February 1, 2012
Zionism and the three-picture deal
Hollywood rediscovers the Jewish state
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What is happening now, however, is more than a revival or renewal of past ties. Hollywood and Israel have become enmeshed in a relationship that is not about a religious awakening or even fervent Zionism — it is a practical business relationship of investment and trade. Hollywood, it could be said, is leading the anti-boycott movement, valuing Israel for its creative resources and paying handsomely for them.
“Right now,” Gordon said, everyone in Hollywood wants to know, “What’s coming out of Israel?” But the feeding frenzy is not simply about money — even the sales-driven Rosen, a talent agent from the tough-guy agency created by Ari Emanuel, admits he’s developed a soft spot for the country.
“It started as business for me,” said Rosen, a founding partner at William Morris Endeavor who is responsible for bringing both “In Treatment” and “Homeland” to the United States. “But I’ve become enormously close to the country, and even to my clients there. It’s become much more personal.”
As with every romance, there is much at stake. For one, the most powerful image-maker in the world is getting into bed with a country that has serious image problems. Hopes are high; hearts harbor great expectations. Especially at a time when the international conversation around the Jewish state remains focused on its unceasing existential threats — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a potentially nuclear Iran, calls for delegitimization, and, increasingly in recent months, internal conflict over a polarizing secular-religious divide. The potential for Hollywood to use its influence and expertise to help recast international opinion of Israel is huge.
“Israel invented storytelling, with the Bible,” Silverman, also an executive producer of “The Office,” said. “We are the storytellers — the Jews. And we have lost our way with our own narrative, and it’s essential we start telling our story again. All these stories coming out of Israel are stories the world should hear.”
What would it mean for an industry created by Jews to help redefine the narrative of the Jewish state? Perhaps it’s a chance for Jewish Hollywood to acknowledge its debts, and its origins. As Silverman pointed out, centuries of storytelling skills derive from reading and re-telling the most influential work of literature in the Western canon: the Hebrew Bible. So now that this confluence of cultures has led to a deeper attachment, what’s Hollywood going to do about it?
While the organized, institutional Jewish community has long desired — and struggled — to galvanize Hollywood support for Israel, it is wary of putting too much stock in a historically fickle relationship. Jacob Dayan, who served as Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles from 2007 until last summer, spent a great deal of his term cultivating relationships in Hollywood. “I met each and every one — if I had to call Les Moonves, I called Les Moonves. I spoke to every person I had to, told them the Zionist story. And I saw a lot of progress,” Dayan said by phone from Israel, where he now works at a venture capital firm. “There are heads of studios who are great friends of Israel — for example, Amy Pascal was in very close contact with me — but to tell you that a concrete product emerged out of this great connection? The answer is ‘no.’ ”
It wasn’t long ago that the Israel-Hollywood relationship was an uneasy one. In 2001, the actor Joshua Malina, who at the time was starring in the Emmy-winning series “Sports Night,” created by Aaron Sorkin, received a desperate call from an official at The Federation in Los Angeles, asking him to appear at a pro-Israel rally. The Second Intifada had just broken out, and the news out of Israel was dismal — terrorist bombings on buses, in cafés and a nightclub had given the image of dead Jewish bodies a regular spot on the evening news. The Federation decided to stage a solidarity rally on Wilshire Boulevard, billing it as a show of support for Israel’s right to exist. “I thought, ‘OK, that’s a slam dunk,’ ” Malina said. But the somewhat image-conscious actor still took a moment to reassure himself, “That’s not controversial.”
When Malina arrived at the celebrity check-in desk on the day of the rally, the woman on duty didn’t even recognize him. Flustered, but not surprised, he was soon cleared and ushered to a green room for celebrities and dignitaries — but the room was nearly empty. “There was [singer] Peter Himmelman and Mayor [James] Hahn” — then Los Angeles’ mayor. Beyond that, he said, there was “nobody else that I recognized.” Having grown up Conservative in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he studied at a Modern Orthodox yeshiva, Malina was comfortable in his Jewish skin. “Love of Israel was baked into my consciousness,” he said. So when he gazed upon that empty room intended for his colleagues, he was taken aback. “I was really struck by that,” he said. Before the rally’s end, he tracked down The Federation’s entertainment director to ask: “Where are all the famous people?”
The answer was disconcerting. “I was told, ‘If it has to do with Israel, you can’t get anybody [in Hollywood] to come,’ ” Malina recalled. “I was appalled. This was a rally for Israel’s right to exist, and that’s a political hot potato you can’t get people to show up for? I thought, ‘Wow, if I’m the best they can do — this is bad.’ ”