We need to talk about Seth Rogen

To really stand with Palestinians, Seth Rogen would need to mention them first
5 min read
07 Aug, 2020
Comment: Most Jewish-Americans, like Seth Rogen, are still only awakening to the moral and political ramifications of Israel's settler-colonial project, writes Josh Ruebner.
'I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel' said Rogen [Getty]

Actor Seth Rogen set the Jewish and Palestinian Twitterverses ablaze last week with comments that many interpreted as a renunciation of Zionism and full-throated support for Palestinian rights. 

Rogen's statements even prompted Isaac Herzog, Chair of the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental institution based in Jerusalem responsible for promoting Jewish immigration to Israel, to do possibly the most Jewish thing ever: send his mom a letter.

As Rogen told Israeli journalist Mairav Zonszein, his mom made him call Herzog, resulting in Herzog claiming Rogen had recanted, a claim which Rogen then denied.

What horrific words did Rogen utter to merit such high-level attention from the senior official of the most consequential Zionist institution in the world?

Mondoweiss, a publication for which I write regularly, broke the story of Rogen's comments on a podcast hosted by Marc Maron. "I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life," Rogen stated. "You know, they never tell you, that oh by the way, there were people there."

Rogen's candid admission that his Jewish education about Israel negated the existence of the Palestinian people is a welcome airing of dirty laundry. It is an indication that former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's infamous declaration in 1969 that "there were [sic] no such thing as Palestinians" reverberated down to his Talmud Torah day school in Vancouver where he studied until high school.

Rogen's candid admission that his Jewish education about Israel negated the existence of the Palestinian people is a welcome airing of dirty laundry

But is it so revolutionary just to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people today, especially when, as Palestinian-American author Steven Salaita pointed out, Rogen "studiously avoids the word 'Palestinian'" in his interview?

True, Rogen did seem to cast doubt on what he considered an "antiquated thought process" of gathering together all world Jewry in one country, a central tenet of 19th century Zionist ideology. However, with thriving Israeli Jewish expatriate communities in Berlin, Los Angeles, and other cities around the world, and the persistence of vibrant Jewish communities across the Americas and Europe, only the most committed of Zionist agitators today would seriously consider this a feasible proposition anyway.

As the product of an insular religious and Zionist upbringing in an era that predated social media, YouTube, and the instant accessibility of knowledge provided by Google and Wikipedia, it is perhaps understandable that Rogen grew up knowing nothing about the existence of the Palestinian people.

Today, however, there is no such excuse for this ignorance, which is reflected in polling of the Jewish-American community. However, while the vast majority of Jewish-Americans support the contours of the discredited US-backed process for resolving Israeli-Palestinian issues, which acknowledge the Palestinian people should have an attenuated state of their own, this has yet to translate into widespread support for the full panoply of Palestinian rights. 

For example, post-mid-term election polling conducted by J Street in 2018 revealed that 78 percent of Jewish-Americans supported a two-state solution based on a demilitarised Palestinian state in most of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in parts of East Jerusalem, and Palestinians recognising Israel as a Jewish state with no right of return for Palestinian refugees.

However, the same poll also revealed that two-thirds of Jewish-Americans feel attached to Israel and that more than 80 percent also felt more positive about Israel or the same compared to their feelings five to 10 years prior, despite the intervening years of Israeli massacres of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, its ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land, and the intensification of anti-democratic and fascist tendencies with the country's body politic.

Furthermore, a 2019 Gallup review of polling data found 95 percent of Jewish-Americans have favourable views of Israel, "significantly more pro-Israel than the overall national averages."

Although Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an organisation that opposes Zionism and supports the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, claims to be the fastest growing Jewish-American organisation, it is likely to be drawing this support from the relatively small pool of 16 percent of Jewish-Americans who define themselves as progressive, according to the J Street poll cited above.

It would appear that most Jewish-Americans, like Seth Rogen, are still only awakening to the moral and political ramifications of Israel's settler-colonial project of dispossessing the indigenous Palestinian population to replace it with a chauvinistic, exclusivist state based on religio-national supremacy.

The valorisation of celebrity political activism is often rightfully critiqued for being vapid and shallow. However, celebrities' megaphones and cultural cachet cannot be overlooked as a means to advance social change.

Rogen's recent podcast remarks do not merit lionisation

A few weeks before Rogen's podcast commentary, JVP organiser Reuben Telushkin tweeted: "I bet if I had a 1/4 and 3 hours I could move Seth Rogen on Palestine." Rogen replied: "I was moved about 5 years ago."

If this is the case, then Rogen either harbours heretofore publicly unexpressed support for Palestinian rights or, like most Jewish-Americans, still has a very constricted understanding of them. 

In either case, Rogen's recent podcast remarks do not merit lionisation. However, his apparent gradual unlearning of Zionist mythologising is a process which should be encouraged and nurtured as he could yet still play an important role in supporting the Palestine solidarity movement.

Josh Ruebner is Senior Principal at Progress Up Consulting and is the author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Follow him on Twitter: @joshruebner

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.