Saving Mr. Banks, the new film chronicling Walt Disney’s bid to secure movie rights to Mary Poppins, was released on Friday. Although an incredibly talented and innovative animator, director and producer, Disney’s reputation will be forever tarnished by his well-known anti-Semitism and support for racist causes. Disney participated in several racist initiatives, including the pro-Nazi German American Bund and was a close friend of the Nazi propagandist and Hitler confidante Leni Riefenstahl. He was also allied with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, another anti-Semitic organization.
But the irony of this unfortunate history is that Emma Thompson, who plays the role of author P. L. Travers in the new film, seems aligned with Disney and his ambivalence toward the Jewish people. Since she signed a libelous protest of an Israeli theater group’s participation in last year’s Shakespeare festival in England, I don’t know if her reputation will ever be the same.
The 2012 letter of protest, published in The Guardian, signed by Ms. Thompson and more than three dozen other artists, states, “We notice with dismay and regret that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London has invited Israel’s National Theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May.” It seems that the irony of an Israeli theater performing The Merchant of Venice was lost on Ms. Thompson, who appears to have taken Shakespeare’s caricature of Jews a little too literally.
The six-week long festival also hosted China’s National Theater, but their participation was met without protest from Ms. Thompson and the other artists. If Ms. Thompson was sincerely concerned about her complicity in supporting a government that she claims violates human rights, then China, which regularly jails dissenters for lengthy sentences and has brutally occupied Tibet since 1950, should have been at the top of her list.
But China was allowed to participate in the Shakespeare festival without Ms. Thompson demanding a pound of flesh.
Here lies the troubling prejudice of Israel’s enemies who hold utterly hypocritical standards when it comes to the Jewish state. For Jews, the standards are superhuman and often impossible to satisfy. Ms. Thompson’s boycott of Habima is only a small part of an unsettling trend in the community of celebrities and Hollywood stars to hold Israel to an unachievably higher standard than other nations.
Sometimes the uneven judgment comes from Jewish celebrities themselves.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, in his series Parts Unknown, seems never to miss an opportunity to slam Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population when he visits the Jewish state. Although he put tefillin on for the first time in his life, having a perfunctory “bar mitzvah,” he is no more immune than anyone else to being blinded by a superficial evaluation of the conflict. While Mr. Bourdain goes to great lengths to break stereotypes about Palestinians—documenting an all-female Palestinian racing team, for instance—he sadly reinforces an inaccurate impression of the Israeli presence in the West Bank.
He does not reveal that Israel conquered the West Bank in a war of annihilation against the Jewish State provoked by Nasser of Egypt and joined by King Hussein of Jordan. He does not reveal that the West Bank consists of Judea and Samaria, the two oldest Biblical settlements of the ancient Jewish nation. He does not reveal that Israel has returned 97% of the West Bank to Palestinian control, amid incessant terror attacks launched against Israelis and Jews from those areas.
When Mr. Bourdain visits Gaza, he speaks with a young Palestinian woman who tells him about the challenges of fishing—that Palestinians are shot at by Israelis if they travel too far from the coast and risk having their boats, and livelihoods, destroyed. He does not reveal that Gaza is ruled by Hamas, with its genocidal charter against Israel, its honor killings against young Palestinian women, and its murder of homosexuals who are falsely accused of collaborating with Israel. He also fails to reveal that bombs and bullets are regularly smuggled into Gaza and are employed to terrorize the Israeli population.
In narrating a visit to Israeli settlement Eli, Mr. Bourdain remarks that “half a million [Jewish] settlers have moved here, all in contravention of international law … Though, in effect, it seems to make little difference.” Mr. Bourdain also states that “Eighty-five percent of [the separation wall] is in Palestinian territory.” One of his guests on the special tells Mr. Bourdain that “No, [it’s not a fence,] it’s a big wall. It’s ugly. It’s really ugly. You can see it, it’s not far away from here.”
But Mr. Bourdain does not reveal that 95 percent of the security barrier’s length is fence, not wall. Not to mention that the barrier was erected only after more than 1,000 Israelis were blown to smithereens on buses and in coffee houses. Mr. Bourdain also does not reveal that the wall portions of the barrier are located primarily in residential areas to block snipers from firing on Israelis from the upper floors of buildings. More importantly, since the construction of the security barrier, suicide bombings have virtually ended.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred has reached the music industry as well. In 2010, singer-songwriter Elvis Costello cancelled two summer performances in Israel because, as he said, it was “a matter of instinct and conscience” to protest Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population.
Stevie Wonder, too, decided not to perform in Los Angeles at the gala benefit for Friends of the Israel Defense in December 2012. “I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere,” he said.
But worst of all among the anti-Israel mouthpieces celebrities is Roger Waters, former front man of Pink Floyd, who branded Israel a “racist apartheid” regime in an interview with CounterPunch two weeks ago. He went on to accuse Israel of practicing “ethnic cleansing,” even going so far as to compare Israel to the Nazi regime, claiming the “…parallels with what went on in the ’30s in Germany are so crushingly obvious,” only “this time it’s the Palestinian People being murdered.”
Last week I responded to Waters’s incendiary statements here in The New York Observer. Waters’s response to me was that the onus was actually on me to refute such statements, stating in The Guardian that, “If Rabbi Boteach can make a case for the Israel government’s policies, I look forward to hearing it.”
I would welcome the opportunity to debate not only Waters, but all of the anti-Israel celebrities who hold Israel to an impossible standard, who believe it has no right to self-defense, and use their prominence as an opportunity to denigrate the sole democracy in the Middle East.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. Like Rabbi Shmuley’s Facebook page.