Politics & Policy

Keep Talking, Joan

Joan Rivers unleashed (TMZ via YouTube)
Comedienne Joan Rivers’s refreshing support for Israel

‘Let me just tell you,” says Joan Rivers: “If New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe them out. If we heard they were digging tunnels from New Jersey to New York, we would get rid of Jersey.”

Rivers — comedienne, fashion maven, Botox cautionary tale — has never been known for subtlety, so when a TMZ reporter seeking celebrity reactions to the conflict between Israel and Hamas snagged her, Rivers was characteristically frank: “Palestinians — you cannot throw rockets and expect people not to defend themselves!”

How has it come to pass that the host of E! Network’s Fashion Police and author of Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery thinks more clearly about the Jewish state and its terrorist neighbors than the bulk of the American entertainment industry, the majority of the global media, and the president of the United States? For someone on the crest of every trend, doesn’t Rivers know she is dangerously out of fashion on the subject of Israel?

Consider the statements of her fellow celebs: Actors Mark Ruffalo and John Cusack, actress and UNICEF ambassador Mia Farrow, and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain have all tweeted support for Gaza, as has comedian Rob Schneider, who added, “To not be outraged at the killing of children is to risk your very soul. #Gaza.” Under pressure from Palestinian academics this spring, scientist Stephen Hawking withdrew from a conference at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder interrupted a performance in the United Kingdom for a profanity-filled criticism of Israel, Comedy Central host Jon Stewart has earned accolades for his relentless criticism of Israel, and actress and pop star Selena Gomez posted “It’s about humanity. Pray for Gaza” to her Instagram.

Support for Israel is hard to come by. In 2011 singer Katy Perry replied to an Israeli follower’s “please pray with us” tweet — sent after Hamas rockets left eight Israelis dead and more than 30 wounded in the Red Sea town of Eilat — with “I am! My prayers are for you guys tonight, SHALOM!!!” Twitter users responded mercilessly: “You heartless lesbian,” wrote one. “Israel has killed THOUSANDS OF PALESTINIANS, yet you’re gonna pray for Israel? You shiz [sic].” Perry “spits on Gaza and it’s [sic] murdered children,” wrote another. Or a third: “I hope your private jet crash lands in Palestine so they can stamp on you like the whore you are.” A similar response greeted Kim Kardashian, who, during a Gaza flare-up in 2012, tweeted “Praying for everyone in Israel.” She subsequently removed her tweets and issued an apology.

Rivers’s unwavering support for Israel is deliciously heterodox. And it evinces a better grasp of the realities of the situation on the ground than most State Department sound bites do. When asked about civilian casualties in Gaza, she replied, “Don’t you dare put weapon stashes in private homes!” And commenting on the origins of the most recent violence, she was unequivocal: “They [Hamas] started it! . . . For months this has been going on.” Good luck getting John Kerry to be that forthright.

This is not the first time Rivers has expressed affection for Israel. Earlier this year she appeared (language warning) on the Israeli television show Matzav HaUma to count down her “Top 10 Ways to Say ‘I Love Israel.’” How much does Rivers love Israel? “At night I go to bed wearing only Chanel No. 5 and an Uzi.” (That joke is No. 9 on the list.) “Everybody that I know loves Israel,” she told host Lior Schleien. “I’m not popular.”

That is hardly a joke. The Palestinian narrative — that Gazans are innocent, caged victims of a murderous, if not downright genocidal, theocratic power — has provided an opportunity for big names of all sorts to stand with the apparently littlest of guys. As Rob Schneider’s comment made clear, the state of your soul is at stake in your decision. But like so much celebrity do-gooding, it’s not about the subject of the tweet but about the star sending it, displaying to all the world that they are on the side of the oppressed, the beset, the marginalized — the “right side of history,” in the words of another celebrity.

Which is why Joan Rivers’s comments are so refreshing: They are not about Joan Rivers. For that reason, do not expect Rivers to apologize. That is not her way — even with more contentious comments: Rivers has refused to apologize for jokes about the Holocaust, about singer Adele’s weight, and about Lindsay Lohan’s miscarriage. To be sure, none of those comments were in good taste, but a celebrity who refuses to be browbeaten into ideological conformity by Hollywood’s culture of political correctness is heartening.

So keep talking, Joan. And Mr. President? You might want to take some notes.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. fellow at National Review.


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