Dear John Cusack:
Please, say it isn’t so. Tell me you didn’t fire off an anti-Semitic tweet. You, my ‘90s crush and the star of “Say Anything” and “Grosse Pointe Blank.” How could you not understand that an image showing a hand coming out of a sleeve imprinted with the Star of David and crushing a group of people beneath it wasn’t an affront to Jews? And then you included a misattributed quote: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” You attributed the quote to Voltaire, but he didn’t say it. It’s a version of a quote from an American neo-Nazi named Kevin Alfred Strom. It’s a dog whistle, and to add insult to injury, you added, “Follow the money.”
John, I believe you’re a smart guy, a fair guy, who must know about the ugly canard regarding Jews and money. You had to be aware of the firestorm around Rep. Ilhan Omar when she tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins.” To refresh your memory, she was referring to AIPAC while evoking the age-old stereotype of Jews buying influence.
You and she deleted your offending tweets. But you never addressed what you meant by your non-sequitur of “Follow the money.” John, you had to know that remark was ill-chosen. Your initial attempt to apologize did not fare much better. At first, you stood your ground and said you were referring to Israel’s “atrocities against the Palestinians.”
I can only surmise you rethought your approach when you sort of apologized again. You tweeted: “In reaction to Palestinian human rights under Israeli occupation, an issue that concerns anyone fighting for justice, I [retweeted] and quickly deleted an image that’s harmful to both Jewish and Palestinian friends, and for that I’m sorry. … The image depicted a blue Star of David, which I associated with Israel as their flag uses the same color & shape. I know the star itself is deeply meaningful to Jews no matter where they stand on Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.”
Let’s parse that last sentence—“I know the star itself is deeply meaningful to Jews no matter where they stand on Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.” John, I don’t deny the Israeli occupation is wrong in many ways. I’m not alone in my thinking, which should tell you that my fellow Jews are not monolithic, and neither are the Palestinians. But it must be said that Israeli citizens have died in Palestinian suicide bombings on buses, in malls and cafes just because they were Jews. There are frequent rocket attacks out of Gaza. Don’t misunderstand me; I very much support a two-state solution. But let’s acknowledge that at this moment the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a highly complicated situation, and we’re out of our depth.
I have an important question for you: Have you been to Israel? I think the tight borders would surprise you. The country’s green line is a thin, almost invisible one. I’m not happy about walling off the West Bank where it divides neighborhoods and families. However, Israelis call it a security barrier with good reason. Even the most dovish Israeli will tell you the barrier has drastically reduced the number of terror attacks in Israel proper. And so it goes.
I hope you will travel to Israel. In my work as a culture writer for a Jewish news website, I have met incredible Israelis and Palestinians who are dedicated to achieving peace. There is the Israeli settler, a rabbi, who is good friends with his Palestinian neighbor. They represent people in their corner of the world who want to share the West Bank equitably. Their organization is called Roots. Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Palestinian activist Shadi Abu Awwad would be delighted to brief you on their work and show you around their center in the heart of the West Bank.
Go to Nazareth where Jews and Arabs live and work together. While you’re there meet with Paz Hirschmann and Sami Saadi, co-CEOs of a business venture called Tsofen. When I interviewed them, they told me Tsofen aims to train Israeli Arabs to enter Israel’s booming high-tech sector. For the past five years, Tsofen has also introduced Palestinian women and Arab-Israeli high school students to STEM subjects.
I’m just scratching the surface. Talk to people at the New Israel Fund—a Jewish nonprofit organization that describes itself as: “Helping Israel live up to its founders’ vision of a society that ensures complete equality to all its inhabitants. Our aim is to advance liberal democracy, including freedom of speech and minority rights, and to fight the inequality, injustice and extremism that diminish Israel.” Find a rabbi or cantor affiliated with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights—the organization’s name says it all.
Read Yossi Klein Halevi’s lovely book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.” Halevi is a fascinating man—when he was young he was a protégé of right-wing extremist Meir Kahane. I had the privilege of interviewing Halevi. He is now a man of peace who empathizes with both Israelis and Palestinians. He lives in Jerusalem and from his front porch he has a view of the security barrier, as well as the sprawling Judean desert. I’m sure he would be happy to explain to you the stake that Jews and Palestinians have in arguably the most hotly contested piece of real estate in the world.
It takes a lot of physical and emotional stamina to do what I’m suggesting—to meet Jews, Israelis and Palestinians in real life. Meet me, too. I’d love to show you a different wall—a beautiful, ancient wall where people pray and place notes expressing their hopes and dreams. Perhaps you will be moved to place your own note in that wall to ask for peace.