September 25, 2020

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Seth Rogen’s Phone Call to Isaac Herzog: “My Mommy Made Me Do It” (Judean Rose)

Isaac Herzog became a new twist in the Seth Rogen story when he decided to write a note to the clueless actor, asking him to clarify remarks questioning the existence of the State of Israel. 

Who knows? Maybe Herzog thought inserting himself into this celebrity storm in a teapot could revive his career as an Israeli politician, or perhaps lead to a plum diplomatic position, say at the UN, in New York.

Alas, Herzog was wrong.

What Jewish Agency Chairman Herzog did in the way he approached Rogen was make himself look the fool and even more irrelevant than before.

For one thing, Herzog’s approach was meant to give Rogen an “out.” This at a time of severe scrutiny and criticism for the actor’s careless and hurtful words about Israel and the Jewish people. 

“[As] a Jewish person I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life,” said Rogen, during the now-infamous July 28 podcast with Marc Maron, aptly named the WTF podcast. “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 fucking door’s open.”

But no, dear Reader. Do not despair. These hurtful words about Israel will not stand! Enter Isaac Herzog, shining knight to the rescue, to make the true sentiment of Rogen’s words go away—to help the comedian explain that Israel is really important to him.

From the Jerusalem Post:

“One can definitely argue about policies and positions, as I did in my political career, but for me, the red line is the imposition of doubt on the right of existence of the Jewish State and the encouragement of its delegitimization,” Herzog clarified to Rogen.

Herzog continued to explain that Rogen made it “clear… that what was missing in the published interview was what he did not say: How important Israel is to him. And that, of course, Israel must exist.”

In Herzog’s retelling of this encounter, the former head of Israel’s Labor Party offers Rogen a prompt in essence saying, “Please, please, oh famous Canadian actor. Take your words back. Tell us it ain’t so—tell us you’re not saying that Israel has no right to exist!”

Failing to elicit such a disavowal, Herzog assures us instead that Rogen was only joking, giving him a pass for the things he said in that podcast, and blaming Rogen’s ignorance regarding Israel, on Israel. Herzog:

“While [Rogen] was speaking in jest during the noted conversation, we cannot ignore the fact that Jews outside Israel often have to stand at the forefront and explain the State of Israel, and sometimes they do not know how nor what to explain.” 

Herzog wants you to know: It’s all Israel’s fault that Seth Rogen doesn’t know how to respond when people trash talk the Jewish State. Because Israel is not telling its story.

But Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency (!), is wrong. 

Israel has been telling its story for thousands of years. It’s an amazing story, full of miracles and wonders. And if Rogen doesn’t know that, it’s because he didn’t care enough to tune in and listen. He didn’t care enough to read Jewish history, or the bible, the best-selling book of all time.

The actor didn’t care to learn the facts of a story that belongs to him: that the Jews have always been in Israel, have had a continuous presence in the land for thousands of years through successive invaders, somehow managing to maintain a toehold in the Holy Land even after the destruction of the Temple, hiding out in caves. The Jews, the indigenous people of Israel, never left the land. Because the relationship between Jews and the land is symbiotic. Because when a Jew in France (or anywhere else in the world) prays for rain, he does so during Israel’s rainy season; he’s not praying for rain in France or Albuquerque. He’s praying for rain in Israel.

At Passover seders the world over, Jews conclude with the words “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Three times a day and after meals Jews pray for the speedy rebuilding of the Temple.

Jews have done these things for millennia. 

The Jewish religion is all about the Holy Land. Israel is central to Judaism.

To any normal person, the obvious conclusion must be that Jews are supposed to live in Israel. And that no other people can make that claim. That the Jews and only the Jews have earned that right by birth. 

No matter how many other people say it ain’t so. 

 No matter how many people malign Israel, calling the Jewish State an oppressor that occupies “Arab” land.

Now, unlike Isaac Herzog, I don’t really care about Seth Rogen or other celebrities of his ilk. I don’t care about Jews who turn their backs on their people and their land. But had I cared enough to approach Seth Rogen, it would have been a very different conversation. I wouldn’t have excused him, or given him an out for his imbecilic assertions. I would have called him to task.

I would have said to him, “Seth, read a book for Chrissakes! Read O Jerusalem. Read the bible. Read some Bat Yeor and learn what really happened to the Jews under Islam—under the people you think were in Israel first. Know what’s what.”

(Because how can it be that Rogen knows nothing of his own history? And cares not enough to correct his own ignorance!)

But I am not “Bougie” Herzog. Or perhaps more accurately, Bougie Herzog is not me. So instead of calling the actor out for his ignorance, Herzog gave Rogen a very public way to duck responsibility for his gross actions, as if he were saying, “Oh please, Seth. Say it isn’t so. Say you don’t really want us to be obliterated from the face of the earth just because some poor brown people say the land belongs to them and that we’re thieves and oppressors.”

And even though Rogen refused to obey that prompt or disavow his disdain for Israel, Herzog doubled down, telling us we’ve got it all horribly wrong. Rogen doesn’t hate Israel and want it to disappear, the actor is merely “misunderstood.” 
The actor is just being Jewish, questioning things, and all. 
So Herzog clarified, explaining that in Rogen’s view:
“asking questions, and arguing differing positions are fundamental in Judaism… as part of the process of casting doubt, which he says is an important motif for the Jewish people” and that “in some interviews he humorously asks questions about almost everything,” trying to explain why he thought his comments were misunderstood or taken out of context.

Rogen? He doesn’t hate Israel. He’s just oh-so-Jewish, a truth-seeker marching along on this journey of life.

How awesome that Bougie explains Rogen to us, helping him wiggle out of this slippery little spot, this conundrum with his people (and his land) without actually eliciting either an actual apology, or a disavowal for what he said.

How marvelous that Bougie managed all that with just one little letter and a follow-up call. Of course, Herzog didn’t really write that letter to Rogen. Instead he got the Vancouver Jewish community to do it:

“Herzog decided to address a letter to Rogen in order to better understand what he meant by his statements. He did so with the help of the Jewish community in Vancouver, where Rogen grew up, according to Herzog’s post.”

Now, we don’t know why Herzog needed help writing a letter to Rogen. We can only guess. Perhaps Herzog lacks self-confidence. Which would explain the failed political career.

But having others write a letter to Rogen didn’t really help Herzog. This story, like Herzog’s career as a politician, will only fade into beige, and the only one who will remember the thing with Rogen, is Rogen, who will only use the conversation with Herzog to hurt Israel some more.

Which is exactly what Rogen did, making Herzog once more the fool when he confessed to left-leaning journalist Mairav Zonszein that his mommy made him do it: made him make that call to Herzog. Which Mairav Zonszein was happy to air in public with a tweet, which Rogen subsequently liked, an outright admission that the actor did not reach out to Herzog of his own accord. It was only filial duty that made him place that call to the Jewish Agency, to Herzog.

Because the truth of the matter is that Rogen isn’t sorry. Rogen was not misunderstood. He didn’t mean any of those nice words Herzog put into his mouth. After all, how could Rogen mean those words when, according to the Times of Israel, he never actually said them? 

What did Rogen say to Herzog? We’ll never know because when Rogen placed that call to Herzog, he “insisted that the conversation not be recorded.” What we do know: Rogen subsequently told Zonszein: “Read what I actually said about all this and not these secondhand telling.”

In other words: don’t listen to Herzog. Listen to Rogen. He stands by what he said in that WTF podcast with Marc Maron. You know, like when he said that the Jewish State, and having the Jews all together as one people in the Holy Land, “doesn’t make sense.”

The actor never took those words back, and is not in the least contrite. As Rogen explained to Haaretz, “I did not apologize for what I said. I offered clarity. And I think [Herzog] is misrepresenting our conversation. At no point did I give him permission to publish any part of the conversation.”

What, exactly, did Herzog accomplish here? He didn’t actually approach Rogen or write to him, contrary to what Herzog suggested to the media. Instead, Herzog by way of the Vancouver Jewish community, wrote to Rogen’s mother. Rogen told us so.

He said that Herzog (emphasis added), “sent a letter to my mother on very fancy letterhead. My mom implored me to call this guy and I did and told him I thought this was a private conversation… at no point did I give him permission to publish any part of the conversation.”

So there you have it. No disavowal. No apology. No retraction. Rogen meant what he said. He feels he was “fed lies about Israel” and thinks that Israel, as a concept, “doesn’t make sense.” He only made that call to Herzog because his mommy made him do it.

And so Herzog’s intervention in the Seth Rogen story is yet another gaffe for Herzog, reminding us of the election he lost and how he mistakenly said, “We will keep Netanyahu united,” instead of, “We will keep Jerusalem united,” which made everyone laugh. Especially Bibi. 

We laughed and Bibi won and Herzog faded away, blending into the woodwork, tucked behind a desk at the Jewish Agency, desperately trying to remain relevant.

As Seth Rogen has the last laugh at Israel and the Jews. 

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