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Seth Rogen’s Not Alone in Doubting the Zionist Dream

Shira Makin
Shira Makin
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Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in a scene from "Knocked Up."
Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in a scene from "Knocked Up."Credit: AP
Shira Makin
Shira Makin

“We’re gonna piss off a bunch of Jews,” said American comedian Marc Maron, in an hour-long interview conducted on his podcast with colleague Seth Rogen. The two spoke of their complex Jewish identity and their experiences growing up Jewish in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Maron), and Vancouver, Canada (Rogen).

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Maron knew what he was talking about. Every criticism of the only democracy in the Middle East, even from Jews, is perceived as antisemitic (or Jewish self-hatred), no less. As expected, quotes from the fascinating discussion were taken out of context, inserted into the assembly line of clickbait headlines (Israel Hayom went with “Seth Rogen attacks Israel”), and were offered up in a few opinion pieces and pathetic tweets by Jewish pundits, who condemned an anti-Zionist joke by Rogen with holy Zionist rage.

But beyond the fact that some people just can’t appreciate a good joke when they hear one, the most subversive part of the conversation focused on the erasure of the Palestinians from the Zionist narrative. Rogen, who said his grandmother had fled pogroms in Poland and his parents had met on kibbutz, says, “[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 [the land] was just like sitting there – oh the fucking door’s open.”

Rogen, who only six years ago, during Operation Protective Edge, signed a petition supporting the Israel Defense Forces along with a handful of other Hollywood actors, is not the first star getting self-righteous tut-tuts over criticism he uttered. Before him good Jews like Natalie Portman and Peter Beinart also got slammed for daring to object to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians – all part of a broader sobering up of North American Jewry regarding their holy alliance with Israel.

But if Rogen believes that Israel’s geographic distance was what wrapped it for years in Teflon and blocked him and others like him from getting crucial information about the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, their identity and the complex balance of power between them – then I hate to disappoint him. In Israel the situation is much worse. In America he can still hold an open debate, without it undermining the revenues of his new film.

One of Zionism’s greatest successes is the total erasure of the Palestinian narrative from the Israeli landscape. The average Israeli, no matter what their social class, has never met a Palestinian. Other than what’s described in tendentious media reports, Israelis have no idea who they are. Israelis don’t speak their language, have no clue about the internal, inter-generational discourse they conduct, and don’t know what they like to watch on Netflix. As far as we’re concerned, Palestinians are all cut from the same cloth.

This is dehumanization, aimed at instilling in us from kindergarten a belief in and loyalty to the “true” narrative, the one that only traitors question. Just try to use the word “Nakba” in your office’s kitchenette and watch as everyone – right-wingers and leftists alike – avert their eyes and remain silent.

Since the State of Israel was founded, the authorities have made every effort, consciously or unconsciously, to make the Palestinians disappear, until they turned into some kind of ghost, urban legend or horror story about murderous enemies that you tell to children to get them to finish their vegetables.

All Israeli governments had a role in this. The disappearance of Palestinians from the Israeli picture was summed up perfectly by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who said in the early 2000s, “We’re here and they’re there.”

The mainstream Israeli media, which is primarily interested in flattering its viewers, enlisted enthusiastically in this mission, and in this context the educational system has long been a farce. Just recently a study by Prof. Avner Ben Amos of Tel Aviv University’s School of Education showed that the occupation was almost totally absent from all history, civics and geography textbooks, with the Palestinians reduced to three words: “Not Israeli citizens.”

Israel is trapped in an eternal game of peek-a-boo – like the child who’s convinced that if he covers his eyes, no one can see him. We close our eyes to a people that lives under our complete control and make believe they’ve disappeared. But as long as Seth Rogen and his influential friends continue to remind us, without fear or apology, that an injustice is being committed here daily, perhaps there’s still hope.

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