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Who’s An “Authority”?

At the Academy Awards, a winning activist actress had her say.

In 1978 the English actress Vanessa Redgrave won an Oscar for her role in the film “Julia” and used the occasion to denounce “a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews everywhere.”

Later in the ceremony, the screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky used his own turn onstage to offer a memorable rebuttal: “I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave,” he said to applause, “that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

Why would anyone care what Redgrave thought about pretty much anything? Because she got to express her views to a few million people. Other than that, she was little more than a passionate activist with a platform. At the time, she was considered something of a kook, which is why Paddy Chayefsky wasn’t “canceled” for saying the obvious. Times have changed.

Forty-six years on, history repeated itself.

Last week, Jonathan Glazer, director of the Holocaust-themed film “The Zone of Interest,” accepted the Academy Award for best international feature film and delivered a diatribe to “refute” having his “Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people.”

It’s not that Glazer isn’t entitled to his opinion. He is. But neither his directing a movie, nor his Jewishness, conferred any special knowledge that made his opinion any more worthy than any other random person. And others in Hollywood pulled a Paddy.

It took a few days, but the spirit of Chayefsky came roaring back. In a “Statement From Jewish Hollywood Professionals,” hundreds of signatories, including the actress Julianna Margulies and the producer Lawrence Bender, denounced Glazer for “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,” arguing that it could fuel antisemitism.

Of course, Glazer got to express his views to millions. As for the other movie folk, few knew of their criticism because who really cares what a “Statement From Jewish Hollywood Professionals” had to say? To be fair, unlike Glazer, their statement was an appeal to reason rather than an appeal to emotion, but these were still Hollywood folk countering one of their own. They had no greater expertise than Glazer.

So what made Glazer’s statement resonate? According to Brett Stephens, he played the “I’m a Jew” card.

But I’m also allergic to what Eli Lake, in a brilliant recent essay in Commentary magazine, called the “As a Jew” phenomenon: the habit of prefacing political opinions with a declaration of identity, as if an opinion about Israeli politics (usually, an anti-Israel opinion) somehow becomes more credible and significant because the speaker happens to be Jewish.

It isn’t. Having once had a bar or bat mitzvah does not make one a spokesperson for Jews, much less an authority on the Middle East.

What Stephens failed to recognize, however, is that by prefacing his taking a position against his putative religious interest, it removes the taint of bias from which Redgrave suffered and add moral authority to his statement. By asserting that he was a Jew and yet stood with Palestinians against Jews, his view was “more credible and significant.”

Bar mitzvah or not, this has become one of the defining distinctions for many, that even Jews side with Palestinians over Israel. Even Jews, for whom defending Israel’s effort to eradicate terrorists who raped, beheaded, burned, murdered and kidnapped children and elderly, men and women, should be their natural bias. And yet, here Glazer was, condemning his own and siding with the other. And many marching in support of Hamas/Palestine, and against Israel, are Jews as well, a great many of whom have embraced the progressive bundle that the Palestinians are the oppressed and therefore are in the right against the settler colonialist Jews.

But Stephens is right that they, regardless of their religion or their position against religious interest, are not authorities on the middle east. They may be passionate in their belief and reliance on identity to answer all moral questions, but that doesn’t make them right or their opinions any more authoritative than anyone else lacking knowledge or experience.

Passion is not a substitute for being an authority. Horror at what is happening in Gaza is not a substitute for the hard work of understanding the situation, or appreciating the significance of the bad options available given the way in which Hamas has chosen to function in Gaza, by using dead Gazan babies as props in their passion play with the apparent approval of Gazans, who still support Hamas’ terrorism despite the devastation it has wrought on Gaza.

Today, the United States will offer a resolution at the United Nations Security Council for a temporary ceasefire with the proviso that Hamas release all the hostages. They know that won’t happen, reducing the resolution to a political performance to show how humanitarian the Biden administration is and, perhaps, get some of the passionate progressive Palestinian supporters to return to the Biden voting fold.

If Hamas wanted a ceasefire, they could have had one weeks ago. They had one before October 7th. They did not and do not, and not only do they not care how many Gazan “martyrs” are killed in the process, but the more dead, the better for Hamas. Why would they, when they are gaining an advantage with every dead baby in Gaza?

Hamas has good reason to expect that their terrorism will end up being rewarded with at least a Palestinian state controlled by terrorists whose sole purpose is to destroy Israel, while Israel has been turned into an international pariah for trying to prevent its citizens from being raped, murdered and kidnapped, all the while pretending to be the good guys. Now that’s a performance worthy of an Oscar, something about which Glazer has some authority.

 

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