Helen Mirren: "I love Israel – I think it's a great, great country"


In 1967, shortly after the Six-Day War, Helen Mirren worked on a the HaOn kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. She hitch-hiked throughout Israel, and slept on the beach in Eilat. It was, she said in a speech at the Israeli Film Festival, the beginning of her love for “a great, great country”. In thinking about “the building blocks that lead you towards becoming who you become”, her early visit to Israel was “one of the really important building blocks” of her life. And she paid tribute to the “incredible Israeli film industry”, and to the “courage and commitment” of the Israeli people.

Celebrity matters. Perhaps it oughtn’t to, but it does. Perhaps it always has, but only now, in this vacuous age where one may be famous merely for being a celebrity, is it possible to embellish any and every political cause with celebrity endorsement. They usually all swing left. We’re so used to hearing from the famous actors, writers, film directors and academics demanding support for BDS and the universal boycott of Israel that we easily forget that a good many celebrities reject political correctness; understand economics and the causes of debt and poverty; support Israel; oppose cultural boycott, and even vote Conservative.

Jews are being summarily stabbed on the streets of Jerusalem, and blown up on the Mount of Olives. The media aren’t telling Israel’s story, so Stand With Us is doing so. “We believe that education is the road to peace,” they write. “StandWithUs is dedicated to informing the public about Israel and to combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues. We believe that knowledge of the facts will correct common prejudices about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and will promote discussions and policies that can help promote peace in the region.”

It’s a start. And the stardust of theatrical royalty certainly helps, along with literary celebrities like JK Rowling and Hilary Mantel. And then there’s this full-page ad in today’s Guardian:

Israel boycott

The fight-back against insidious BDS propaganda has been long coming, but the only route to lasting peace and reconciliation in the Middle East is to stop demonising and discriminating against the only democracy in the region. If Israel’s “occupation” of “Palestinian land” is so intolerable that artists must never perform there and academics must boycott all research, why do those same crusaders for human rights and international justice not also rail against China’s occupation of Tibet, India’s occupation of Kashmir, Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus, or Russia’s occupation of Crimea and Ukraine? And what of the current Saudi Arabia onslaught against Yemen, in which thousands of innocent civilians are being slaughtered and millions upon millions displaced?

Criticise Israel if you wish: it is not perfect in its polity, or righteous in every policy. Condemn Benjamin Netanyahu if you will: he is ultimately just another politician who must cling to power in order to realise a vision. But if you wish to single out the Jewish state for unique boycott, you clearly have a problem with Jews or Jewish institutions. There’s a name for that.