American comedian and actress Roseanne Barr, an outspoken and often vicious defender of Israel on social media, says she is considering becoming an Israeli citizen.
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“I’m going there for Purim, and I might be moving there, too,” she told an audience of about 200 Jewish supporters gathered Saturday night at Temple Beth Abraham, a long-established Conservative synagogue here.
“We might all be moving there,” she added, seeming to include everyone in the room.
Barr was speaking at an event sponsored by StandWithUs, a California-based right-wing Israel advocacy group actively engaged in fighting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on U.S. college campuses.
Asked by an audience member how the American Jewish community should respond to the proliferation of anti-Israel activities at universities, she said: “The thing that needs to happen is that Jewish donors need to stop supporting universities that allow Nazism on their campuses. I mean these Jewish donors are just sending their kids to be beat up, and it makes no sense at all.”
The decision to host an event with the contentious celebrity, known for her no-holds-barred attacks on critics of Israel, was not without controversy. In introducing Barr, Rabbi Mark Bloom, the spiritual leader of the congregation, acknowledged that he had received numerous protest emails in recent days.
Defending his decision, he said: “When people are being stabbed daily in Israel, if we can’t, as a community, and if I can’t, as a rabbi, have the courage to allow someone to just speak about what’s happening, then there’s something wrong with us.”
Showering praise on Barr, he referred to her as one of a “long line of Jewish women who won’t be silenced.” Barr was accompanied to the event by her mother Helen and her sister Geraldine, both of whom cheered her on from the front row.
Responding to rumors that demonstrators planned to disrupt the event, police were stationed in and around Temple Beth Abraham. No such demonstrations took place, however. Neither was Barr challenged with any tough questions during her give-and-take with the audience.
Last year, a similar event, scheduled to be held in Berkeley, was cancelled by the local Jewish Community Relations Council over concerns that Barr was far too divisive a figure.
The comedian, who lives on a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii, was greeted warmly by the Oakland audience and received a standing ovation at the end. The event was moderated by Lenny Kristal, a South African-born Israel advocate, who took credit for helping transform Barr from a fierce critic to a staunch supporter of Israel. Barr, who in the past had described Israeli soldiers as Nazis, today uses the same adjective to deride those who dare criticize the country.
In response to questions about what triggered this change in attitude, Barr said: “Once I started reading, and once I started exposing myself to a wider variety of news sources than Haaretz and the Guardian and shit rags like that, and I started to expand my point of view, which I should have all along – I don’t blame anyone but myself – I just became so dogmatic.”
Praising Israel’s technological prowess, she claimed the country had developed a special weapon that allowed it “to destroy an entire city in four days without killing any of the inhabitants.”
“It just blows your mind,” she said.
When Barr arrives in Israel in March, she is expected to participate in an anti-BDS conference, hosted by the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. She last visited Israel in 1998, when she said she met with Ehud Olmert before he became prime minister and warned him against forging ties with Evangelical Christians.
“Being a Socialist, I was very concerned at the time about Israel and the neo-cons because I felt like Israel was being set up,” she said. “So I said to Olmert, ‘You know the people Israel is getting in bed with, a lot of them want Israel to survive so that all the Jews can die so Jesus can return and kill all the Jews.’ And I told him I don’t think that’s very friendly.”
The comedian, who ran for president in 2012 as head of the Peace and Freedom Party, grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Salt Lake City, Utah. She said a formative moment in developing her strong Jewish identity was watching the Eichmann trial on television as a small child.
Barr declined to say which of the current candidates for president she supports but noted that both “Bernie and Trump have been stealing some of my lines.”
Insisting she is not a political extremist, as she is often depicted, but rather a “moderate,” Barr said she hoped to work on resolving the conflict with the Palestinians during her upcoming trip to Israel.
“If I could get one Palestinian grandmother to join me, me and her – I would be the representative of the Jewish people and she would be of the Palestinians – we would sit down and hammer out a peace agreement and hand it to the people in power. I don’t see why that can’t happen. Last time I was in Israel, I sought out Palestinian women and had wonderful conversations with them, and I will probably seek them out again.”