October 18, 2023
This op-ed originally appeared in Variety.
You can never have too many allies, especially when some are the biggest entertainers on the planet.
I witnessed that in the aftermath of Feb. 14, 2018, when a gunman rampaged through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and murdered 17 people.
I was a member of Congress then and Parkland was in my district. The futile attempts to comprehend this heinous act, and the hours of hugs and tears, soon gave way to anger. That was channeled by student survivors just five weeks after the shootings to organize March for Our Lives rallies across the country.
Dozens of stars, including Lady Gaga, Amy Schumer and Lin-Manuel Miranda, elevated the rallies with their presence and some, like George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, with generous donations. Their presence and passion — matched by an indefatigable group of student activists — ushered in a wave of gun safety reforms across the U.S.
The A-listers came because they cared. They certainly didn’t need the publicity. I had seen this before on other issues I worked on including food insecurity, eating disorders and animal cruelty. The interest frome celebrities was not performative, but genuine and sustained.
I think back to those moments in my current role as CEO of American Jewish Committee (AJC), where combating antisemitism has been a top priority for 117 years. At a time when anti-Jewish hatred is on the rise across the globe, this scourge has not gone unnoticed by creators, networks and studios.
In April, I was part of an antisemitism panel at CAA along with second gentleman Doug Emhoff and CAA co-chair Richard Lovett. The room was filled with top agents and studio executives who were curious and engaged.
Everyone agrees there needs to be a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism in the entertainment industry. But sometimes actions are taken without antisemitic intent that may still be harmful to the Jewish community. Here are three ways to avoid that:
Ensure Jews are afforded the same standard as other ethnic and religious groups. The creative community has gone to great lengths to accurately portray communities of color. Jewish characters and themes should get the same treatment.
Realize that Jews are not a monolith. We’re on both ends of the political spectrum. We’re rich and poor. And we’re not all from Europe. As many as 15% of Jews identify as persons of color. Reflect that in the artists you hire and the stories they tell.
Call out anti-Jewish hatred for what it is. Don’t minimize antisemitic incidents. Jewish employees and their fears and concerns need to be seen and heard.
Those steps may not be apparent to some. But when we raise them, time and again we have found a willingness to listen. It’s another reason I value my relationships with creators and why their commitment to change becomes that much more noticeable when they speak up when one of their peers puts the Jewish community at risk.
Shortly after I joined AJC a year ago, Kanye West’s bile rained down on us. His threat to go “death con 3 on Jewish people,” was ignorant but could not be ignored, especially with 49 million online followers. Among them were members of the antisemitic hate group Goyim Defense League, who hung a banner over the 405 freeway in Los Angeles that read, “Kanye Is Right About the Jews,” while giving the Nazi salute. Just as troubling as this odious act were the thousands who praised Kanye in YouTube comments on KTTV’s story about the banner.
The hate is real, as is what it could lead to. Online is where white supremacists find kindred spirits. The tropes and conspiracy theories that fuel their hatred propelled the gunmen who perpetrated mass shootings in places like Buffalo, N.Y.; El Paso, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The latest AJC State of Antisemitism in America report found 69% of more than 1,500 American Jews surveyed had been the target of online antisemitism or had seen it online in the last year. That number jumped to 85% for Jewish adults under 30.
For those of you who live a lot of your lives on your phones or try to hit that sweet spot on social media to sell tickets, figures like that should be alarming. But conversely, the online megaphones of influencers offer a forum to attack antisemitism and, in your own voices, talk about what it is and why you stand in support of the Jewish community in the face of this hatred.
Now is also a great time to become familiar with the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released by the White House in May. Among its list of more than 200 action items, it calls on creators to ensure content is devoid of stereotypes and misinformation about Jews and Jewish culture, and it encourages DEI training to include information about the Jewish community and antisemitism.
AJC has formed a task force to ensure the recommendations in this strategy are implemented. We’ve already done antisemitism training for many entertainment companies and look forward to more fruitful collaborations with the entertainment community.
I have seen what you can do when you lean in and lead with your heart. When it comes to antisemitism, there has never been a better time to flip the script to safeguard the Jewish community and strengthen our broader society overall. Join us!