Seth Rogen, welcome to the journey

Dear Seth Rogen,

Mazel tov and welcome to the tribe of righteous Jews! 

Let me explain. I heard your interview with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast where you said you were “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel.” The whole world, or at least the whole Jewish world, watched the subsequent fallout from the overzealous pro-Israel lobby.

For a Jew of conscience like myself, who has felt silenced, experienced death threats and has had relatives declare me the “devil incarnate” because of my views, this all felt like I had been invited to the prom. (“You like me! You really like me!”)

My story is not so different from yours. Like you, I am Canadian and experienced antisemitism growing up (“goddamned dirty Jew” scribbled on my desk at school; taunted with “Christ-killer” on the playground – I was too young then to know about Lenny Bruce’s famous retort.) The October 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue haunts me still, in part because I used to live in Pittsburgh.

And like your parents, I fell in love on a kibbutz (only he was a goy). I was living out my fantasy of being with Paul Newman circa the film “Exodus.” Same intense blue eyes but minus the weight of history. My hair tied back with a kerchief, dirt from the olive grove caked under my nails, dancing the night away in the bomb shelter disco, I felt as if I was giving meaning to the lives of my grandparents who fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe and whose relatives were murdered in the gas chambers.

My aching shoulders and dripping sweat lent an air of righteousness to my toil. But even with a cocooning layer of Negev desert dust on me, something didn’t sit quite right in the promised land. Then the names Sabra and Shatila brought into sharp focus what lurked uneasily in the back of my mind that I couldn’t pinpoint. These were two Palestinian refugee camps where a brutal massacre took place in September 1982. A government commission into the events determined that the Israeli minister of defense at the time, Ariel Sharon, “bore personal responsibility ‘for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge.’”

But even this tragedy did not fully scrub the sense of righteous dirt out from under my nails. I dithered – should I make aliyah or not? Instead, I became the “wandering Jew,” trying to make sense of other peoples’ wars – Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq… until I was led back to the promised land in the guise of an election monitor for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections.

Let me take another moment or two of your time and tell you about a few of my experiences traveling around the West Bank as an election monitor – the freeways that only Israelis are allowed to drive on while local Palestinians are reduced to bumpy tar or gravel side roads that increase their travel time significantly. The large black rain-barrels that rim the roofs of all Palestinian homes since their ration of water from Israeli authorities is barely enough to boil water for tea while the settlements glisten with swimming pools and manicured lawns.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house after it was demolished by Israeli troops in the West Bank village of Qalandia near Ramallah July 26, 2016. (Photo: Shadi Hatem/APA Images)
Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house after it was demolished by Israeli troops in the West Bank village of Qalandia near Ramallah July 26, 2016. (Photo: Shadi Hatem/APA Images)

Never mind the time I got trapped at the main checkpoint in and out of Nablus and found myself in the middle of a chaos worthy of a World War II movie, only this time the Jews were in uniforms toting machine guns under prison lights while the Palestinians wait patiently in line-ups for the soldiers orders. Or New Year’s Eve trying to get back to Ramallah from Jerusalem through the Qalandiya checkpoint. Passing through the various security apparatus of the maze-like checkpoint reminded me of the devotions of the Stations of the Cross that marked the route Jesus took to his crucifixion. Each one seemed more onerous than the last. Until that moment, I had been immune to the daily humiliations Palestinians face, whizzing past kids in my official car, jostling to see if they’ll be allowed through to go to school, their parents to work and ambulance drivers, their patients to hospital.

Let me introduce you instead to the Palestinian farmer I met in the West Bank who had the misfortune of living across the road from an Israeli settlement. The settlement had erected barriers around his home until eventually they were completely fenced in by a tall chain-link fence topped by barbed wire. As the farmer gave me a tour of the barricade, I stared through the wires at the fruit rotting on the ground in his backyard, unharvested from the summer. Going to the store to buy bread for the family now involved passing through of a series of gates for which they had no keys. They were officially prisoners in their own home.

Israeli soldiers patrol the area outside the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank, 2009. (Photo: Issam Rimawi/APA Images)
Israeli soldiers patrol the area outside the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank, 2009. (Photo: Issam Rimawi/APA Images)

Despite all this, the farmer held no ill-will towards his neighbors. As he told me, “I don’t want to lock people out, I want to be able to invite them into my home. Everyone is welcome. Even the people over there,” motioning to the settlement that has the power to decide his every movement.

This was the moment that the last of that righteous kibbutz dirt that had hung on under my nails for all these years was finally dislodged. Or maybe it was when I learned that Israel currently has at least 65 discriminatory laws and policies in order to continue to exist as a state whereby Jews receive special status. In any case, I have traveled from the belief in the righteousness of the promised land to a belief in the righteousness of the Palestinian solidarity movement. It’s a one-way trip. Hundreds of thousands of other Jews, (who knows, maybe millions), have made a similar trip, although not all have managed to make it the full distance yet.

But on behalf of all of us who have made the journey, I’d like to welcome you to the club of righteous Jews. It includes Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Yonatan Shapiro, Lia Tarachansky, many rabbis, the organizations Jewish Voice for Peace in the U.S. and Independent Jewish Voices here in Canada and in the UK to name a few.

I’m just across the strait (Georgia, that is) from you. I would be happy to invite you and your wife for a social distance visit and a chat about how we might be able to help other Jews travel the righteous road. Lets keep up the good fight. Otherwise, the pro-Israeli lobby will continue on – weaponizing antisemitism and distorting the horrors of the Holocaust along the way.

Yours in perseverance,

Corey Levine

p.s. I have a great kosher pickle recipe from my great-aunt that I’d be happy to share with you.

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