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What’s the Deal, Natalie Portman?

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Natalie Portman poses for photographers during a photo call at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Nov. 7, 2017.
Natalie Portman poses for photographers during a photo call at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Nov. 7, 2017.Credit: Lionel Cironneau/AP

In my long-ago youth, there was this typical sabra joke: Actress Brooke Shields came to Israel and some guy named Roni, who had connections, attached himself to her entourage and chatted her up and humbly put himself at her service and arranged all kinds of things for her and made sure to show her a good time.

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As her visit was drawing to a close, Brooke Shields said to him: Dear Roni, how can I thank you for your service? Well, said Roni, who’d been waiting for just this question, actually I do have one little request. If you don’t mind, when you’re standing by the door of the plane and waving to the photographers and all the dignitaries who have come to bid you farewell, could you please just look into the camera and say, “Roni, I love you”?

Brooke promised to do as he asked and tearfully said goodbye to him with hugs and kisses and promises to see him again, maybe even soon. And when the big moment came, just before she disappeared into the plane, she stood there in a graceful pose, waving genially to the crowd. And then she gazed directly into the cameras, eyes glittering, and in a throaty whisper befitting a star of her caliber, pronounced in thickly accented Hebrew: “Roni, I love you!”

Now it’s Natalie’s turn

At that moment, our Roni, all prepared, was sitting around with a bunch of friends, swilling local beer and cracking sunflower seeds, as they all watched the live television broadcast from the airport. When Brooke addressed him, he stood up, looked at the screen with a smug smile, waited a moment or two for the guys to finish their applauding and their wolf whistles, and then with a dismissive snort and wave of his hand, called out to Brooke Shields, who was batting back tears there on the screen: “Go on, get the hell out of here, you slut, who needs you?” to his friends’ whoops of delight.

Times may change, but Hollywood starlets don’t die, they just get replaced by the next ones in line. And now it’s Natalie Portman’s turn to be told, “Go on, get the hell out of here.” Oh, Natalie! How you fell into the hands of the rabble! Okay, so you’re not being called a “slut,” but there’s “traitor” and “anti-Semite” and who knows what else. Because this you must know: When you upset a macho man, especially an Israeli one, and especially a parliamentarian, there’s no telling how far things will go. You see, even Yuval Steinitz couldn’t resist the temptation. And just wait – they haven’t even started yet to drag your Jewish friends into this to settle scores with them too.

And once this resentful, muttering convoy passes, maybe we’ll be able to concisely sum up for a shell-shocked Natalie just what happened here: As long as you represent us with honor, kudos to you and we’ll totally adore you. But if you decide to say what you’re really feeling, then you can expect a fatwa.

So, what can she really say in her defense? That she didn’t understand what she was getting into when she agreed to accept the prize? That it was a bit naïve of her, to put it mildly, to consent to embody the beautiful face of Israel? That she made a mistake in offering that embrace? Come on! What’s the deal, Natalie Portman? Don’t you know that “all of Israel are brothers” is the most coercive bear-hug there is? You’ve only just remembered that you’re actually not comfortable being in the same room with Bibi?

No longer just Vanessa Redgrave

The Natalie Portman vs. Benjamin Netanyahu incident can serve as an important lesson for anyone seeking to hitch his wagon to a shining star, no matter how just (or unjust) the reason: for anyone who harbors the hope (or fear) that what Natalie Portman does actually makes a difference to someone; who mistakenly thinks – like the Genesis Prize committee and Natalie Portman who agreed to accept this prize – that all the smart, beautiful Jewish women with (or without) sabra roots and with (or without) Jewish names, all these goddesses who populate glamorous literary or Hollywood circles and dress to kill for the red carpet and give us cause for pride because they’re “one of us,” can somehow help or hurt our effort to prove our cause. At most they can only remind us, barely, of where we live.

Long ago, in an age that was no less dark and complicated, one could easily shut up a beautiful, smart, talented Hollywood star, of any religion, who didn’t take our side of things. First of all, if she was a Hollywood star, no one expected or encouraged her to express opinions. And if she had unconventional independent opinions and voiced them, she was called Vanessa Redgrave and no one wanted to work with her.

Nowadays, on the diplomatic level at least, when you say, “No, thank you,” your meaning is totally clear, but when you reply, “Certainly, I would be honored,” it’s not clear whom you need to be more wary of – those who want to give you such honors or those who will really put you through the wringer afterwards.

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