Canadian Jewish actor and comedian Seth Rogen on Sunday distanced himself from a statement from the Jewish Agency that claimed Rogen had “apologized” in a Zoom conversation with its chairman for saying last week that Israel “doesn’t make sense.”
In a statement earlier Sunday, the Jewish Agency said a Zoom conversation was held over the weekend between Rogen and its chairman, Isaac Herzog, in which Rogen had “apologized,” saying his comments had been made in jest.
However, when approached about the conversation, Rogen told Israeli-American journalist Mairav Zonszein that she should “read what I actually said about all this and not these secondhand telling.” He also said his “mom made me call” Herzog.
Zonszein tweeted a screenshot of his remarks.
That tweet was liked by Rogen, although he has not publicly commented on the issue or detailed his side of the conversation.
According to the Jewish Agency, it sent a letter that reached Rogen’s parents, who live in Vancouver, having met in Israel while volunteering at a kibbutz in the 1970s. Rogen then called the Jewish Agency and asked to speak with Herzog, but insisted that the conversation not be recorded, according to a Hebrew-language statement sent to The Times of Israel.
The agency has not provided an English transcript of the conversation and declined to comment on Rogen’s remarks to Zonszein.
In an earlier Facebook post, Herzog said in English that he was “glad to hold a frank and open conversation” with Rogen. Herzog also tweeted about the conversation, but later deleted both an English-language and a Hebrew-language tweet that showed a screenshot of the Zoom call.
The photo was still circulating online.
אשמור על סת רוגן מאוחדת pic.twitter.com/8WS0wcfuHJ
— Adi Messika (@adimessika) August 2, 2020
“At the start, Seth was kind enough to make clear to me that what was missing in the published interview was what he did not say: How important Israel is to him. And that, of course, Israel must exist,” Herzog wrote.
He said he had told Rogen that “many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist.”
“Rogen told me that this is not at all what he meant and explained his words were meant as a joke, taken from a critical, humorous exchange with a fellow Jewish comedian,” Herzog wrote. “He was misunderstood and apologized for that and I accepted his explanation.”
Rogen, who grew up attending Jewish schools and Jewish camp in Vancouver, drew outrage when he told Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast on July 27 that he was “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel” and questioned why the state should exist. Maron, who often references his Jewishness in his standup comedy material, concurred.
“To me, it just seems an antiquated thought process,” Rogen said. “If it is for religious reasons, I don’t agree with it, because I think religion is silly. If it is for truly the preservation of Jewish people, it makes no sense, because again, you don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place — especially when that place is proven to be pretty volatile, you know? ‘I’m trying to keep all these things safe, I’m gonna put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place… that’ll do it.'”
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he continued. “And I also think that, as a Jewish person, I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life! They never tell you that — oh by the way, there were people there. They make it seem like it was just like sitting there, like the fucking door’s open!…They forget to include the fact to every young Jewish person.”
Rogen was on the show to discuss his upcoming film “An American Pickle,” about a Jewish immigrant who falls into a vat of pickles in New York in 1919 and wakes up 100 years later.
According to Herzog, Rogen said he was aware that anti-Israel activists were using his statements, and “noted he was very concerned about rising anti-Semitism, which he himself is combating daily and is also assisting the Jewish community on this front.”
Rogen also said that “raising doubt, asking questions, and arguing differing positions are fundamental in Judaism,” Herzog said, “and in some interviews, he humorously asks questions about almost everything, as part of the process of casting doubt, which he says is an important motif for the Jewish people.
“He told me that while he was speaking in jest during the noted conversation, we cannot ignore the fact that Jews outside Israel often have to stand at the forefront and explain the State of Israel, and sometimes they do not know how nor what to explain,” Herzog said.
“Seth and I had a lengthy and very open conversation, at the end of which I invited him to come visit Israel, tour around the country and get to know the fascinating Israeli mosaic,” he concluded.
JTA contributed to this report