I hesitate to wade into this debate. It feels like it’s been done to death already (gesticulates). But there is something no one has said about the Maron/Rogen interview. Seth Rogen is being bullied.
Some sections of the Jewish community are bullying him. Not because of his talent or some might say his lack of, not because of his secular Judaism and not because of his critique of religious Jews but because he made a few comments about Israel which were a little disparaging and wildly overblown.
Listen to the podcast and you will notice that the interview was conducted in a comedic manner. As the conversation goes on, the two seem to subconsciously goad each other into responding in a more Jewy – read Ashkenazi – like manner. And the Ashkenormative nature of the interview apart, it’s fun.
Seth Rogen is not anti-Zionist (and if he was still don’t bully him). He doesn’t hate Israel and he didn’t say anything such thing.
The Jerusalem Post‘s article on the subject is headlined, ‘Seth Rogen says Israel “doesn’t make sense”‘. This is a complete misrepresentation of the interview. JPost writers, it’s comedy.
As the Post makes clear, Rogen says, ‘If it is for truly the preservation of Jewish people, it makes no sense, because again, you don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place — especially when that place is proven to be pretty volatile, you know? ‘I’m trying to keep all these things safe, I’m gonna put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place… that’ll do it.’
He’s using a comedic device to make his point. So, what is his point then? That Israel shouldn’t exist because it makes no sense? Probably not, as neither does any other country when you boil it down.
His next line is a provides big clue ‘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! … They forget to include the fact to every young Jewish person.’
He is saying that the lines he was fed about a mythologised Israel don’t make sense.
This observation is one that resonates with me. I was bombarded throughout my Jewish education, with the idea that Israel is a perfect paradise. So much so that when I finally visited at the age of 11, I was in shock at simple things like seeing begging at the Kotel. Surely, my 11-year-old self thought, in Eretz Chalav u’Dvash (the Land of Milk and Honey), there wouldn’t be religious people needing to beg?
Israel is a special place but it’s also a normal country in many ways with the same problems most countries have. Hiding this fact is unhealthy and leads to unhealthy relationships with Israel. These relationships could lead to either being overly critical on the one hand, or overly defensive on the other.
The latter is what we’ve seen in reaction to a fun, silly podcast which had moments of interesting observations by two smart secular Jewish comics. So much so that the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Isaac Herzog, got a message to mama Rogen asking if he could have a word with her boychick.
Herzog claimed afterwards that Rogen apologised to him on this private call. But Rogen disputes this claim, saying that other than the editing of the podcast making him sound more anti-Israel than he is, he had nothing to apologise for. He was rather annoyed that Herzog had gone to the press to reveal what he thought he heard in their private conversation.
Rogen, in fact, is a fan of Israel and has affection for the country. Like many of us who feel the same way, he gets slammed for daring to criticise.
One blogger went this far, ‘alas, you have abandoned us. You have defected to the anti-Zionist Woke crowd. Will your next film be about the Israeli Defense Forces harvesting Palestinian organs?’
This response is unhelpful and fails to understand the growing divide between the Diaspora and Israel. Not because people like Rogen want to see Israel destroyed but because the diaspora is getting a more nuanced view of Israel, feeling both a connection and despair at the occupation, racism, etc.
The kneejerk reactions against people who support Israel will only serve to widen this growing divide.
So to those who live Israel but can’t bear to hear a word against her:
Stop bullying Rogen, stop bullying people who legitimately criticise Israel, get out of the bunker mentality before you push all your friends away.
As a very late Ashkenazi Boomer, I can entirely relate to the author’s (and Rogen’s) reaction to (against?) the tales of Israel many middle-class Jewish American kids were taught growing up. It was a desert and Jews made it fertile. It was inhabited only by a few nomads and given to us. I can’t even remember now how many Trees for Israel my family planted back in the day!
While I wouldn’t necessarily use the term “bully” to describe reactionary attacks on Rogen’s apparent position on Israel, I do think a lack of a sense of humor characterizes 2020 all too well.