If you look up a standard definition of “antisemitism,” and commentaries that apply the term to public life, you will probably find references to mass media.
Consider, for example, this language from the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” commentary from the American Jewish committee. The definition itself: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The case-study material begins with these explanatory notes, the first two in a list of 10:
* Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
* Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
How the Israel-Hamas war is dividing Hollywood
Nerves are fraying. Relationships are being strained to the breaking point. Words are being wielded like weapons.
For decades, claims that Jews “control” the media have included chatter about Jews “controlling” Hollywood.
The key word is “control,” as opposed to decades of writing — often by Jewish scholars — about the strong and unique role Jews have played in Hollywood life, in terms of creative skills and business clout. Consider this classic book by Neal Gabler, “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.” Here’s a famous quote:
“The real tragedy, however, was certainly the Jews’. Their dominance became a target for wave after wave of vicious anti-Semites — from fire-and-brimstone evangelicals in the teens and early twenties who demanded the movies’ liberation from “the hands of the devil and 500 un-Christian Jews” to Red-baiters in the forties for whom Judaism was really a variety of communism and the movies their chief form of propaganda. The sum of this anti-Semitic demonology was that the Jews, by design or sheer ignorance, had used the movies to undermine traditional American values.”
With all of that ugly history looming in the background, the Times story explains that there are professionals in Hollywood who are divided on how to respond to the Hamas blitz that left more than 1,400 dead in Israel and many taken hostages, including children and elderly Jews. It was the highest death toll of Jews, in a single day, since the Holocaust.
Obviously, there are many Americans — including many Jews, secular and religious — who are highly critical of some Israeli government policies, including treatment of Palestinians. Also, many are debating the degree to which Israel can or should respond to the hellish Oct. 7 slaughter. There are also questions about the degree to which the terrorist group Hamas truly represents the Palestinian cause.
As the Times piece notes, the current divisions in Hollywood are both complex and raw. Here’s the overture:
In the weeks since Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel, amid a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and growing fears of further escalation of the conflict, reverberations and recriminations have spread around the globe to college campuses, corporate boardrooms and the streets of many major cities. And Hollywood, where reality often takes a back seat to fantasy, is no exception.
For the entertainment industry, which has already been roiled this year by a bitter, historic double strike of writers and actors, the outbreak of violence has created a new set of fault lines. On social media, in public statements and within organizations, the ongoing Middle East conflict — like earlier reckonings sparked by the #MeToo movement and the murder of George Floyd — has unleashed wrenching emotions and scrambled long-standing alliances.
Just weeks after resolving its nearly five-month strike, the Writers Guild of America has seen its solidarity fracture in recent days, with hundreds of writers protesting the union’s silence over the conflict and some threatening to resign from the group.
Screenwriters, of course, are a unique force in Hollywood life. While directors, producers and actors play crucial roles in storytelling, the writers, at a fundamental level, shape the ideas and language of Hollywood films and television programs.
In the podcast, I offered this opinion — that screenwriters are the Hollywood creative class that is the most “academic” in nature, the professionals who define themselves according to ideas, beliefs and language (as opposed to business deals and economic realities). I know that many would disagree, but I think the current Hollywood debates point to that reality.