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It’s Time for Natalie Portman to Take a Stand on the Women’s March

The actress hasn’t been afraid to speak her mind on the Israeli government, Hollywood misogyny, and causes she believes in. So when will she take a stand on the anti-Semitism problem within her own movement?

Ariel Sobel
November 15, 2018
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for The Women's March Los Angeles
Eva Longoria, Constance Wu, and Natalie Portman speak onstage at 2018 Women's March Los Angeles on Jan. 20, 2018. Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for The Women’s March Los Angeles
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for The Women's March Los Angeles
Eva Longoria, Constance Wu, and Natalie Portman speak onstage at 2018 Women's March Los Angeles on Jan. 20, 2018. Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for The Women’s March Los Angeles

Dear Natalie,

When you refused to accept the Genesis Prize (known commonly as the Jewish Nobel Prize) in person because you believed attending the ceremony would appear as an endorsement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it created a sensation. You were elevated, in that moment, into an unofficial spokesperson, a leader, the Queen and conscience of progressive Jews.

“Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation,” you explained in an Instagram post. “Because I care about Israel I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”

But there is another event you have been attending for years that has its own serious problems with leadership, inequality, and abuse of power: the Women’s March.

If you don’t know by now, the Women’s March co-presidents have been widely criticized for their connections to Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic, transphobic, homophobic, misogynist leader of Nation of Islam. Instead of apologizing to Jewish and LGBTQ communities, the March’s leaders have done everything possible to deflect accountability, blaming their actions on “right-wing plots” and accusing feminists who have criticized them of being divisive troublemakers.

With high profile feminists in Hollywood such as Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing speaking out against Women’s March leadership and refusing to attend the next event until the bigotry against Jewish and LGBTQ people is addressed, the time has come for you to take a stand as well. Boycott the next march until and unless the movement’s leaders truly show that they will not tolerate hatred in any form and that anti-Semites don’t get a pass.

Now, it’s not that we wouldn’t all benefit from hearing you speak. In fact, it’s important that you stay home because your words are so cherished that your absence will be an unmistakable sign that something has to change.

You are arguably the most revered and visible Jewish woman in the American feminist movement. Though Scarlett Johansson is rocking a great pixie cut and longtime support of Planned Parenthood, you are the top nice, intelligent Jewish girl on everyone’s list. And your voice has become even more respected and influential on political matters after you made a name by speaking out in the past about the Genesis Prize and sexism in Hollywood.

Your speech at the 2018 Women’s March, in which you detailed the “sexual terrorism” you experienced as a child actress reached an audience of 500,000 in person and over 300,000 online. It broke people’s hearts and perceptions to learn that even the perfect-seeming, Oscar-winning, Dior-ad scoring starlet was not safe from abusive misogyny.

Since the #MeToo movement, you’ve been one of the most visible faces in Time’s Up’s battle. When you received a Variety Power of Women Award last month, your instructions on how to “topple the patriarchy” garnered 167,000 views. It wasn’t just because you’re stunning, stylish, and eloquent. (Though I’m sure those things helped.) It’s because you have achieved a position of moral authority where your advice is not taken for granted—it’s taken and spread low and high.

What you say matters. It can give strength to those struggling to make the social justice community take anti-Semitism seriously, and it can change the minds of people who don’t. Now, to keep the moral authority it’s essential that you speak out against the leaders of the movement you have embraced and helped build up.

When Milano and Messing spoke out it reinvigorated criticism against the Women’s March leaders’ complicit behavior in the face of anti-Semitism and queerphobia and forced them to acknowledge their shortcomings in a new, though admittedly weak, statement on Louis Farrakhan. Imagine what a tweet, let alone a boycott by you would do.

In the many meager defenses the Women’s March organizers have offered for their refusal to point-blank condemn Louis Farrakhan and stop going to his hate speeches, they’ve claimed that their critics are incapable of understanding nuance.

“I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” you wrote in April.

Nuance is your brand.

Refuse to speak at the Women’s March. Don’t lend the credibility and following that comes with your name to its leaders, who will be giving speeches at the event and are the public faces of this movement. Call for them to cut their associations with vitriolic bigotry and extend real solidarity toward Jewish women, who need it now more than ever in the wake of Pittsburgh.

To take this kind of stand wouldn’t mean you don’t believe in intersectional feminism. It means you are invested enough in its health to recognize it’s sick.

We need you to stand in your Jewishness the same way you stood in your progressivism when you received the Genesis Prize. Remember, because of your star power, eloquence, and activism, the Women’s March will invite you to speak. But as a Jewish person, you aren’t fully welcomed at the protest.

You will not stop being the Jew that Louis Farrakhan proclaimed was “his enemy” during a speech while Tamika Mallory said nothing in the audience—the Jew she did nothing to defend, and still will not apologize for demeaning. Instead, you are still the Jew that Mallory dog whistled at, proclaiming she “has the same enemies as Jesus.” You are still the Jew that Sarsour, Bland, Mallory, and Perez try to paint as a whining white woman when they are held accountable for buddying up with someone who believes we are termites.

But you are also the Jew they can’t afford to lose. It’s not too late for you to take a stand. Join us.

Ariel Sobel is a nationally recognized writer-director, activist, and TED speaker. Follow her at @arielsobellel or her website.