When that spellbinding bundle of subterfuge and lipstick otherwise known as Sarah Palin called Nancy Pelosi a dingbat on live television recently, it was hard not to smile — goofy little words can say so much.
And minds, if not mouths, can be amazingly small when it comes to certain things Israel-related. For example, these occasional decisions by some to divest in Israeli companies and the latest high-profile example being Abigail Disney’s very public decision to renounce her investment in Ahava, an Israeli company.
So who is this dear Abby, anyway? The granddaughter of Walt Disney’s brother. A self-important left-wing documentary filmmaker whose sense of self-importance stems no doubt in part from her famous last name. A documentary filmmaker who, like so many documentary filmmakers out there entirely dedicated to their craft is busy not only making films but managing investments here and there to the tune of several million dollars.
It is very tiresome to observe people make Israel a scapegoat for what they perceive to be certain political injustices of which they alone are capable of judging the accuracy and impact. Yawn. But when a bold-faced name does it publicly, for whatever misguided reasons of self-interest, it is important to ask why.
And for that, it might be helpful to recall a few things about Mr. Walt Disney himself, founder of a company which, with the exception of a brief period in my youth during which I thought that overgrown talking mice were both normal and cute, has always made me uneasy. This is, after all, a company whose creative vision has largely entailed plundering or otherwise co-opting the immense wealth of European folk traditions and dumbing them down for mass public consumption by Americans, and by extension the world.
Cloying, moralizing, reductive: that’s Disney. A rabid reinforcer of hackneyed storylines and disempowering social stereotypes. I don’t have a daughter, but if I did I would be embarrassed to take her to see one of those garish Disney cartoons where the only way for the female characters to know self-worth and happiness is by finding and marrying some (usually rather effeminate) Prince Charming. Lesbian mermaids? A princess with a Ph.D? Two charming princes exchanging vows before a technicolor fairytale chateau? Those are fantasies you won’t find in the Disney vaults.
Homophobia by omission has long been a Hollywood specialty, and not unique to Disney. Anti-Semitism by exclusion has long been an American forte, and it is here where things get slightly more interesting with Ms. Disney. The decision to make a public jab at Israel rarely comes from out of the blue. One must consider the context. And the context in which the Disney family operates is one that has been more famously welcoming to fictionalized rodents than it has been to Jews. The alleged anti-Semitic proclivities of Walt Disney are well-documented (though certainly not by his grand-niece).
Venerable daily Haaretz seems to think the fact that Disney went to Columbia and makes documentaries gives some gravitas to her genteel slamming of an Israeli company – proxy, of course, for Israel as a whole — in the public eye. Those things are relevant, but only in a rather backhanded way that works better if you agree with her. Guess what else is relevant here? Disneyland. Specifically, there’s a statue of Uncle Walt, a bronze statue on the most famous ersatz Main Street in America with the initials “STR” engraved on the necktie. Many people find it cryptic. I don’t. The letters stand for Smoke Tree Ranch, a private gated community and resort in a quiet corner of Palm Springs, California, where Walt Disney bought a home in 1948. The community had been founded a little more than a decade prior, and the first homeowners in this enclave that sits on land once occupied by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians were referred to as “colonists.”
My guess is that most of these so-called colonists were neither Jewish, Hispanic, Asian, lesbian, African-American, or any permutation or combination thereof, but snow white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. When I visited Smoke Tree Ranch a few years ago, the place made me as uncomfortable as a typical Disney film of yore: scrubbed-down and super-sanitized, white bred to the max, with nary a non-WASP in sight. I’m not saying the place forbade Jews and I’m not saying it’s a restricted community, as so many country clubs were in America and yes, even in Hollywood until well into the twentieth century. What I do know is that a lot of Jews call Palm Springs home, and all the ones I know (and that’s a lot) have always lived in the Canyon neighborhood across the street from Smoke Tree Ranch, and never inside it.
Is this the kind of bubble where Abigail Disney grew up? I don’t know, but the Disney associations with the place are undeniable. And there’s something creepy about gated communities, especially those where the gates have been keeping the riffraff out for decades, under whatever pretext. There’s also something creepy about a do-gooder heiress wielding her name as a weapon to jump into a fray about which she knows nothing, reflexively siding with the party that has made demonization of the Jew something of a house specialty. And no, that doesn’t make Abigail Disney an anti-Semite, but it does make her a dingbat.