The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures omits the Jewish emigres who built Hollywood. The FBI denies anti-Semitism motivated a synagogue hostage-taker. Why?

No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity with the Jewish People, July 11, 2021, Washington, DC USA. (photo: Ted Eytan)

The news that several people had been taken hostage at a Colleyville Texas synagogue was met with stunned outrage on Saturday.

Unlike in years past, this hostage crisis- from the outset until the feed was finally cut- was inadvertently televised. Many religious organizations have been streaming their services online for those tuning in at home.

Those tuning into the synagogue’s services that day watched in horror, in real time, as a man burst in and began threatening to kill everyone with a bomb he claimed to have concealed.

News quickly spread on social media. As thousands watched, the hostage-taker raved, threatened and terrorized innocent people.

The stand-off eventually ended with all the hostages safe and the suspect killed by police officers.

Any attack on a religious service is a heinous act. As such, many in the Jewish community prepared for an outpouring of support like the one they received after the Tree of Life terrorist attack in 2018.

Only that didn’t happen.

Instead, the Jewish community in particular, religious communities in general and every decent, common-sense loving person in America got the FBI trying to mislead everyone into believing anti-Semitism wasn’t a motivation for this terrible crime.

When the immediate outcry became deafening, the FBI abruptly changed tack and admitted that yes, in fact; a terrorist taking hostages in a synagogue on the Sabbath, demanding the release of a convicted criminal nicknamed “Lady Jihad”- who incidentally demanded that no one of Jewish ancestry be allowed on the jury at her trial- was indeed motivated by overwhelming animus towards Jewish people.

The American Jewish community has noticed this sort of thing recently. After the latest dispute between Israel and the forces which hold Palestine, Jewish people from college campuses to online forums were forced to endure a relentless campaign of 1.) blaming American Jews for the actions of the Israeli military and 2.) excusing missile attacks on innocent civilians- a war crime- as a reasonable retaliation for injustices ongoing.

As synagogues across the country were vandalized during the 2020 summer protests, the mainstream media stayed largely silent, preferring no doubt not to muddy the waters of an important social justice movement.

Here’s the thing: Anti-Semitism is a social injustice, one of the oldest. Standing up to anti-Semitism is an act perfectly compatible with a social justice-based moral values system. That the progressive left so often fails to condemn anti-Semitism is a betrayal of progressive values.

A society intolerant of Jewish people quickly becomes intolerable for every other religious and social minority group- and everyone else.

Jewish erasure on the political left, and this tendency to aggressively sweep anti-Semitism under the rug, is something prominent American Jews like writer Bari Weiss are noting with more and more alarm.

It was with great sadness that many in the Jewish community confronted what Peter Kiefer and Peter Savodnik recently called the, “very strange story of the brand new $484 million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,” which utterly failed, inexplicably, to include any references to the, “small band of mostly Jewish emigres from Eastern Europe, who created the film industry.”

It’s true: “The people without whom there would be no entertainment industry,” as Kiefer, Savodnik, and every would-be Hollywood historian has noted without fail until five minutes ago, were nowhere represented in the project. Such a glaring oversight seems almost sinister in its magnitude, not because of what it leaves out, but because of what it suggests.

Why didn’t anyone notice before the museum was finished and unveiled to the public? A $484 million dollar project that must have taken many years to complete, and many more in conception. In all that time, in all the finance meetings, legal briefings, schematics reviews; during every hour invested in preserving the history of Hollywood, even with all the new emphasis on diversity and representation: No one noticed the omission of Jewish contributions to the film industry? Not one person?

“In September, the Academy threw a gala celebrating the opening of the museum,” wrote Kiefer and Savodnik on January 11, 2022. “Attendees included Sophia Loren, Guillermo del Toro, Jennifer Hudson, Issae Rae, Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry. Lady Gaga performed. Vogue covered it the way Vogue covers things. Ted Sarandos, a co-CEO of Netflix and the chair of the museum’s board, gave a speech.”

“In what is now common practice in places like Los Angeles, an elder from the local Tongva tribe kicked things off with a blessing and ‘land acknowledgement,’” Kiefer and Savodnik went on. “The museum features an iconic, spherical 33,000-square-foot theater designed by Renzo Piano, stunning exhibitions, and a two-story restaurant called Fanny’s, named after Fanny Brice, the actor and comedienne.”

“But, oddly, it’s missing any mention of the small band of mostly Jewish emigres from Eastern Europe, who created the film industry,” the authors noted in amazement. “The people without whom there would be no entertainment industry.”

“In today’s climate — in which inclusion and diversity are said to be so important — it was an especially ironic omission: The Jews were excluded from almost everywhere,” wrote Kiefer and Savodnik. “Their success signaled the inclusivity and possibility that only Hollywood could afford them. The rise of the industry’s founding fathers should have been an inspiring origin story around which everyone in the community could rally.”

This erasure grated almost as much as the mainstream media’s complete obliviousness to it. Luckily, Sharon Rosen Lieb, writing for Forward did ask: “Jews built Hollywood: So why is their history erased from the Academy’s new museum?”

Though a former director of the Academy has since promised, “that wrong will be righted very soon,” still: The fact that Jews were completely overlooked isn’t lost on that quarter.

Some equity and antiracism training courses have also rankled, within the Jewish community and beyond. The refusal by some CRT authorities to include Jewish people or anti-Semitism in any training modules seems to many a glaring oversight.

Much is revealed in what is left out.

If the contributions of American Jews can be erased from even Hollywood’s record; if the country’s top law enforcement organization can’t or won’t name anti-Semitism when they see it, unless forced to do so; where does that leave a nation founded on religious freedom and equality?

Closer to those ideals? Or further away?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)