Hollywood's Israel Problem & the Gentleman's Agreement

The fascinating, unknown story of how famed Hollywood figures who followed Jabotinsky helped the Jews and the State of Israel. And, asks the writer, what is Hollywood like today vis a vis Israel? No different than Israel's president.

Moshe Phillips

OpEds Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips

In 1947, Hollywood gave us “Gentleman's Agreement,” a thoughtful and compelling portrait of anti-Semitism in America in the period directly after World War Two and the Holocaust.

Americans were reminded of this multiple Academy Award winning movie with the passing of acting legend Celeste Holm on July 15. Holm won her only Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress, for her performance in “Gentleman's Agreement.”

“Gentleman's Agreement” is a further reminder of an era when a select cadre of Jews and non-Jews in Hollywood and the arts stood up for the rights of Jewish victims of persecution and violence, of a time when moral equivalence had not yet reared its ugly and dangerous head.

The movie won the Best Picture and the Best Director Oscars and multiple nominations: Dorothy McGuire for Best Actress, Gregory Peck for Best Actor, Anne Revere for Best Supporting Actress, Harmon Jones for Best Film Editing and Moss Hart for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Moss Hart is also remembered for penning the play "You Can't Take It With You" and the movie "A Star Is Born." In “Gentleman's Agreement”, Hart took aim at both liberal hypocrisy and the American Jewish inclination towards assimilation.

Hart was Jewish and his parents were from Europe, but “Gentleman's Agreement” may have been a direct result of his involvement with Ben Hecht, the Jabotinsky Zionists, the Irgun and efforts to save Europe's Jews. Hecht was a prolific screenwriter and playwright who wrote “The Front Page” and the original “Scarface.”

After hearing a pitch by Hecht for help with the Irgun's rescue activities, Hart replied: "I thought I'd tell you that if I can do anything definite in the way of Jewish propaganda, call on me."

Hecht called on Hart. They were joined by composer Kurt Weill, Broadway producer Billie Rose and others and they created “We Will Never Die” which was performed at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 1943.

The purpose of the show was to generate awareness of the Nazi massacre. It was the single largest effort in America to publicize the plight of Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust. [See the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website at http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007047 for more information.] 

Far too many American Jews are unfamiliar with the heroic initiatives launched by Jabotinsky's activists in the 1940s. And this unfamiliarity is no accident.   

Professor Daniel J. Elazar (1934-1999) was a scholar of the Jewish political tradition. Elazar was a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel andTemple University in Philadelphia and a prolific author.

In the May 15, 1981 edition of the Jewish journal Sh’ma, Elazar recalled Jabotinsky’s legacy and wrote:

"Would there be serious public commemoration of the 100th birthday of Zev Jabotinsky had it not been for the fact that the Likud won the election in Israel in 1977? Not likely. For thirty years and more, Jabotinsky was one of those non-persons in Israel and the Jewish world… The ruling Labour Party made him a non-person for the same reasons that it portrayed Menachem Begin and his supporters as uncivilized fascists -- it is easier to beat the opposition by painting it as irrelevant, intolerable and non-existent, until it is too strong to be dismissed."

The work by Moss Hart, Ben Hecht and other entertainment luminaries in support of Jabotinsky's followers during World War Two, and the subsequent fight to create a modern Jewish State, has been ignored by U.S. Jewish establishment elites for decades.

And while that is tragic in its own way, what is worse is that so few in today’s Hollywood can be counted on to stand up for Israel at all.

Movies like “Gentleman's Agreement” do not get made anymore. The Hollywood that delivered such pro-Zionist movies as Kirk Douglas’  “Cast A Giant Shadow,”, Paul Newman’s “Exodus” and Dana Andrews's "Sword in the Desert" is alas no more.

In its place there is a liberal Jewish elite that would rather praise Spielberg’s “Munich” and its portrayal of a conflicted and disillusioned Israeli counter-terrorism agent than make genuine pro-Zionist movies.

After all, what would their libera lfriends say if they abandoned political correctness and supported the rights of the Israeli settlers in Judea-Samaria and not those of the Arabs in Gaza?

After the close of World War Two, many in the arts continued to support the Irgun’s efforts to create a modern Jewish State. When they saw Ben-Gurion’s war against the Irgun turn bloody, many of them became “disillusioned.”

When did liberals turn their backs on Israel and Zionsim? Mostly, it was long after Hart and Hecht had died.
Hecht penned the pro-Zionist play “A Flag is Born” which opened in New York on September 5, 1946.

By 1949 his disappointment in Israel’s leftist leaders knew no bounds.

Hecht detailed his feelings in his memoir “A Child of the Century.” He wrote:

"As the deeds of the Irgun increased, a drama of dual courage came out of Palestine. It was the courage of a handful of young Jews hurling themselves onto the bayonets and gallows of the British. And it was also the courage of standing up against the roar of invective set up by the Jews of al lthe lands--including the one for whose liberation they were battling. Here, fanned by the Socialist Ben-Gurion and the Zionist Weizmann, the Jewish bitterness against the Irgunists sounded its fiercest snorts.

… We did not know that the pre-battle surrender had been determined. As the Weizmann-Ben Gurion government had bowed to the British tyrant, so they knelt now to their new master – the United Nations." The Jewish government had called for the Irgun to help it stay alive against five enemy armies. But they would never dare welcome an Altalena loaded with enough arms to rescue beleaguered Jerusalem or to enable an army of victorious young Hebrews to sweep through Eretz Israel and win the land on both sides of the Jordan!

There would be no Hebrew nation, no room for cattle and grain, no cities, no freight yards, no ancient capital revived, no space for industry or destiny. There would be a beachhead called Israel, to which the Jews could cling, as they had always clung, like castaways.

[This was 1947 and Israel had accepted the Partition Plan for a tiny, truncated Israel, which only its gains in the ensuing War of Independence made into a barely viable state ed.].

Hart died in 1961 and Hecht in 1964 and the two did not live to see Jerusalem and the Judean Hills liberated in the miraculous Israeli victory in the Six Day War in 1967.

Earlier this month, Ben-Gurion’s acolyte Shimon Peres made headlines around the world when he stated “Israeli settlements in territories densely populated with Arabs, which followed their attack on us, can lead to a threatening demographic change. It places a Jewish majority in the State of Israel at risk.” Peres made his uncalled-for remarks at Israel’s state memorial service for Theodor Herzl.

And now there are no Ben Hechts and Moss Harts left to challenge Peres with the truth. And Hollywood's liberal's applaud the 88-year-old's foolishness.