Barbra Streisand Calls Out Antisemitism at SAG-AFTRA Awards

Superstar has been criticized for not speaking out for the Jewish community after Oct. 7.
February 27, 2024
Barbra Streisand accepts the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on February 24, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

In the 30 years the Screen Actors Guild Awards have existed, singer and actress Barbra Streisand never received an award. That changed this week, as Streisand was the recipient of the lifetime achievement award.

Her nine-minute acceptance speech at the Shrine Auditorium was loaded with both inspirational memories and her earliest dreams in the arts. She began by recalling how, prior to becoming a union actor over 60 years ago, she used to see black-and-white films at the Astor Theatre next door to her high school in Brooklyn. She also spoke of the time she paid a quarter to see “Guys and Dolls” at the historic Loew’s Kings Theatre.

“I saw the most beautiful actor, Marlon Brando, and it was my first crush,” Streisand said. “He was so real, so believable, and I wanted to be the one he fell in love with, not Jean Simmons. That make-believe world was much more pleasant than anything I was experiencing. I didn’t like reality. I wanted to be in the movies, even though I knew I didn’t look like the other women on the screen. And my mother said, ‘you better learn to type,’ but I didn’t listen. And somehow some way, thank you, God, it all came true.”

Reflecting on her first film, “Funny Girl” (1968), she offered praise to director William Wyler and cinematographer Harry Stradling. “These two men were extraordinary,” she said. “They had no problem with a young woman who had opinions. I could suggest ideas for a scene to Willie and try various lighting effects with Harry. And they never ever put me down. Looking back, they were really ahead of their time, and that was fantastic.”

Streisand’s speech also included a moment of remembering how Jewish persecution in Europe affected early Hollywood. “It’s really a privilege to be part of this profession,” Streisand said. “For a couple of hours, people can sit in a theater and escape their own troubles. What an idea. Moving pictures on a screen. And I can’t help but think back to the people who built this industry. Ironically, they were also escaping their own troubles. Men like Szmuel Gelbfisz, who changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn. Lazar Meir, who became Louis B. Mayer, and the four Wonsal brothers who became Warner Brothers. They were all fleeing the prejudice they faced in Eastern Europe simply because of their religion. And they were dreamers too. Like all of us here tonight. And now I dream of a world where such prejudice is a thing of the past.”

Though she did not explicitly state that the early Hollywood leaders were Jewish, nor mention Israel in the speech, addressing antisemitism was certainly a priority for Streisand.

She remains one of the most lauded and prominent Jewish entertainers of all time. In light of the dialogue on whether Streisand is doing enough to help her fellow Jewish community in this time of crisis, the Journal has compiled a list of public statements she has made on the topic since Oct. 7.

Three days after the Oct. 7 attacks, Streisand posted a story to her 1.6 million Instagram followers that read, “The population of Israel is under 10 million people. There are over 700 confirmed Israeli dead from the terrorist attack on civilians. The equivalent in the US would be over 25,000 dead in New York City on 9/11.”

On Oct. 16, she wrote in an Instagram post, “All people deserve to live in peace … to raise their children where a future is hopeful, in a country with stability and self-determination. Peace is dependent on a two-state solution that respects the human rights and the humanity of people in Israel and Palestine.”

The next day, she wrote on X, “When visiting The Hebrew University a decade ago where I have funded scholarships for both Arabs and Jews, I said, “Human dignity means giving all people a voice… It’s only through dialogue that people and countries can come together.” The following week she posted,  “My heart is broken for all the suffering of innocent civilians in Israel, Palestine, and Ukraine. Terrorism must not triumph.”

A month after the attacks, on Nov. 8, Streisand’s long-awaited memoir, “My Name is Barbra”  was published by Viking Press. To promote the memoir, Streisand appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,”  in a taped segment recorded at her home in Malibu. The interview has since been posted in five separate parts on YouTube (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), including The Colbert Questionert segment.

“We all want the same thing. We all want love in our hearts. We all want a family. We all want to feel secure. I hope for the best because this is heartbreaking.” – Barbra Streisand

In Part 3, Colbert asked Streisand about the rise in antisemitism and fascism around the world and in the United States. “It’s so sad,” Streisand said. “It’s sad about what’s going on today. People have to live together even though they’re different religions or whatever. People are people. It’s true, you know, we all want the same thing. We all want love in our hearts. We all want a family. We all want to feel secure. I hope for the best because this is heartbreaking. What’s happening now — these people, the children, the mothers — it doesn’t matter what religion they are. You know what I mean? This is beyond religion. This is insanity for us to not learn how to live together in peace. See? This is what’s hard to talk about my career or even my book when this deadly combustible thing is happening in the world … I could easily cry about this. You know, where is God in this time? Where is he or she? Why can’t that energy stop this madness?”

On Dec. 8, Streisand wrote on her Instagram account,  “When I first met Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres years ago, I asked him ‘How can you help the Palestinians?’ He replied ‘By making their lives better!’ We needed his advice then, and should urgently heed it now. In my humble opinion, we need a two-state solution that will hopefully bring peace and prosperity to the region.”

On Jan. 12, Streisand wrote on X, The last ceasefire to exchange hostages worked in Gaza. The parties need to propose it again. On Feb. 2, she posted  “The United States has long been a supporter of Israel but our policy is for a 2 state solution with security safeguards. Netanyahu has publicly ruled this out so it is time for a new government that at a minimum, tries to achieve it.”

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