Red pins at the Oscars

Aziza Sami , Tuesday 19 Mar 2024

Criticism of Israel is still stigmatised as anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish but there is pushback.

Red pins at the Oscars


At the 96th Academy Awards on 13 March, Jonathan Glazer — the British director whose film Zone of Interest had won two awards — gave a speech that lasted less than two minutes.

“All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present, not to say look at what we did then, but rather look at what we do now. Our film shows where dehumanisation leads at its worst,” he said. Glazer is Jewish, and his film is about the Holocaust.

“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 7 October in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza. All the victims of this dehumanisation — how do we resist?”

There was a brief pause in the hall, studded with Hollywood glitterati and the international film circuit, then: resounding applause and loud cheering, as it became apparent that Glazer had included in his bid for empathy and for standing up for humanity the Palestinian civilians who are now suffering carnage, famine, and death from Israel’s military onslaught on Gaza.

Inside the US mainstream media, there was minimal coverage of the speech itself, with airtime given mainly to virulent attacks on Glazer by pro-Israel pundits and pro-Israel lobbies such as AIPAC. Glazer’s words were taken out of context to imply that he had treacherously relinquished his Jewish identity and that he should have “kept silent”.

The reaction and manner of coverage reveal an age-old, and well-entrenched mechanism in American and Western politics, by which any criticism of Israeli policies is shot down as anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish — even when it is clearly within the context of an occupying force that has contravened all of the UN’s resolutions, as well as the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law in its dealing with the Palestinian people.

But the pin had fallen and, despite the blackout imposed by the majority of US and Western mainstream media, there seems to be a sea change when it comes to the current events in Gaza.

At the very outset of Israel’s incursion on Gaza, very few celebrities in the US dared to speak out on the question of Israel’s assault on civilians. The few who had the courage to do so were severely penalised. Participating in a march protesting against Israel’s incursion into Gaza and its fallout on Palestinian civilians there, Susan Sarandon, the award-winning actress and activist, was dropped by her talent agency and forced to retract her stance.

Five months into the horror, the Oscars told a different story. Arab American actors and others spoke out for Gaza on the red carpet. Some wore the Palestinian Keffiyeh. Both Billie Eilish and Mark Ruffalo wore their red pins signifying belonging to the movement Artists4Ceasefire, through which 400 actors directed an open letter to US President Joe Biden and the US Congress to call for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire, citing “over 30,000 people killed and over 69,000 injured” in Gaza.

The highest-placed Jewish US Senator Chuck Schumer has directed criticism to the Israeli government because of its current course in Gaza, while even former US president Donald Trump, amping up his electoral campaign for the upcoming presidential elections, urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement a ceasefire and “head towards peace”.

And even such admonitions, coming from its staunchest allies, Israel still considers too much.

While Schumer, who is a strong supporter of Israel, cannot be accused of anti-Semitism, Netanyahu’s response to him — “We are not a banana republic” — reveals the dynamics that are at play: that the US is verbally condemning Israel’s policies on Gaza while in actuality supporting it full force.

Meanwhile, the destruction in Gaza continues, and the chasm is bound to widen between the political interests fuelling this war and, what seems to be emerging: a conscientious stance by individuals like Jonathan Glazer, which is enabling them to condemn Israel’s inflicting of suffering upon others and to refuse to be cowed into silence because of their “Jewishness”.  

* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: