Jewish groups defend Oscar-winning director who criticised Israel's military offensive

By John Mercury March 21, 2024

Jewish groups have spoken out in defence of Oscar-winning director Jonathan Glazer who used his acceptance speech to criticise the Israeli military action in Gaza

While accepting the Academy Award for best international film for Holocaust movie The Zone Of Interest, Glazer slammed “Jewishness being hijacked by an occupation”.

He told the audience at the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard: “All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present, not to say look what they did then, but rather look what we do now. Our film shows where dehumanisation leads at its worst.”

The English screenwriter, who also directed Sexy Beast, added that “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”.

His speech drew applause at the time, but was quickly condemned by groups such as Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and by hundreds of leading Jewish Hollywood figures who signed an open letter denouncing his words.

The letter states: “We refute our Jewishness being hijacked for the purpose of drawing a moral equivalence between a Nazi regime that sought to exterminate a race of people, and an Israeli nation that seeks to avert its own extermination.”

Danny Cohen, executive producer on The Zone Of Interest, said he was one of those who disagreed with Glazer’s comments and the ADL branded his speech an “excuse for terrorism”.

But other progressive Jewish groups have since defended the London-born 58-year-old, including the Auschwitz Memorial and Jewish Voice for Peace.

James Wilson, from left, Leonard Blavatnik, and Jonathan Glazer accept the Academy Award for The Zone Of Interest. Pic: AP
Image:
James Wilson, from left, Leonard Blavatnik, and Jonathan Glazer accept the Academy Award for The Zone Of Interest. Pic: AP

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Dr Piotr Cywinski, Auschwitz Memorial director, said in a statement: “In his Oscar acceptance speech, Jonathan Glazer issued a universal moral warning against dehumanisation. His aim was not to descend to the level of political discourse.

“Critics who expected a clear political stance or a film solely about genocide did not grasp the depth of his message. The Zone Of Interest is not a film about the Shoah. It is primarily a profound warning about humanity and its nature.”

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Jewish Voice for Peace – which describes itself as “an anti-Zionist left-wing Jewish activist organization” in the US that backs boycotting Israeli goods – backed Glazer.

In a statement on Tuesday, the group said: “Those attacking Glazer are making his point for him. He wants to apply the lessons of the Holocaust to the horrors that ‘confront us in the present’, while his detractors want nothing more than to avert our attention from the Israeli government’s genocide of Palestinians.

“In reality, Glazer speaks for the massive and growing number of Jews who honour our histories by joining our Palestinian siblings in their struggle for freedom and justice.”

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