February 15, 2019

Hollywood Zionists are alive and well

In late July, when Israel and Gaza were in the throes of violent conflict, and international condemnation of Israeli military behavior had reached fever pitch, only a token few in the Hollywood community had anything to say about it.

But one month later, that appears to have changed.

Over the weekend, the anti-boycott group Creative Community for Peace released a poetic letter condemning Hamas with some 200 Hollywood “heavyweights” affixing their signatures: Old faithfuls like talk show host Bill Maher, media mogul Haim Saban, and studio executives Amy Pascal and Nina Tassler offered their support, along with a multitude of new voices including writer Aaron Sorkin and actors Seth Rogen, Tony Goldwyn and Minnie Driver (the DreamWorks trifecta known as Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen, however, are notably absent). 

“We, the undersigned, are saddened by the devastating loss of life endured by Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza,” the letter begins. But, “[w]hile we stand firm in our commitment to peace and justice, we must also stand firm against ideologies of hatred and genocide which are reflected in Hamas' charter…which reads, “There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”

In what appears to be the largest collection of Hollywood names to make a public statement regarding Israel in years, the letter only uses the word “Israeli” once. Instead, it offers a concise excoriation of Hamas – albeit, in cutesy poetic verse:

Hospitals are for healing, not for hiding weapons. Schools are for learning, not for launching missiles. Children are our hope, not our human shields.

The uncontroversial ad, which will run in industry trade publications Billboard, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter beginning Aug. 23, follows a similar denunciation authored by the Anti-Defamation League and published in The Jewish Journal last week. While that letter had only a symbolic 18 signatories, and included some crossover names like Saban, Pascal, Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh and talent manager Danny Sussman — each of whom has an established and enduring history of supporting the Jewish State — the message was mainly the same: Civilian casualties, sad; Hamas, bad.  I’m sure there are plenty of Palestinians who would sign that letter, too.

So what is the point of this recent literary campaign? Now that diplomacy appears to be inching Israel and Gaza out of full scale war, who, exactly, are these letters addressed to? And what will they accomplish?

With ad placement in the Hollywood trades, there is a clear message to the media: No matter how biased some reporting, a big swath of Hollywood has Israel’s back (and they tell the stories people tend to remember).

But even louder than that is Hollywood’s message to itself: even if some prefer not to meddle in the details, the entertainment industry has a bottom line; and, at least for now, it falls on Israel’s side of the border. Days after the CCFP letter was published, actor Seth Rogen tweeted: “A lot of people are using their disdain for Israel's army's tactics as an excuse to get some truly remarkable anti-Semitism off their chests.”



Whether Hollywood will ultimately be able to reconcile its liberalism and Zionism (also a challenge for large swaths of American Jewry) is a fair question, especially in the face of increasing polarization between personal politics and passion for Israel. A recent New York Times op-ed by Antony Lerman, former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, claimed these values may be irretrievably at odds.

These letters, it seems, serve as reassurance to the doubters and the challengers  — such as Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and even Lerman — that Hollywood Zionism is alive and well. And that even when the industry is silent, it’s not stupid. No amount of reporting bias is going to change the fact on the ground: Israel wishes (though doesn’t always actively try) to co-exist with a peaceful neighbor, and Hamas is a bloodthirsty Islamist extremist group, bent on destruction.

And yet, while the pledge of support from Hollywood is appreciated and admired, these confident letters should not be confused with courage. From the peaceful remove of (Jewish) privilege in Los Angeles, it asks little of one's conscience to sign a letter with 200 colleagues. A more admirable act was when Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh spoke out of turn, publishing his own passionate remarks about Israel, unprodded. Where was everybody else when missiles were raining down from the sky?  

Even so, it's comforting to know that at least 200 Hollywood leaders care about Israel's welfare. But the Zionist hero of the summer is Kavanaugh, grandchild of Holocaust survivors, who didn’t require groupthink to use his mind.