With the exception of the rare conservative, Hollywood has long seemed to exist in an ideological bubble — a bastion of progressive politics, where Jewish people have thrived, Democratic politicians have been celebrated and stars have espoused liberal ideas from the Oscar stage and rushed to support movements like Black Lives Matter.
For the most part, people in the entertainment world could trust that they were on the same political page.
That changed abruptly with the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Reactions to the assault, and to Israel’s retaliation, have revealed a schism that many in Hollywood did not realize was there, and it has left many Jews feeling like outsiders in an industry they founded and where they have long felt safe and supported.
“There are divides that never really get talked about,” said the veteran screenwriter Barry Schkolnick, whose credits include TV shows like “Law & Order” and “The Good Wife.” “This has brought them to the surface, and it’s hurtful and disorienting.”
Many say they are disillusioned — and angered — by the trickle of public condemnation from Hollywood regarding the Oct. 7 attack. There was no flood of support on social media from celebrities. Most studios initially tried to duck, staying silent. One leading union, the Writers Guild of America, refused to put out a statement, and stuck with its decision in the face of enormous backlash from hundreds of its members.
“The silence has been deafening,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The Wrap, an entertainment trade news site, on Oct. 12.
A few statements and open letters condemning the Hamas attacks started to arrive. But the damage had been done.
To the producer Jeremy Steckler, “the lack of support feels like they’re punching me in my heart and in my identity.”
“I’ve never been somebody who’s been highly attentive to identity or specific religion,” he said. “I’ve always just thought I was in this little bubble and everyone’s supportive and it’s L.A. and no big deal. It’s really in the last week, have I woken up and felt othered.”
While the effect is pronounced in Hollywood, where there is a large Jewish presence, the entirety of liberal America has been similarly convulsed. On Capitol Hill, across college campuses and among progressive activist groups and philanthropies, a raw divide has emerged. On one side, there is ardent support for Israel. On the other is an energized faction who view the Palestinian cause as an extension of the racial and social justice movements that swept through the United States in the summer of 2020. And there are others, including Jewish people, calling for a cease-fire.
In Hollywood, the most prominent example of the fraught nature of the moment is the controversy involving the writers’ guild, which represents more than 11,000 screenwriters.
Jewish writers reacted with horror to the guild’s refusal to condemn the attacks on Israel. Some threatened to leave the union, while others, including the writer and producer Marc Guggenheim (“Arrow,” “Carnival Row”), said they were withholding dues. But an anonymous pro-Palestinian group calling itself WGA for Peace applauded the union’s decision, saying its members were scared to identify themselves because they would be labeled antisemitic.
“After Oct. 7, it wouldn’t have been hard for people to put out statements that said under no circumstances is rape or murder or kidnapping of civilians acceptable — and we need to work toward a just future for Jews and Palestinians in Israel and Palestine,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of Ikar, a congregation in Los Angeles where many screenwriters, directors and Hollywood executives are members.
“But that’s not what happened,” she said. “And so as a result, a lot of people are shocked, afraid.”