It’s Time for Hollywood to Step Up and Fight Antisemitism, Israeli-American ‘Outpost’ Filmmaker Argues (Guest Column)

Jan 4, 2024 | History, Voices

When we woke up on October 7 to the stories of the barbarity of Hamas, when we heard about the hostages, when we saw the footage of the obliterated homes on various kibbutzim, when we were told the massive death toll and saw kidnappings before our very eyes, when we heard about grotesque snuff videos on Facebook, it all seemed so surreal – an outlier even for a nightmare.

Last month I was in Israel, which is my homeland. I withstood a rocket attack. I stood in the ruins, in rooms and homes that were melted by the incendiary devices and thermobaric bombs, all of them charred to the darkest possible blacks. Some of the floors and walls still had blood spattered about them. If you looked up at the ceilings, you saw hundreds of holes created by the shrapnel of grenades. Many homes were leveled, save for the “safe rooms” which seemed to withstand the cataclysms.

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They began feeling it well before October 7, when the people chanting “Jews will not replace us” were lauded as “very fine people” by an American president. But now, the openness of the Jew hatred has grown — with the appalling testimony of university presidents looking for “context” in the calls for the genocide of the Jews, and protests in the streets of America and on university campuses, some that go as far as supporting Hamas itself.

Intellectually, I suppose most Israelis understand that this rabid hatred toward Jews is more loud than pervasive. But that clamor makes it possible for Hamas and their acolytes to gloat. Jew-hating has become, once again, normalized. Nothing like this has been seen since Nazis rallied in Madison Square Garden in the late ’30s.

And so, we need to ask ourselves, is there anything that can be done? Is there anything that we can do? Is there anything that I can do?

There has been a kind of eerie quiet from Hollywood about this, a kind of caution not to offend any section of the country or even the world. I love the Writers Guild of America — it’s my beloved union and they have done right by me — but their lack of immediate response to what happened in Israel, their inability to condemn Hamas instantaneously, was indicative of this wariness.

The (relative) silence from the entertainment community at large can only serve to embolden the haters. Antisemitism has never really been seen as a real thing – it is, to many, a relic of a past before our lifetimes.

But there is needed now, more than ever, a dedicated mission to combat antisemitism. I am not saying that every individual in Hollywood has to go out and fight this war. Many of us are busy beating other worthy drums. But our institutions absolutely need to get into the fray. By that, I mean the major studios, networks and streamers — those with the real power to spread the word. They have a chance to make a difference. This is what America does better than anybody on the planet. Influence through art.

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There has never been a studio movie about the Six-Day War, maybe the greatest David versus Goliath military victory of the 20th century. The raid on Entebbe, one of the most brilliant hostage rescues in history, got some love back in the ’70s on NBC (which beat every other network in a race to tell the story), but since then only indie films have wanted to touch the story. O Jerusalem, about the creation of the state of Israel (which had very positive Arab characters), was funded entirely with foreign money. Years ago, a major studio wanted to make Mila 18, based on the Leon Uris book about the Jewish fight in the Warsaw ghetto. But in the end, the studio heads didn’t have the courage to make a movie about heroic Jews. It just lingered, and then petered away.

What we should be hoping to see are movies and TV shows that highlight the extraordinarily powerful resistance the Jewish people have had against the forces that have long tried to destroy them. And we need those films to also highlight Jewish humanism. These are the kind of films that spit in the face of antisemitism.

Probably the finest of this sort of film is Munich, Steven Spielberg’s 2005 depiction of the revenge that the Israelis sought out against the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre of 1972. No, let me rephrase that – it’s about the justice that was sought. Here was a movie about strong Jews refusing to bend to those who would eradicate them. The film’s greatness, outside of the obvious artistic merits, is that Steven and the writers Eric Roth and Tony Kushner took time to explore the toll that comes with taking life and how outside-of-the-Jewish-mindset that is. One character, who has a hard time coming to terms with being an assassin, says, “We are supposed to be a righteous people. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s Jewish.”  And yet, the validity of the mission is never undermined in the movie. Jewish strength and Jewish morality are combined in the same scene.

We need more movies like Munich. But the truth is that many are scared to make them. Over the years, I have often tried to make Israel-centric films, and I have been stopped every time. If the Holocaust isn’t somehow at the center of the film, it barely stands a chance of being made – even with big stars attached. Over the years, the greenlighting authorities have been squeamish about alienating audiences. “How will it play in France?” “How will it play in Germany?” “We don’t want protestors at our gates.” “Munich would never have been made it if it didn’t have one of the greatest and most successful directors in history behind it.”

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Of course, what is always in question is the way in which the war is conducted. In my opinion, Bibi Netanyahu does not represent Jewish or even Israeli values, and there has to be much greater attention paid to getting humanitarian aid to the Gazan population and, more to the point, to the Palestinian plight in general.

But one thing is certain. Antisemitism has to come to an end. That may be naive and pie-in-the-sky. But that doesn’t mean we should not try.

Rod Lurie is a filmmaker whose credits include 2000’s The Contender, 2019’s The Outpost and the forthcoming film The Senior.

View this Hollywood Op-Ed from Janaury 4th