Can my heart go on for screen idols who single Israel out?

By Jennifer Lipman, May 3, 2012

It felt as if we were struggling through the waterlogged ship with them. The iceberg loomed frighteningly close to our seats. And magnified on the IMAX screen, with all the benefits of 3D technology bestowed upon it, Rose's "Heart of the Ocean" diamond was still a tacky and unconvincing piece of costume jewellery.

Watching Titanic on the big screen recently, I was reminded of how mesmerised my younger self was by the majesty of the production, by the heartbreaking love story and the rousing strains of Celine Dion. I was 11 when I first saw the film, my tastes somewhat less refined, and above all I was captivated by the blonde locks and dreamy eyes of Jack Dawson, known then and now as Leonardo DiCaprio.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the late 1990s Leo was the dream date of almost every girl I knew. We had posters of him on our walls and lockers, keyrings adorned with his face and he was one of the main topics of Cheder and breaktime chat.

Then a rumour went round; that lovely Leo was anti-Jewish, something to do with his mother being German. I've never seen anything to substantiate it and, given his subsequent lengthy romance with Israeli model Bar Refaeli, I imagine nothing would. But being proudly Jewish (if perhaps not versed in the subtleties and of antisemitism at that age), I remember wondering whether it was still OK to keep my Leo keyring on my schoolbag and gaze at my posters.

Fifteen years on, I have no idea what became of the keyring (perhaps it is deep in the Atlantic, with Rose's diamond) but the question remains pertinent; can I bring myself to admire an artist or performer whose politics are wholly at odds to my own, or whose stance on an issue I find insulting, offensive or even reprehensible?

The Globe dispute has left a nasty taste

As a staunch supporter of Israel, in fact, the question comes up all the time, not with those who have given the peace process reasoned analysis and drawn their own conclusions, nor with those artists who position themselves at the forefront of every campaign to rout any real or perceived injustice, but with those who appear to have taken the knee-jerk path at the first mention of the Palestinians.

Take Emma Thompson and the pack of artistes demanding that Shakespeare's Globe withdraw its invitation to Israel's Habima Theatre Company for a range of political reasons that, while perhaps of valid concern, would certainly not be resolved as a result of the presence or absence of the actors involved. Leaving aside the ludicrousness of an artist who clearly views herself as a purveyor of freedom and justice seeking to block a fellow artist from a platform that represents those very things, the Globe dispute has left a nasty taste.

I adored Thompson as Shakespeare's feisty heroine Beatrice and enjoyed her turn in Love, Actually. Now I hear that she could take on the role of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. As a child there were times when I wanted to live at 17 Cherry Tree Lane; it's a film I'll certainly want to see. Yet Thompson's woefully limited perspective on the Middle East - her unwavering support for boycott and banning over discussion and dialogue - makes her an actress part of me wants to steer clear of.

Is that how it works? Must I forever avoid Ken Loach films and Mark Rylance plays, and delete all Coldplay songs from my playlist (all have weighed into the Israeli Palestinian debate unhelpfully at one time or another)?

A comedian who makes a nasty jibe about Israel? Strike one. A singer who gives in to the petitions of anti-Israel activists and cancels their Tel Aviv show? Strike two. A director who singles out Israel for rebuke yet is silent on all the world's other problems? Strike three.

Conversely, must I always embrace those whose views tally with my own? Become a "Belieber", after Justin wowed the tween pop fans of Israel? Read Atonement for the second time because Ian McEwan would not let the other side have its way? Hope for another season of Sir Arnold Wesker revivals before venturing to the West End?

If that's the solution, then no thank you. There has got to be a better way to advocate for Israel, one that does not confuse protest with tantrum, one that does not force me to plan my leisure activities around the latest letter to the Guardian from artists out to delegitimise and divest. I refuse to answer boycotter with boycott. I just wish I knew what answer to give instead.

Jennifer Lipman is deputy comment editor of the JC

Last updated: 2:02pm, May 8 2012