True to form, it was no holds barred when Roseanne Barr recently discussed her about-face on Israel at a public event in the San Francisco Bay Area. Barr, who was previously vociferously critical of the Jewish state, attributed her former views to ignorance.
“I sought to be moral, but I was entirely incorrect and wrong,” she told a standing-room only crowd of about 170 at a February fundraiser for the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs at an Oakland synagogue.
As the comedian, author and TV personality elaborated on her position as a staunch advocate for the Jewish state, it came as no surprise to readers of her blog and her 288,00-follower Twitter feed, where she frequently shares her support of Israel and bashes anti-Zionists and backers of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel.
“If nobody ever tells you you’re wrong, you don’t know you’re wrong,” Barr said in explanation of her former anti-Israel stance. “If nobody ever confronts you with the actual facts, you might have no idea that you’re mouthing canards and bulls**t. It’s confrontation that keeps us honest. And without it, you know, I don’t think we can be honest.”
At the fundraiser, Barr participated in a candid conversation with Dr. Lenny Kristal, a member of the local Jewish Community Relations Council who once had his own radio show in the UK and confronted Barr on Twitter about her criticism of Israel. The two began a conversation that led to her transformation and brought her to the Oakland event.
And it didn’t end there. Reaffirming her commitment to Jewish spirituality and Israel, Barr announced her plans to visit the Holy Land later this month with her mother and celebrate Purim in Jerusalem.
“It will be a blast,” Barr told The Times of Israel, recalling fond memories of the holiday as a child when her mother was her Sunday school teacher. “She let me play King Ahaseurus in the story of Esther when I was about eight in our synagogue and that was a very definitive thing in my life. I think that’s where I became addicted to the Esther story.”
Barr is also slated to attend a March 28 anti-BDS conference in Israel sponsored by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. President Reuven Rivlin, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum, Knesset members and government ministers are also expected to attend.
With a home in Los Angeles and another in Hawaii, where she owns a macadamia nut farm, Barr said she is considering establishing another home in Israel when she visits.
“I always saw myself living there, at least part-time,” she said. I’m excited to be going to Israel and spending a couple of weeks there. I’m kind of leaving my head open to whatever happens.”
Before her departure, the former star of the long-running sitcom “Roseanne” is scheduled to perform stand-up at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in Las Vegas for a three-night engagement from March 17 to 19.
‘If nobody ever confronts you with the actual facts, you might have no idea that you’re mouthing canards and bulls**t’
Known for her ribald humor, Barr called upon the audience to be frank with Israel’s critics. “We need to call them out and go, ‘You are wrong,’” she said. “I crave to know truth because that’s what Judaism is.”
During the conversation in Oakland, Barr offered some critique of Israel saying, “The same thing that’s wrong with Israel is what’s wrong with every country.” When asked to specify what she meant, Barr said, “The structure is obsolete,” she said. “And it needs to be modernized so that it serves the people…”
In 2012, Barr actually ran for president of the United States as a candidate for the left-wing Peace and Freedom Party.
But Barr has positive things to say about what she referred to as Israel’s solution-based thinking.
“Rather than being so entrenched and repeating the same stuff that doesn’t work, finding solutions that do work, which is what is exciting about Israel,” she said. “It is changing the world… from the manipulation of RNA to cure leukemia, which just happened last week to, you know, every modern miraculous technological advance that seems to be centered there.”
To move Israeli society forward, she suggested, “the political structure needs to change to accommodate brilliance and I think it will start in Israel and come from there. It already has. But more and more.”
Barr described herself as an observant Jew, a socialist in the spirit of Trotsky and a kabbalist who studied with the late rabbi Philip Berg of the Kabbalah Centre. “He taught me a lot,” she said. “I read all the kabbalists. I still regard them as peers even though they’re passed on. Their words are still here. I’m very into words. And Kabbalah is very much about words.”
A number of Hollywood celebrities have been known to study at the Kabbalah Centre, including Madonna, Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.
Barr also reminisced about her observant upbringing in a kosher home and the influence of her outspoken grandmother as a role model. The New York Times-bestselling author described the family matriarch fondly in her 2011 book, “Roseannearchy: Dispatches From the Nut Farm,” in which she also revealed her experiences with mental health issues, prescription meds, plastic surgery and her failed marriage to Tom Arnold.
In Oakland, Barr elaborated on her attachment to her heritage. “Judaism is very important to me,” she said. “I always try to speak for the high moral ground for Israel, Jewish people and Judaism… That’s why it’s very disappointing and soul-crushing when you’re wrong, but that was why I have to make it right.”