Monday, April 15, 2024 -
Print Edition

Backlash follows Glazer’s Oscar remarks

NEW YORK — 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.

From left: James Wilson, Leonard Blavatnik and Jonathan Glazer accept the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, ‘The Zone of Interest,’ during the live ABC telecast of the 96th Oscars at the Dolly Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on March 10, 2024.(Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences via JTA)

From left: James Wilson, Leonard Blavatnik and Jonathan Glazer accept the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, ‘The Zone of Interest,’ during the live ABC telecast of the 96th Oscars at the Dolly Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on March 10, 2024.
(Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences via JTA)

The ADL and an organization representing Holocaust survivors are among those now angry with Jonathan Glazer, the British Jewish filmmaker behind “The Zone of Interest,” a film set next to the killing centers in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Glazer read from his prepared remarks March 10:

“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 dehumanization,” and asked, “How do we resist?”

David Schaecter, president of the Miami-based Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation USA, wrote in an open letter to Glazer on March 11:

“You made a Holocaust movie and won an Oscar. And you are Jewish. Good for you. But it is 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.”

Schaecter, a Holocaust survivor himself, also called Glazer’s message “factually incorrect and morally indefensible.”

He said that Glazer was trying to “equate Hamas’ maniacal brutality against innocent Israelis with Israel’s difficult but necessary self-defense in the face of Hamas’ ongoing barbarity.”

His comments were echoed almost word-for-word by the ADL, which posted on X:

“Israel is not hijacking Judaism or the Holocaust by defending itself against genocidal terrorists. Glazer’s comments at the Oscars are both factually incorrect & morally reprehensible. They minimize the Shoah & excuse terrorism of the most heinous kind.”

The ADL’s current director Jonathan Greenblatt and former director, Abraham Foxman, also condemned his speech.

“It’s truly disheartening to see someone minimize the Holocaust literally as they are accepting an award for a film they made . . . about the Holocaust,” Greenblatt posted on X.

“Glazer talks about understanding where dehumanization can lead, yet is blind to the fact that it’s Hamas’ dehumanization of Jews & Israelis that led to the current war. Let me be clear: Israel is not hijacking anyone’s Jewishness. It’s defending every Jew’s right to exist.”

“As a survivor of the Holocaust I am shocked the director would slap the memory of over one million Jews who died because they were Jews by announcing he refutes his Jewishness. Shame on you,” Foxman posted on X, while adding that he was “pleased” the film won.

The CEOof the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement said:

“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,” Sacha Roytman Dratwa told the Hollywood Reporter.

Michael Freund, a former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called Glazer “a self-hating Jew of the worst sort who exploits the Holocaust to attack Israel in public at the Oscars ceremony.”

Glazer’s speech unfolded during a period of intense scrutiny around Israel-related comments in the arts and entertainment world.

Advisors to the Berlin Film Festival suggested last week that they might alter rules around speeches after some of this year’s award winners — including a few Jewish and Israeli directors — used their time to condemn Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

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 anti-Semitism at Harvard University.

While Glazer’s use of “we” seemed to imply he spoke for both himself and his producers Blavatnik and James Wilson, who both joined him onstage, it’s unclear how much they knew about the content of his speech beforehand.

A spokesperson for Blavatnik said that he had no comment on the Oscars.

The spokesperson added that Blavatnik “is extremely proud of ‘The Zone of Interest’ and the acclaim it has received. His long-standing support of Israel is unwavering and well-documented.”

Some Pogressive Jews celebrated the speech.
  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 Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and avoided lightning-rod terms like “genocide,” “colonialism” and “from the river to the sea,” which pro-Israel groups have condemned.

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

Some of Glazer’s defenders suggested that the Oscars deliberately refrained from posting his speech to YouTube because of its content. In fact, according to film-industry publication IndieWire, the speech is not up yet because of an agreement between the Academy and ABC, the channel that airs the Oscars, giving the channel a 30-day window to post video content from several categories including the one Glazer won. (ABC’s own YouTube page has posted the speech.)

Representatives for the film and for Glazer himself did not return JTA requests for comment and have not issued public statements regarding the criticism of the speech.

The intra-Jewish feud over a Holocaust movie is unusual. 

“The Zone of Interest” was already a polarizing Holocaust movie, a world away from past Oscar-feted dramas like “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist,” and “Life is Beautiful.”

Unlike those movies, “Zone” focuses not on Jewish victims but on the unbothered life of Auschwitz perpetrator Rudolf Höss and his family living next door to the camps.

It was a decision some Jews criticized, but which Glazer said he made in order to bring the Holocaust out of the realm of historic victimhood and emphasize humanity’s capacity for evil in general.

The film, which interpreted noise from the camps on its soundtrack to portray the genocide in audio form, also won an Oscar for best sound.

Leave a Reply