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A Hush in Hollywood?

Jewish celebrities are being criticized for not showing their support for Israel.

by Tom Tugend

April 4, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw at a March 26 woman's cancer research benefit at Cedars-Sinai.

Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw at a March 26 woman's cancer research benefit at Cedars-Sinai.

Earlier this week, the Jerusalem Post ran an editorial strongly criticizing some of the most visible American Jewish personalities for neither speaking up in the defense of Israel, nor visiting the country.

After pointing to a visit by film director Oliver Stone to Yasser Arafat's offices, the editorial noted that "Here in Israel, we have ... Not Steven Spielberg. Not Barbra Streisand. Not Philip Roth. Not [architect] Daniel Liebeskind."

People of such prominence, often seen as Jewish spokesmen and active in Holocaust remembrance, "are lending neither their bodies, nor their voices, nor their pens to the defense of the embattled Jewish homeland," the editorial continued.

How valid are these charges? A quick check, through their spokespersons, of some high-profile Hollywood personalities, known for their involvement in Jewish causes, yielded few results.

Marvin Levy, Spielberg's spokesman, labeled attacks against Hollywood's Jewish community as "unfair." Currently, the famed director is deeply involved on location with two movie projects, to the exclusion of everything else and hasn't taken a nonbusiness trip since last summer, Levy said.

No response was received to requests for comments from the offices of Streisand, Michael Douglas and producer Arnon Milchan. Richard Dreyfuss was on the set of his TV series, "The Education of Max Bickford," and could not be reached.

However, Jewish organization leaders, who have worked closely with Hollywood celebrities, were not so reticent.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, believes that up to this point, the American Jewish community, including Hollywood, has simply not grasped the seriousness of Israel's situation.

"Most of the media have reported the struggle like a boxing match, and to American Jews the situation has become so politicized that many are just staying away," Cooper said.

"We are now seeing signs of a better understanding that the struggle is one for Israel's right to exist," he added. "Once this becomes clear, American Jews, including the Hollywood community, will come through."

One harbinger of such a trend is the attitude of Scott Patterson, an actor featured in the popular television series "Gilmore Girls."

Patterson, who says he has never been politically active, has asked Cooper whether he could join him on his next trip to Israel, which Patterson has never visited.

"I've become more and more concerned by the growing anti- Semitism in Europe and the anti-Israel stance of the Western media," Patterson said. "To remain silent now is to give aid to the enemy."

In the past, such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have included prominent Hollywood names in their missions to Israel.

Of these, only The Federation appears to working currently on such plans.

"We met a few weeks ago to discuss preliminary plans for such a mission involving entertainment industry people," said Federation President John Fishel. "The events of the last couple of weeks have overtaken us, but we will continue our planning."

Federation efforts are currently focused on the community-wide Israel Independence Day Festival on April 21, which it is cosponsoring with the Council of Israeli Organizations of Los Angeles, and Fishel hopes for a turnout of 35,000 to equal the attendance at Israel's 50th anniversary celebration in 1998.

Not surprisingly, the analyses of other community observers were influenced by their political outlooks.

Stanley Sheinbaum, a veteran leader of the Peace Now movement in the United States who has close ties to Hollywood, said that many in his circle feel that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's harsh policies are triggering more suicide bombings. However, the decision whether or not to visit Israel is based more on security concerns than political outlook, he believes.

One of the city's most prominent entertainment lawyers and a political centrist, who did not wish to be quoted by name, said that while many Jews are concerned about Sharon's response to the intifada, "more are coming to understand that there is no alternative."

The harshest criticism of his fellow Jews in the entertainment industry comes from Lionel Chetwynd, a veteran film writer and producer, and one of a handful of self-described Jewish conservatives in Hollywood.

He charged that a combination of left-wing Democratic politics and secular humanism among American and Hollywood Jewish establishment figures have, by default, left solidarity with Israel as a conservative cause.

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