‘Boycott Israel,’ the movie, starring actress Emma Thompson


This is cross posted by Ben Cohen, and originally appeared at Jointmedia News Service.

If Hollywood ever makes a movie about the movement to boycott Israel, I can think of no one better suited to the starring role than Emma Thompson.

I imagine Thompson’s character as a schoolteacher or a librarian, dowdy looking with just a hint of prettiness. She lives alone in a cozy apartment filled with potted plants and books on personal growth, third-world politics and vegetarian cookery.

Her significant other is a fluffy cat that nestles in her lap every night as she sits in front of her computer reading the latest dispatches from occupied “Palestine,” her face etched with righteous disbelief.

She doesn’t have time for a boyfriend, but that won’t stop her would-be suitor, an equally self-righteous, mildly kooky Jewish writer—think Peter Beinart—from trying to win her heart.

By the time we’re halfway through the film, Emma will have decided that she simply must visit the West Bank, despite the enormous dangers posed by the Israeli occupation forces. She comes to this awareness while attending a Passover seder hosted by her aspiring boyfriend, during which he pulls out a fading photograph of his great-grandmother who was murdered during the Holocaust. 

Fighting back the tears, he confides that, “If she could see what Israel has become, she’d die all over again from the shame.” The two fall into each other’s arms, waking the next morning to a breakfast of matzo brei— as Emma tries to pronounce the name of the dish she’s eating, we giggle through the obligatory moment of light relief—before she’s whisked away in a taxi to the airport, and thence to the beautiful-yet-tragic land of Palestine.

In the West Bank, she cavorts with cute little kids—“just like the ones I teach back home”—drinks mint tea with effusive women who bear the daily humiliation of occupation with a smile and a shrug, and admires the steely-eyed men who stand up to the nasty Israelis with all the conviction of a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King.

Emma embraces their anger but concludes that violence is not the answer. Just before she leaves the Palestinian village that now feels like home, she regales the enthusiastically nodding villagers with a speech—tearful, of course—expounding on the importance of non-violence. “Don’t use bombs,” she exhorts. “Use boycotts.” Their applause can be heard all the way to the adjacent Israeli army base, where the commander is suddenly struck by the realization that the Palestinian aspiration for freedom can never be crushed.

Roll the credits. And don’t call it a chick flick.

With a movie like this one, art would be imitating life—to be precise, Emma Thompson’s life. Recently, the Oscar-winning actress joined with other darlings of stage and screen to protest the participation of Tel Aviv’s venerable Habimah Theater in a London festival that is performing the plays of William Shakespeare in 37 different languages.

In a letter published by The Guardian—a liberal newspaper with a long track record of publishing anti-Semitic material—Thompson and her cohorts slammed “Habima” [sic] for its “shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.” They ended with a demand to exclude the theater from the festival. No such objections were voiced concerning the participation of a Palestinian theater troupe, nor the involvement of the National Theater of China, which is directly funded by one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

In fact, there are many good reasons to ditch political objections and keep the festival open to all—which its organizers, to their credit, have done, in spite of Thompson’s fulminations. To perform Shakespeare is in itself a celebration of artistic freedom. Habimah’s version of “The Merchant of Venice,” the play that gave us the figure of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who embodies anti-Semitic canards even as he challenges them, is sure to be enticing. And I would genuinely love to see how actors from communist China interpret the story of “Richard III.”

For those like Emma Thompson, though, boycotts are predicated on supposedly universal principles and then applied to only one target—Israel. To understand the strategy here, it’s worth recalling the campaign in the UK for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Ten years ago, an article in The Guardian noted that Israel’s universities are victims of their own success:

“The nature of Israel’s academic pre-eminence,” the article explained, “makes it vulnerable to a boycott.”

The same logic applies to the flourishing arts scene in Israel. The excellence of a theater like Habimah, along with its enthusiasm to perform outside Israel’s borders, renders it a sitting duck for boycott campaigners. In their warped view of the world, Palestinian freedom can only be achieved by quarantining Israelis on the basis of their nationality.

Thus do apparently free-spirited artists echo the racist policies of the Arab League, which began its boycott of the Jewish community in Eretz Israel in 1945, three years before the state of Israel was born.

What, then, is the appropriate response to Emma Thompson and those like her? Certainly not to make the movie I described earlier. Instead, they should be given a taste of their own medicine.

We are often told that Jews run Hollywood—the same Hollywood that carried on casting Vanessa Redgrave, Emma Thompson’s fellow Brit, in leading roles after she denounced so-called “Zionist hoodlums” in an Oscar acceptance speech in 1978. Will the studio moguls continue to indulge Thompson as they indulged Redgrave? Or will they show some gumption, and tell her that, for as long as she seeks to discriminate against Israeli artists, she will be banished from our screens?

I think I know, sadly, what the answer is. But I’d love to be proved wrong.


29 replies »

  1. Haven’t seen the film but wouldn’t want to after this description.

    And I doubt that you will be proved wrong, Ben.

    • Well, actually Hairshirt there is no film. This is satire, or what I would call satirical-realism as it might well happen.

      As to whether or not Emma Thompson would be ostracised by Hollywood if she starred in such a film, well, as Ben points out, calling Jews ‘Zionist hoodlums’ didn’t do Vanessa Redgrave any harm, but conversly a drunken anti-Jewish rant by Mel Gibson didn’t do him any good.

      As the old song goes, ‘It ain’t what you say, it’s the way how you say it’.

    • Welcome to Europe! Here there’s one thing we cannot begin to understand: why on earth do Israelis still occupy the territory of their neighbor, and why do they build settlements on it in violation of international law? I mean, guys, the colonial era ended some 60 years ago! We have known for more than half a century that one cannot have peace if one occupies another people’s land, like Israel does in the neighboring Palestinian territory. Honestly, why go live in a ghastly settlement in Palestine (West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza) instead of enjoying life in Tel Aviv? Why do 20 single male settlers sleep together in a trailer when they could attend the Gay Pride in Tel Aviv and dance with their lovers in nightclubs? Weird.

      • Benyamin, trust me, there are LOTS of things that you and others similarly challenged can’t begin to understand….

        moshe, thanks for setting me straight. It’s illustrative of the state of the world and the lack of critical thinking capability of dummies like Thompson, Benyamin and others that I could so easily believe it!

        • Bein”Lack of critical thinking capability of dummies like….” yourself, sir or madam, since it is you who are on the wrong side of history’s moral evolution beyond racist colonialism, which is precisely what Israel has been perpetrating against Palestinians since its terrorist theft of 23 percent more of Palestine than the UN Mandate and UK/US-led elite of nations in 1947 granted to the Zionist Jews lusting after the land that had been cultivated and loved for over thirteen centuries. You can lie to others so long you start believing your own (or uncritically swallowed) lies and end up beating your skull against your own simpleton blindness. Please, consider joining the 21st century and stop trying to legitimize a racist apartheid regime which is precisely what Israel is.

          • Your knowledge of history is as appalling as your reasoning. So, in 1947 the UN “granted” us a piece of the Mandate, and we created the State of Israel in May 1948. Here are a few incomfortable questions: What happened the next day? If we “stole” the land from the palestinians (BTW, that name was appropiated by the arabs only 20 years later). Did the “palestinians” created their own state? That’s the only way we could have stole the land from THEM. Of course not, what happened was that 5 arab countries attacked Israel with the trumpeted goal of murdering all the jews, bar none (the preferred arab style of “colonization”). Yet, Israel survived such an uneven fight (back then we didn’t have fighter jets or tanks). What happened with the West Bank? Simply put, Jordan grabbed it for itself, and no arab raised his voice in protest. And that occupation was not recognized by anyone (except England, what a surprise), not even the arab states! So, when they attacked us in 1967 and we conquered the West Bank, we didn’t take the land from the “palestinians”. And I could go on and on… So please don’t talk about simpletons, you just proved you’re one of them. I pity you.

      • This is a really moronic comment… Seems you are not able to even figure out why would someone would live only in confort and nightclubs. It would be a waste of time trying to explain to you concepts like nationalism, love for your country, and patriotism, it’s obvious you don’t have a clue. If all immigrants, the ones that created Israel, would think like that, Israel would have perished in 1948, when 5 arab countries invaded it, with the proclaimed objective of murdering all the jews. If the jews of Israel would have been like you, we would have been wiped off in a week. Instead, they fought against impossible odds, and sacrified their lives to defend each little town or settlement from the arab murderers. And they succeeded! Today’s settlers are no different at all. BTW, you seem to know a lot about gays and nightclubs, at least that seems to be the extent of your knowledge of Israel. Telling… Get a life, you’re out of you’re league here.

  2. Emma, put this superb letter to the Guardian from your peers in your paltry politicised pipe and smoke it; then watch while the rest of us rush for tickets for Habima’s performace of “The Merchant of Venice” at The Globe. All praise to that theatre.

    “We are delighted to see the Globe theatre welcoming Israel’s national theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in London (Letters, 4 April). Founded in the early 20th century in Moscow, Habima is one of the first Hebrew language theatres, and is a symbol not just of the cultural success of the state of Israel, but also of the resilience of a people who have united to overcome continued persecution throughout their history. Habima itself encountered persecution under the Soviet government as well after the Russian revolution. Now, as then, there are those who wish to oppose their work, seeking to delegitimise the state of Israel and its success, the Jewish people, and even the Hebrew language itself.

    Habima’s productions have always explored the challenges faced by the Jewish people, and its presentation of The Merchant of Venice on the London stage continues that important mission. Those who wish to hijack the artistic and cultural work of Habima for their own narrow political aims simply remind us of the vital importance of such work. No artists should attempt to silence the expression of other artists simply because they are Israeli. By trying to suppress the cultural exchange of ideas they demonstrate the continued persecution of Jews and Israelis even occurring in 21st-century Britain. We condemn the acts of cultural terrorism that some may try to carry out during Habima’s performances. We welcome Israel’s national theatre to London as another fine example of the UK and Israel’s many shared values.
    Arnold Wesker, Ronald Harwood, Maureen Lipman, Simon Callow, Louise Mensch MP, Steven Berkoff.”

  3. Thompson should really start paying attention to the petitions she signs. She also signed the petition to release child rapist Roman Polanski but then retracted when the backlash against her got too big.

    • I wasn’t aware that Roman Polanski had been imprisoned. Could you tell us about this as I must have missed it.

      • “On 26 September 2009, Polanski was arrested while in Switzerland at the request of U.S. authorities. He was kept in jail near Zurich for two months, then put under house arrest at his home in Gstaad while awaiting decision of appeals fighting extradition to the U.S.”

  4. Great,suggest the movie to Speilberg……

    At night she dreams of this palestinian stud who who will come galloping on his Arabian stallion and drag her off into the night to make mad passioate
    love only to find out later that she is fridgid.

    BTW he didn’t take the suicide vest with him.

    • Back in the 70s I remember going to see Vanessa Redgrave in some art house film called the Palestinian . She was dancing around a PLO campfire with a Kalashnikov raised above her head . Mad and bad ! Looks like she’s found her natural successor .

      • Apparently Thompson has dropped out the role call of signatures from the original Guardian letter in this weeks JC letters page . Possibly writers cramp or maybe her agent told her that the whooshing noise was the sound of her Hollywood career diving out the window .
        Oh and for any of the bastards from the dark side are looking in ‘yeh your right we do control the media so choke on it .

  5. About time thai this famous furphy that the Jews control the media kicked in…..

    At the moment the loudest empty drums like the Racist Guardian seem to be controlling the media……

  6. Vanessa Redgrave was known as the silly filly for her antics. Thompson has earned a similar title: perhaps ‘old warhorse’?

    • Too right. I went right off her after her performance in “Sense and Sensibility” as the distinctly over-aged, and therefore woefully miscast “young” heroine.

  7. In a letter published by The Guardian—a liberal newspaper with a long track record of publishing anti-Semitic material …

    Oh, please. No it doesn’t.

    Vanessa Redgrave … after she denounced so-called “Zionist hoodlums” in an Oscar acceptance speech in 1978.

    She was talking specifically about the protesters outside the theater.

    But you know this, don’t you?

    • Pretzel : “Oh, please. No it doesn’t.”

      Oh yes it does! – Pretzel’s perpetual Punch and Judy show.

  8. This is one dumb flip flopping hypocrite who is lost without a script,her minder must have forgotten to yank her chain when see strayed from the written script…….

  9. It must really stick in Thompson’s throat, as well as the other obsessives who dedicate their sad, pointless lives to their sick anti-Jewish cause, that in spite of all their lies, bullying tactics, extortion and threats, trade between the UK and Israel went up by 34% last year.

  10. Thanks for bringing up China, Ben. Last year, Cameron signed a trade agreement with China worth 1.4 million pounds. Now, of course with all of that wealth pouring into the UK, we couldn’t expect poor little Emma and her libero-fascist comrades to be say…consistent, could we?

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