snipers in Gaza by speaking their names and reciting the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead). People condemned the indiscriminate killings and injuries of grassroots protesters and press, affirmed the rights of Palestinians to protest for their right to return home, and demanded that U.S. laws making it illegal to provide weapons used in human rights violations be enforced

1. If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
  If I am only for myself, what am I?
  If not now, when?  [back]


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