For many, the problem with Israel is not just its prime minister, its policies, or its occupation of the West Bank — it is also its identity as a Jewish state.
If, in their eyes, a Jewish state is discriminatory and no longer really necessary, then many younger American Jews struggle with supporting it. They feel ambivalent about Israel, if not altogether alienated from it. This is particularly true for the children of interfaith marriages — now almost half the population of young American Jews — whose Jewish identities tend to be less ethnic and more cultural.
Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning actress, recently kicked off a massive storm of controversy when she pulled out of a prestigious award ceremony in Israel because, she said, she “did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The response to Portman’s refusal to appear alongside Israel’s prime minister was intense. She was denounced by right-wing Israeli politicians. One labeled Portman’s decision as borderline anti-Semitic. Another suggested that her Israeli citizenship should be stripped. Born in Israel, Portman is a dual American-Israeli citizen.
The reaction within the American Jewish community was more divided. Some assailed her for being disloyal, deluded, or, at best, misguided. Others hailed her as a hero for publicly voicing her opposition to Netanyahu and his government’s hard-line policies.
Portman’s protest touched a raw nerve not just because of who she is — a world-famous Jewish celebrity and a well-known supporter of Israel — but also because of whom she is seen to represent. Her outspoken opposition to Netanyahu has been portrayed as typical of her generation of young American Jews whose attitudes toward Israel tend to be more critical than that of their parents and grandparents.