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Holocaust movie winner provokes uproar in Jewish circles



JTA – In the wake of the Oscars, Hollywood has been treated to a rare spectacle: Jewish communal leaders attacking the Jewish director of an award-winning Holocaust movie.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and an organisation representing Holocaust survivors are among those now angry with Jonathan Glazer, the British Jewish filmmaker behind the widely acclaimed drama The Zone of Interest, which is set in Auschwitz. During his acceptance speech on Sunday, 10 March, for best international feature, Glazer denounced the “occupation” and “dehumanisation” that he said had led to loss of life in both Israel and Gaza, and connected it to a lesson that he said his own film tried to teach.

“Our film shows where dehumanisation leads at its worst. It’s shaped all of our past and present,” Glazer read from his prepared remarks. “Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza.”

He went on to say that they are “all the victims of this dehumanisation”, and asked, “How do we resist?”

Glazer’s comparing of the “dehumanisation” of the Holocaust to the Israel-Hamas war hasn’t sat well with many institutional Jewish and pro-Israel leaders. Their reactions point to a deeper division within the Jewish community, which has only grown since 7 October, over when and how to link the Holocaust to Israel.

“You made a Holocaust movie and won an Oscar. And you’re Jewish. Good for you! But it’s disgraceful for you to presume to speak for the six million Jews, including one and a half million children, who were murdered solely because of their Jewish identity,” David Schaecter, the president of the Miami-based Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation USA, wrote in a letter to Glazer on Monday.

Schaecter, a Holocaust survivor himself, also called Glazer’s message “factually incorrect and morally indefensible”, and said that Israel had “nothing to do with the Holocaust”. He claimed Glazer was trying to “equate Hamas’s maniacal brutality against innocent Israelis with Israel’s difficult but necessary self-defence in the face of Hamas’s ongoing barbarity”.

His comments were echoed almost word-for-word by the ADL, which posted on X, formerly Twitter, that “Israel isn’t hijacking Judaism or the Holocaust by defending itself against genocidal terrorists. Glazer’s comments at the Oscars are both factually incorrect and morally reprehensible. They minimise the Shoah and excuse terrorism of the most heinous kind.”

The Combat Antisemitism Movement, in its own refutation of the speech, flipped the message on its head by accusing Glazer of appropriating his own Judaism to criticise Israel.

“Unfortunately, Jonathan Glazer has turned a magnificent achievement into another ‘as a Jew’ moment where he appropriates his religious and ethnic identity to attack the national homeland of the Jewish people, which is fighting a war on seven fronts against those who openly call for the genocide of Jews,” the group’s chief executive, Sacha Roytman Dratwa, told the Hollywood Reporter.

Some major figures in Israel also got in on the act, with Michael Freund, a former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Glazer “a self-hating Jew of the worst sort, who exploits the Holocaust to attack Israel in public at the Oscars ceremony”.

Adding to the speech’s confusion was the fact that one of the film’s producers who stood next to Glazer was Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born Jewish billionaire who has extensively supported pro-Israel causes and joined a recent donor campaign against antisemitism at Harvard University.

A spokesperson for Blavatnik told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that he had no comment on the Oscars.

Blavatnik was “extremely proud of The Zone of Interest and the acclaim it has received. His long-standing support of Israel is unwavering and well-documented”, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, progressive Jews celebrated the speech and accused its critics of deliberately misinterpreting it.

The Zone of Interest is a brilliant, chilling film about those who choose to tune out the horrors of a genocide happening next door, so it’s unsurprising that those who are actively invested in averting our collective gaze away from Israel’s genocide in Gaza are losing it,” Simone Zimmerman, the co-founder of the Jewish group IfNotNow, which is vehemently critical of Israel, wrote on X. The organisation has said it believes Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, a charge Israel has fought against in part by citing the Holocaust.

Jay Michaelson, a progressive rabbi and author who won a 2022 National Jewish Book Award, argued in a piece for The Daily Beast that Glazer’s speech “reflected the best of Jewish values”. He pointed out that Glazer acknowledged Israeli victims of the 7 October Hamas attacks, and avoided lightning-rod terms like “genocide”, “colonialism”, and “from the river to the sea”.

“It was harsh, but even-handed and balanced,” Michaelson wrote. “And it’s accurate: defenders of Israel’s actions frequently invoke the Holocaust, antisemitism, and the often-tragic sweep of Jewish history to make their case.”

Representatives for the film and for Glazer himself didn’t return JTA requests for comment and haven’t issued statements regarding criticism of the speech. But in earlier interviews for the movie, the director made it clear that he was driven to make The Zone of Interest because of his Judaism, and that he was thinking about its material in a new light after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

“It isn’t a partisan film,” Glazer told the New York Times in December. “It’s about all of us.” He also said that he was revulsed both by Hamas’s attack that killed 1 200 people and took hundreds of hostages, as well as by the severity of Israel’s response that has killed more than 30 000 people in Gaza to date, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

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  1. Nevll Cohen

    Mar 15, 2024 at 1:39 am

    Glazer did not refute his Jewishness.
    Read again.

  2. Gary Selikow

    Mar 25, 2024 at 11:36 am

    He did refute the Jewish State and the 6 million Jews of Israel which is bad enough.

  3. Gary Selikow

    Mar 25, 2024 at 11:41 am

    What a vile hypocrite. He creates his fame and fortune lamenting the 6 million dead Jews murdered in the Holocaust 80 years ago , But attacks and demonizes the 6 million living Jews in Israel trying to survive in a hate-filled aggressive world.
    LETTERS/DISCUSSION FORUMSAnti-Semitism & anti-Zionism inseparablePublished 9 years ago on Jan 27, 2015By admin
    Gary Selikow

    Israel is the object of the hate of “anti-Zionists”, Anti-Zionism is hatred of Israel and its people and not an ideology. In Israel you find the largest Jewish community in the world – 40 per cent of world Jewry.

    Leftwing anti-Semitism revolves around the denial of Jewish nationhood and therefore of Israel’s right to exist, leading to a hatred of all Jews who affirm Jewish nationhood and particularly of all Jews who live in the Jewish homeland.

    It also involves a gross Orwellianism whereby Israel is accused of genocide, when in fact the truth is that the Arabs and their allies are the ones pushing for the destruction of Israel and thereby a second Holocaust against Jews.

    One possible reason why people isolate Israel from all the countries of the world, to deny it its right to exist, is because Israel is a Jewish state. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

    Because anti-Zionism’s goal would lead to a second Holocaust against five million Jews, it cannot be distinguished from anti-Semitism.

    As regards anti-Israel Jews such as Jewish Voices for a Just Peace and Jews in BDS, Open Shuhada Street , and the SACP, since ancient times the Jews have always been vulnerable to betrayal by the least satisfied people in their own ranks, seeking revenge on their own people for real and imagined slights.

    From the collaborators who worked with the Greeks and Romans during the occupation of Israel by their empires, to the Yevsektsia in the Soviet Union and the Judenrat during the Holocaust, to the Jew-hating Jews of today with their bottomless hatred of Israel and its people, and their efforts to do Israel harm and encourage its genocidal foes like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

    (To rival the Bund and the Zionists, the Soviets created the Yevsektsia of the Bolshevik party. Judenrat – German for Jewish Council – were administrative bodies during the Second World War that the Germans required Jews to form in the German occupied territories.)

    One of the most unfortunate developments in the exile was the loathsome moser (informer), the negative counterpart of the shtadlan (intercessor) who intercedes with the authorities, who speak for the Jews to those in power. “The Jewish community was always hostage to its unhappiest members who stood to gain by serving the powers that be.

    Glazer is an evil moser!

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