It’s one of the most famous – and infamous – scenes in cinema history. In the 1932 horror film “Freaks,” a statuesque (and blonde) trapeze artist marries a sideshow midget and is warmly embraced by a band of circus freaks. At her wedding reception, they accept her as an honorary member. They chant: “We accept you, we accept you! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble!”
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So, uh, congratulations, Scarlett Johansson. Now you’re truly one of us – not just a member of the Jewish people,which you’ve been since birth. You’re a member of the family of Israel. We accept you, we accept you! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble!
If the above analogy seems ridiculous, chances are you haven’t had “The Scarlet Talk” with any Israelis lately. She’s “ours” (“shelanu”) even though that honor is usually reserved for Israeli-born celebrities like Natalie Portman. She has stood up to the bad guys from Oxfam who tried to boycott Israel. She’s still advertising for SodaStream, the Israeli soda maker with factories in the West Bank. And with pride!
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim that thanks to her brave stance in defense of fizzy drinks, Scarlett Johansson is Israel’s most-loved Hollywood actress.
Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who rarely concerns himself with the arts, voiced his support for Johansson last week by saying “our Oscar goes to the brave Scarlett.” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who knows a thing or two about celebrities, said: “Chapeau. Scarlett is talented, beautiful and brave.”
All she had to do was support Israel unconditionally and not utter a word of criticism.
In fact, when it comes to international celebrities, sometimes it seems that’s the only variable that matters. Do we want that guy to win the Oscar? No, he signed a petition supporting a boycott of Israel. Do we root for that soccer team? No, their coach has criticized us. Do we still listen to Pink Floyd? You’ve got to be kidding. Roger Waters is against us!
In the end, we can divide international celebrities into four main groups, based on their support of Israel. Here’s how they break down.
Scarlett belongs to this group. Other notable mentions: Adam Sandler, who starred in “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” the most sympathetic movie toward Israel since “Exodus.” He also donated 400 PlayStation consoles to Israeli children during the Second Lebanon War. Arnold Schwarzenegger; the former California governor said in 2011 he fell in love with Israel the moment he arrived. Ashton Kutcher, who visits Israel often and has used his new media savvy to give Israel PR tips. Former Sex Pistols front man John Lydon played here in his next band, Public Image Ltd. The former Johnny Rotten is a vocal opponent of the BDS movement. And then there’s Chuck Norris. What’s under his beard? An unabiding love for Israel.
The gold standard in this group are old-timers like Leonard Cohen (he played for troops during the Yom Kippur War), Barbra Streisand (she performs at pro-Israel events all the time) and Kirk Douglas (he has supported lots of Israeli charities and institutions). Among the dearly departed, there’s Frank Sinatra, who supported Israel even before it was Israel. He sat on the board of trustees of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and donated more than $1 million to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Roger Waters rules this category. The former Pink Floyd front man has roused Israelis’ ire with his pro-BDS statements, pressuring other artists to boycott Israel. Worst of all, he dragged 50,000 Israelis to see him play in a remote hummus field during his visit in 2006. He even attacked Scarlett last week, but not before condescendingly calling her “undeniable cute.”
Other notable mentions are actress Cynthia Nixon (she signed a petition urging a boycott of the West Bank), Elvis Costello (he agreed to perform in Israel and then canceled to join the boycott), and actor/rapper/writer Donald Glover (he boycotted the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009 to protest a week of screenings of Israeli films). Then there’s conductor Daniel Barenboim. He supports peace, how dare he.
This category also has lifetime achievers, like Vanessa Redgrave, who has supported the PLO since the 1970s and assailed “Zionist hoodlums” in her acceptance speech at the 1978 Oscars. She has also shot and narrated pro-Palestinian documentaries, compared Israel to Nazi Germany and befriended Yasser Arafat. There’s also Jane Fonda, who also boycotted the 2009 Toronto Film Festival and is a longtime critic of Israel. And don’t forget Jimmy Carter.
These celebrities once belonged to the “bad” group but have changed their ways. You could say they’re in the purgatory of Israeli public opinion. There’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who canceled a concert at the height of the second intifada in 2001. But they mended their ways by performing here in 2012.
Also, don’t forget the Pixies, who canceled their 2010 show following the events of the Gaza flotilla. They’re slated to perform in the Tel Aviv in June.
These celebrities have gone so above and beyond their duties to Israel they'll forever be holy.
The best example is Madonna. She has performed in Israel a number of times, she also goes by the name Esther, she opened her 2012 tour in Tel Aviv, she has repeately said she’s “in love with Israel,” she throws a little Hebrew in here and there, and she has hobnobbed with politicians like Livni and Shimon Peres.
Madonna is so loved that even if all her next albums are awful, Israelis will come to see her by the tens of thousands. Forget the price.