In an interview with the British newspaper The Independent, actress Natalie Portman made several comments about the Holocaust.
Portman was interviewed to promote her directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness, a Hebrew language adaptation of Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel about the birth of the State of Israel. She is best known for her appearances in the Star Wars prequels and would later earn a Best Actress Oscar for Black Swan. In the interview, Portman questioned Jews for overemphasizing the Holocaust to the exclusion of other acts of genocide, specifically the Hutu massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994:
I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education. Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things.…
I was shocked that that (it) was going on while I was in school. We were learning only about the Holocaust and it was never mentioned and it was happening while I was in school. That is exactly the type of problem with the way it’s taught. I think it needs to be taught and I can’t speak for everyone because this was my personal education.…
We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used in a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims. Sometimes it can be subverted to fear mongering and like, ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen.’
Portman has been rightly taken to task for these comments. Collette Avital, a former Labor Member of the Israeli Knesset and currently Chair of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, gently but firmly rejected Portman’s argument:
While I agree with Natalie Portman that hatred exists in every part of the world, our area included, her understanding of the Holocaust seems limited.
Natalie should understand that the Holocaust which befell us cannot be compared to other tragedies — our empathy notwithstanding. It was not merely hatred, it was a policy whose aim was to systematically wipe out a whole people from the face of the world.
Now one might ask why we ought to care about what yet another Hollywood actress thinks about the affairs of the world. Why should her opinion about the Holocaust matter? It matters because Portman is Jewish, was born in Israel (though she spent most of her childhood in this country), and her paternal great-grandparents died at Auschwitz. Had the Allies had been unable liberate the concentration camps 70 years ago and had Hitler and the Nazis triumphed, there would be no Natalie Portman, no Israel, and no Jews. If an Israeli-born Jew whose ancestors were killed at Auschwitz doesn’t understand what separates the Holocaust from all other acts of genocide then we have a very big problem.
If Portman sees the Holocaust in this way, then surely this is true of other Israeli-born Jews who had family members perish in the concentration camps. Like it or not, Portman is a public figure and the younger among us might be inclined to accept her views at face value. With each day that passes there are fewer Jews in the world who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust left to tell us what happened. As a consequence, Portman’s views about the Holocaust could soon be the view that prevails.
The problem with this view is that the Holocaust is not a thing of the past. Anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest hatred and there are forces that wish to see the Jewish people eliminated from the face of the earth. The most prominent of these forces is Iran and President Obama’s nuclear agreement now gives them the means to destroy the State of Israel once and for all. If Israel is destroyed then a campaign of decimation against the rest of the world’s Jews is sure to follow.
Given her support for President Obama (and presumably the Iran nuclear deal), Portman might dismiss such arguments as “paranoid thinking” or “fear mongering.” But if she thinks Iran isn’t serious about wiping Israel off the map, then it simply reinforces the idea that she doesn’t get what separates the Holocaust from all other acts of evil. This is why her comments are so deeply disturbing.