April 2, 2020
You’ve tried to behave by limiting your screen time and staying off the couch. But cut yourself a little slack and pop some corn. Why not use this time at home to brush up on your knowledge of Jewish issues by watching some of the most memorable movies ever made? Here are 10 films—with some trivia to boot—that reflect the AJC mission to stand up for the Jewish people and Israel.
- Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
This black and white film tells the tale of a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to research antisemitism in New York City and certain affluent Connecticut suburbs. Gregory Peck accepted the role as leading man against his agent’s advice; Cary Grant already had turned it down.
The controversial film was a box office hit and won that year’s Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. But it also caught the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Its director, producer, and two of its cast members were called to testify. The two cast members refused to cooperate and landed on the Hollywood blacklist as a result.
Though no reporters went undercover, the most recent piece of journalism documenting a surge of antisemitism and other dangerous bias in the U.S. has been Documenting Hate, a collaborative project over the last three years by ProPublica and 180 other newsrooms across the country. Journalists tracked underreported hate crimes and white supremacists, leading to arrests and proposed legislation to improve hate crime reporting.
Available on Apple TV, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Google Play, and Amazon Prime Video.
- Raid on Entebbe (1977)
Made for TV and starring the legendary Charles Bronson, Raid on Entebbe recounts one of the greatest covert missions in modern history: the heroic rescue of more than 100 hostages at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport by the Israel Defense Forces just one year prior to the film’s release.
On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists who redirected the flight from its stopover in Athens to Entebbe, Uganda. After the 148 non-Jewish passengers were released by the terrorists, Captain Michel Bacos, along with the other 11 crew members, elected to stay with the Jewish hostages. The crew and the 94 Jewish passengers, most of them Israeli, were held hostage and threatened with death.
During the rescue raid on July 4, Yonatan_Netanyahu (Yoni) Netanyahu, brother of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and three of the hostages, were killed. A fourth hostage, an elderly woman who had been hospitalized, was murdered by the Ugandans.
In 2016, AJC bestowed Moral Courage Awards to Bacos and Tzvi Har-Nevo, lead navigator for the Israeli commandos who flew 5,000 miles round-trip to carry out what was arguably the most daring rescue operation in the country’s history.
Available on Amazon Prime Video.
- Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations (2020)
Who knew there would be an actual virus spreading around the world to poignantly illustrate the analogy in Andrew Goldberg’s latest documentary? In Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations, Goldberg depicts how the latest wave of anti-Jewish hatred has been impossible to stop as it mutates, moves, and wreaks havoc across borders.
Goldberg travels through four countries – France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Hungary – to interview victims, antisemites, and leaders on the frontlines of the battle against the far right, far left, and radical Islamist instigators. The film features an appearance by AJC Europe Director Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, along with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, a rebellious Holocaust survivor in Budapest, and others.
Hear Goldberg discuss his documentary on People of the Pod, a weekly podcast brought to you by AJC and the Times of Israel.
Airs May 26 on PBS. Check local listings. The DVD is also available for pre-order on Amazon.
- Exodus (1960)
Pop a lot of kernels for Exodus, the three-and-a-half hour smash hit that portrays the story of Israel’s birth as written by novelist Leon Uris. Legendary producer and director Otto Preminger tapped Dalton Trumbo, who had been on the Hollywood blacklist for more than a decade, to write the screenplay. Paul Newman played the lead role.
The movie was filmed in Israel and on the British-controlled island of Cyprus, which had been the actual location of British internment camps for Jewish refugees.
Many believe the film fueled Zionism and support for Israel in the U.S. It’s also believed to have contributed to the end of Hollywood blacklisting.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and Redbox.
- Denial (2016)
At first, the trial seemed too tedious for a screenplay. But when renowned Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt published a memoir about what it was like to be sued by a Holocaust denier, Hollywood pounced. Rachel Weisz was cast to star as Lipstadt, the Emory University professor and author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.
Because British law places the burden of proof on the accused, Lipstadt an academic with limited means, stood to lose a lot of money and her scholarly reputation if the team failed to prove plaintiff David Irving purposely twisted facts to deny the mass murder of Jews during World War II.
Spoiler Alert: Lipstadt remains an icon of Jewish historical scholarship and a favorite guest on People of the Pod. Listen to her latest interview here.
Available on Apple TV, Hulu, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, FlixFling, Redbox, FandangoNOW, Kanopy, and Vudu
- Schindler’s List (1993)
You thought we forgot about this one, didn’t you? Starring Liam Neeson in his breakout role, Schindler's List recounts the real-life story of Oskar_Schindler, a German magnate who, together with his wife Emilie, saved more than 1,000 Jews from deportation to Auschwitz by employing them in his enamel and ammunitions production plants during World War II.
Little known fact: There wasn’t just one list. Schindler and his associates compiled seven lists during the war. Only four are known to still exist. Two are housed at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, and one is at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The other is privately owned. The movie focuses on the first two lists drafted in 1944, dubbed “The Lists of Life.”
Schindler is recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Learn about other heroes named as Righteous Among the Nations here.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, FandangoNOW, Apple TV, Vudu, Starz.
- The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
You won’t be visiting any resorts any time soon, so dive into this film instead. The Red Sea Diving Resort refers to a fictional vacation spot in Sudan to which European tourists flocked for its seaside yoga, but which also served as the base of a complex operation to rescue Ethiopian Jews.
The film is loosely based on the events of Operation Moses or Operation Joshua in the mid-1980s, in which Israeli spies set up the resort as a façade to secretly evacuate Jewish Ethiopian refugees. After nightfall, intelligence agents drove thousands of Ethiopians from camps and loaded them on to rescue boats to be ferried to Jerusalem.
“Anyone who saw Ethiopian Jews in their impoverished villages in Gondar Province, and now sees a growing number of Ethiopian Jews in universities, in the diplomatic corps, in the IDF as officers, and in other spheres of Israeli life, can’t help but marvel at a story of literally biblical dimensions that happened in our era,” wrote AJC CEO David Harris in The Times of Israel. “And how inspiring that it was Israel which did it!”
Available on Netflix.
- Cast a Giant Shadow (1966)
Leading man Kirk Douglas gets most of the credit for the success of Cast a Giant Shadow. But in truth, it was Western film hero John Wayne who rescued this pro-Israel blockbuster.
Inspired by real-life events, Douglas stars as U.S. Army Reserve Col. David “Mickey” Marcus, who is asked to help prepare Israeli troops to defend the newly declared State of Israel against an invasion by its Arab neighbors.
Marcus ends up commanding units of the nascent Israel Defense Forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Many of the soldiers are newcomers to Israel and to armed combat. Though Marcus calls them the “schnooks,” he realizes he is proud to stand alongside them as a fellow Jew. The real-life Marcus became the IDF’s first general.
Because of its content, the film faced some difficulty reaching the silver screen. Writer and producer Mel Shavelson said both Jewish and non-Jewish elements of Hollywood wanted to avoid drawing attention to the Jewish background of anyone in the industry. But with the support of John Wayne, the film eventually was financed and distributed by United Artists. He also played a supporting actor role.
Available on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.
- Operation Finale (2018)
There have been a number of films made about the 1960 capture of one of World War II’s most notorious criminals Adolf Eichmann, including The House on Garibaldi Street and The Man Who Captured Eichmann. But the most recent was Operation Finale, a historical drama about the audacious mission by Israeli Mossad agents to spirit the Holocaust mastermind out of Argentina to stand trial for war crimes in Israel.
After Germany's defeat in 1945, American forces captured Eichmann, who then escaped from a detention camp. He lived in Lower Saxony until 1950, when he emigrated to Argentina using false papers. Argentina had a history of turning down extradition requests for Nazi criminals, so in 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion authorized Eichmann’s covert capture. The stunning operation and subsequent trial captured the world’s attention and enabled many Holocaust survivors to talk about their experiences for the first time.
Available on FandangoNOW, Vudu, Google Play, Apple TV, Redbox, Hulu, Epix, and Amazon Prime Video.
- School Ties (1992)
This film is chock-full of young but familiar faces – Matt Damon, Brendan Fraser, Ben Affleck, and Chris O’Donnell. It may have been released more than 25 years ago, but it has taken on new significance in the 21st century with antisemitism on the rise.
Fraser plays David Greene, a working-class Jewish teen from Scranton who wins a football scholarship to an elite preparatory school in his senior year. It soon becomes painfully clear that his new buddies don’t like Jews and Greene becomes the target of antisemitic attacks.
School Ties is set in the 1950s, but high schools and colleges have once again become a fertile ground for antisemitism. According to AJC’s recent landmark survey of American Jews on this topic, young Jews are significantly more likely to have been victims of anti-Jewish hate. Nearly half of those surveyed, ages 18-29, said that they have been targeted by antisemitic remarks or have been physically attacked for being Jewish.
AJC offers LFT (Leaders For Tomorrow) to give high school students the tools to talk about the issues impacting world Jewry today, and the confidence to stand up for these issues in college and throughout their lives, no matter how difficult the situation.
Available on Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox, Vudu, Google Play, Pluto TV, FandangoNOW, and Apple TV.