Why Seth Rogen’s Anti-Israel Rant Matters

Actor Seth Rogan and Lauren Miller pose in West Hollywood, Calif., February 22, 2009. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)
He overlooks the reasons Israel was founded in the first place, and what makes it unique today.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Seth Rogen has, at best, a facile understanding of basic history, faith, or politics. We shouldn’t expect anything else. His job is to act. The problem, though, is that Rogen increasingly feels the need to share his illiterate opinions about serious issues with millions of people.

This week, in an appearance on Marc Maron’s popular (and excellent) podcast, Rogen claimed he was “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel” growing up, and he now questions the legitimacy of the Jewish state’s existence.

Why does it matter? Well, Maron has more downloads than any cable news-show host has viewers. More than the top-rated Tucker Carlson. More than the entire slate of CNN hosts on any given evening. We should assume that a number of his listeners — many of them young and ordinarily uninterested in politics — might take a stoner’s quasi-coherent ideas seriously.

Opinions like this one:

To me it just seems an antiquated thought process. If it is for religious reasons, I don’t agree with it, because I think religion is silly. If it is for truly the preservation of Jewish people, it makes no sense, because again, you don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place — especially when that place is proven to be pretty volatile, you know? “I’m trying to keep all these things safe, I’m gonna put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place . . . that’ll do it.” It doesn’t make sense to me. And I also think that as a Jewish person I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life! They never tell you that — oh by the way, there were people there. They make it seem like it was just like sitting there, like the f***ing door’s open. They forget to include the fact to every young Jewish person.

I was once a young Jewish person growing up in similar cultural circumstances to Rogen’s, and anyone with basic cognitive abilities understood that “other people” lived in Israel. It was “other people” who launched pogroms against Jews in 1920s and 1930s. It was the “other people” who allied with Hitler during World War II, continuing to stoke violence against Jews, making the formation of a peaceful multiethnic state impossible. It was the “other people” who rejected the United Nations partition plan and launched an all-out war against Jews only three years after the concentration camps were liberated. It was “other people” who initiated wave after wave of terrorism against Jewish civilians — years before there were any “occupied” territories in the West Bank. It was “other people” who rejected dozens of peace offerings from 1948 onward. And yet, some of those “other people” still reside in Israel and enjoy more liberal rights than Arabs do in any Arab nation.

In fact, as the historian Efraim Karsh lays out in his indispensable book Palestine Betrayed, large numbers of those “other people” initially came to sparsely populated areas of Israel because of the influx of Jews, who, starting in the late 19th century, brought economic growth and opportunities with them.

And I hate to break the news to Rogen, but the only people who lived in Jerusalem before Jews showed up were the Jebusites.

It’s worth noting, too, that Israel is the only country about which politicians, intellectuals, journalists, and even actors feel the need to give an opinion on whether it should exist or not. You will never hear a guest on a comedian’s podcast inform the audience that they disagree with the existence of, say, Pakistan, a nation formed one year before Israel. You won’t even hear an actor grouse about how Pakistanis engaged in the systematic genocidal murder and rape of hundreds of thousands of Bengalis who were “already there,” or how the Islamic dictatorship that runs the country now maltreats its minorities and women.

Among contemporary progressives, this kind of opprobrium is almost exclusively reserved for the tiny liberal Jewish state. It’s a left-wing tradition. It is why violent Marxist groups allied with the PLO in the 1960 and 1970s, and why contemporary American Jewish progressives are increasingly taking the side of terror groups like Hamas. There are more than dozen illiberal theocratic Islamic states in the world that leftists could get worked up about, but they almost never do. Then and now, all of this is propelled by an absurd notion that Westerners who hold power are by default immoral oppressors.

Rogen’s comments about the Jewish State are increasingly popular among young progressives who have replaced traditional Jewish religious and moral values with a menu of cultural Marxist ideas regrading race, victimhood, and power. Some of this has to do with the fact that younger generation of Jews are disconnected from the systemic violent anti-Semitism of the 20th century.

For Rogen, some unkind words are the worst kind of Jew-hatred he’ll ever encounter. Not everyone has been so lucky. Israel was the haven not only for those who escaped the Ukrainian Pale or the Holocaust, but for African Jews who were rescued from the Communist-generated famines of Ethiopia; for hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern Jews who, after centuries, were forced to flee the Islamic world after 1948; and for largely secular Soviet Jews in the 1970s and 1980s, who had often been imprisoned for speaking their minds. At one time or another, Jews had been abandoned and denied basic rights of citizenship by virtually every nation that ruled over them.

Rogen contends Jews will be kept safe by spreading out. He may not know that even as the oppression and massacre of Jews commenced, many place – places such as the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Spain, and British Palestine — rejected refugees who were fleeing the Nazis. Often these Jews had no place to go. Rogen finds this notion “silly” because it fails comport with the progressive’s superficial view of history.

Not that Rogen’s underlying contention is true, anyway. He says that if Israel “truly” exists as a means of “preserving” the Jewish people — as if Zionism was invented in the 1800s as pretext for some tacit racism — “you don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place, especially when that place is proven to be pretty volatile, you know?”

No, I don’t know. For one thing, there are somewhere between five to seven million Jews in the United States — depending on whom you ask and how you measure it. There are still millions of Jews in Europe and elsewhere. It’s fair to say, as a percentage, Jews are less inclined to be “all in one place” than most ethnic groups in the world.

But if congregating in one place is a bad idea, why have countries at all? If the Indians and Chileans can’t preserve Indian and Chilean traditions and values by congregating in one place, what’s the use of borders? And if this is so, why do Palestinians need a state of their own? Why don’t Palestinians just get into a “blender” to keep safe? Rogen and Maron spend the entire podcast discussing Jewish culture in North America as if everyone can enjoy this luxury. Rogen seems to be under the impression that multi-ethnic and religious states are all like the U.S. or Canada, when in fact such an arrangement is unique.

“I think for Jewish people, especially who view themselves as progressive and who view themselves as analytical and who view themselves as people who ask a lot of questions and who really challenge the status quo — Like, what are we doing?” asks Rogen.

It’s a good question. People who “challenge the status quo” for the sake of challenging the status quo have the intellectual sophistication of a child — which is fine if that child isn’t given a massive megaphone. But Rogen, who was surely taught that Judaism’s ancient nature makes it both a nationality and faith, isn’t attacking the status quo, he’s attacking the one place in the Middle East that respects individual rights, gay rights, minority rights, and women’s rights — and I assume the only country in the area that can openly play all his movies. This kind of self-destructive instinct might be “progressive,” but it has nothing to do with being Jewish.