The other day Oscar-nominated producer Lawrence Bender called a longtime friend, an activist, and wanted to know: Where has he been? Like many Jews in America, Bender has been suffering sleepless nights, anxiety over the massacre of Jews in southern Israel, fear over a sudden spike in antisemitism in this country. Combined with an anger at the feeling of abandonment by friends in the progressive political sphere.
“I’ve called some of my friends directly and said exactly this: I marched with you. I made movies about Black Lives Matter. I feel like I do everything I can — not as a Jew but as a person. It’s part of my life. And you didn’t show up on Oct. 7. I don’t understand why. And it makes me really angry,” said Bender.
“He said he was sorry,” he went on. “He just said: ‘You’re right.’”
Like many Hollywood progressives, Bender, a self-described “super leftie” who has been active for decades in left-wing causes from Democratic races to racial equity to abortion rights, a sense of crisis has set in at the lack of support from longtime friends in the community.
“I feel wounded,” he confessed. “I feel hurt. I feel angry.”
He’s not alone. In parlor meetings and industry restaurants, at posh valet stands and favorite Brentwood haunts, Hollywood progressive Jews — which is to say, a whole lot of people in entertainment — are struggling with a lack of visible support from longtime fellow travelers. With hordes of protestors out on the streets calling for a Free Palestine, with Palestinian supporters ripping down posters of kidnapped Israelis, Jews I spoke to felt that sympathy was going only in one direction among leftists.
“It’s hideous,” one prominent executive said to me, reflecting sentiment I am hearing frequently. “In general we’re pariahs.”
“I get the two sides of it, I really do,” said veteran producer Mike Medavoy, whose parents fled the Nazis when he was a child, leading to his being born in Shanghai, China. “I understand how people are reacting. But that’s not the way to do it,” he said referring to calls for a cease fire in Gaza.
“You can’t continue to let them (Hamas) do what they just did,” he continued. “I’m not calling for a cease fire. I’m calling for recognition that Hamas killed 1,200 people. That’s not somebody you say to, ‘Come on over for supper.’”
Medavoy has been involved in dozens of films over his career that deal with progressive causes, like “Dances With Wolves” and “The People vs Larry Flynt,” and some that reflected on the folly of war from “Apocalypse Now” to “Platoon” to “Coming Home.”
Combined with his personal history, this has given him a different perspective on the violence of Hamas, he said. Antisemitism is a real thing, and a dangerous one.
“If students at universities don’t understand this, then teachers have failed,” Medavoy said. “The world has failed. Or something is really wrong.”
The disconnect over Israel between progressive Jews in Hollywood and the broader progressive movement has gone from being a minor difference of opinion to an enormous crisis of confidence among longtime friends. Why haven’t women’s groups decried the use of rape against Israeli women on Oct. 7, they ask? Why haven’t Black and brown people spoken out against atrocities? How could LGBTQ groups support a regime that would murder them for expressing their own gender identities?
The discordance has extended to support for movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.
As feminist Nicole Lampert recently wrote in a blog post titled “MeToo Unless You are a Jew”: “The response among the majority of groups committed to ending violence against women and girls (VAWG) was threefold: to keep quiet, to disbelieve the victims, or to insinuate they deserved their fate. In the words of 140 American “prominent feminist scholars,” to stand in solidarity with Israeli women is to give in to ‘colonial feminism.’”
BLM took a similarly anti-Israel position, despite a great deal of support from left-wing Jewish groups.
“The fantasy that liberal Hollywood Jewish people told themselves was that getting behind BLM was an extension of the civil rights movement, instead of reading the fine print in the BLM charter about Palestine,” said producer Matti Leshem, who often embraces progressive causes but eschewed BLM.
(The BLM platform written in 2016 includes a section calling out Israel for “the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people,” and states: “Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.”)
The betrayal must cut even deeper at an organization like the Anti-Defamation League, which was created to fight antisemitism and that had supported Black Lives Matter and even the #MeToo movement.
At the time of the BLM manifesto, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tried to walk a middle path, writing that while he agreed with the majority of BLM’s document, the characterization of of Israel was “one-sided” and “unfair”.
Today there has been no word from BLM on the Hamas attack.
A spokesman for the ADL declined to comment for this piece.
Leshem was present at a Democratic fundraiser in Los Angeles last weekend featuring Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff where these feelings rose to the surface yet again. In the question and answer portion of the event, a young Jewish woman lamented that she did not know what to tell her children about Israel and Hamas.
“She said something like, ‘Why can’t we all just love each other,’” Leshem recalled, exasperated. “Our problem is not right wing antisemitism. Our problem is left wing antisemitism.
“You see the causes you naturally gravitate toward as a Jew, and most of those causes have been perverted by a neo-Marxist agenda which sees the world only in terms of oppressed and oppressors,” he said. “That’s the problem. If you only see the world that way, you cannot understand the world.
“From there you get to – ‘Israelis are colonial white oppressors, oppressing our dark brethren.’ It’s nonsense,” he added. “In order to be a responsible member of society, you have to be able to hold opposing views in your head… Our responsibility as storytellers is always to be able to do that. To hold that paradox in our head, but also to tell the truth unequivalocally. But truth is very fungible. That’s a huge problem.”
Whether that’s true or not, it is certainly a widespread emotion, and the consequences to relationships and future choices remain to be seen.
Bender can’t say whether it will end friendships.
“I ask myself that question,” he said. “I feel isolated. Scared.” He took a beat. “You have to work stuff out. You have to move through it. I’m definitely upset at people.”
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