Roseanne Barr debuts a tamer pro-Israel self in Oakland

If anyone was expecting fireworks from notoriously combative comedian Roseanne Barr, they were disappointed. Instead it was a subdued, reflective Barr who spoke Feb. 27 at Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham about her personal journey from being a critic of Israel to becoming one of its more vociferous — and controversial — supporters.

It’s a political flip that many find hard to wrap their heads around, but for Barr it’s merely about correcting her own mistakes.

“I sought to be moral, but I was entirely incorrect and wrong,” she said.

The TV personality is known for her provocative social media presence. Her appearance marked the first time Barr had spoken officially about her change of views — it came a year after a Q&A featuring her in Berkeley was canceled after she tweeted that she hoped U.C. Davis got “nuked” because of a pro-BDS student senate resolution.

Her talk in Oakland, which focused on her embrace of Zionism and her interest in mysticism and Kabbalah, was a fundraiser for StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy organization known for its work on college campuses. Barr was interviewed by JCRC board member and Middle East committee chair Lenny Kristal.

Barr, who calls herself a “socialist — sort of,” said she used to embrace American left-wing criticism of Israel’s policies. In a 2010 interview she called Israel a “brutal and undemocratic theocracy.” In 2009 she was famously photographed for the cover of Heeb magazine dressed as Hitler, holding a tray of burnt gingerbread men.

She puts her former position down to ignorance.

“If nobody ever tells you you’re wrong, you don’t know you’re wrong,” she said.

Several factors contributed to her changed point of view, Barr said, including doubts raised by Richard Goldstone about his own Goldstone report investigating alleged Israeli war crimes during the 2008-2009 Gaza war. Barr said she also did considerable reading and talked to people who opened her eyes, including Kristal.

“People can think whatever they want, but they can’t have their own facts,” she said.

But for Barr — who ran for president in 2012 as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate — that meant breaking with her old allies on the left.

“They took a really wrong turn, which was very devastating,” she said.

Barr remains a self-described anti-capitalist with an anti-establishment bent, although she also supports Israel’s conservative Likud Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As for her former friends on the left, she says she fights with them all the time over Israel.

“What kind of a person are you that only blames one side in a war?” she said she tells them.

One might assume that Barr is now loudly pro-Israel as a way of making up for her previous point of view, yet for many, she has taken it far beyond support into sheer provocation.

On her Twitter account, @therealroseanne, where she has 288,000 followers, Barr engages on the topic of Israel with no holds barred, with copious use of epithets like “Nazi” for those who disagree with her.

In the tweet that led to the cancellation of her talk last year at the Magnes in Berkeley, she wrote, “I hope all the jews leave UC Davis & it then it gets nuked!” She later deleted it, then tweeted “#nukeUCDavisJewHaters.” The tweet came after a Jewish fraternity at Davis was spray-painted with swastikas following a call for divestment by a student government association.  The talk was canceled by its sponsor, the East Bay-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

Though she did not address the issue directly in her Oakland talk, she did say that she believed in confronting her opponents. “We need to call them out and go, ‘You are wrong,’ ” she said.

Targets of her wrath include what she labels as left-wing media, such as the daily Haaretz in Israel and the Guardian in the U.K. (which she called “sh—bags”), and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on college campuses.

“They’ve adopted the anti-Semitism of the czars,” she said.

She also reserved special criticism for Jewish leaders, particularly calling out J Street. “They have no allegiance to the Jewish people,” she said to her audience of about 140 people.

Beth Abraham’s Rabbi Mark Bloom acknowledged having received a few angry emails and a small petition against the talk after it was announced, but said that in general the response had been positive.

As a new star of the anti-BDS movement, Barr will attend a March 28 conference in Jerusalem sponsored by the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. Barr will be arriving in Israel a few days earlier to celebrate Purim with her mother.

In fact, Barr mentioned that she might just move to Israel, which got a round of applause from the crowd. For that, Barr had a retort.

“We might all be moving there, trust me,” she quipped. “Sooner rather than later.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a journalist based in Oakland, CA, and Budapest, Hungary.