Joaquin Phoenix, Joel Coen join Jewish creatives signing open letter supporting Jonathan Glazer’s Gaza Oscar speech

Joaquin Phoenix, Joel Coen join Jewish creatives signing open letter supporting Jonathan Glazer’s Gaza Oscar speech
Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer faced backlash for his Oscar acceptance speech on Gaza, which many outlets also misquoted.
4 min read
06 April, 2024
Film director Jonathan Glazer faced backlash for his Oscar acceptance speech, along with his speech being misquoted by outlets [Getty]

Over 150 Jewish creatives have signed an open letter in support of Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars speech on Friday.

The film director won the Oscar for Best International Film for The Zone of Interest, about the daily life of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig.

During his acceptance speech, Glazer, who is Jewish, attacked the hijacking of "Jewishness" by Israeli politicians to justify the war on Gaza, which the director denounced.

“All our choices are made to reflect and confront us in the present. Not to say, ‘Look what they did then,’ rather ‘Look what we do now.’ Our film shows where dehumanisation leads at its worst,” Glazer said.

The open letter, obtained by the American magazine Variety, includes signatories such as actor Joaquin Phoenix and his sister Rain, Elliot Gould, Chloe Fineman and Oscar-winning director Joel Coen.

“We are proud Jews who denounce the weaponization of Jewish identity and the memory of the Holocaust to justify what many experts in international law, including leading Holocaust scholars, have identified as a 'genocide in the making'," the letter reads.

"We reject the false choice between Jewish safety and Palestinian freedom,” it adds, while also calling for a permanent ceasefire, the safe return of all hostages, the immediate delivery of aid into Gaza and the end of Israel’s ongoing siege on Gaza.

“The attacks on Glazer also have a silencing effect on our industry, contributing to a broader climate of suppression of free speech and dissent, the very qualities our field should cherish. We should all be able to do the same without being wrongly accused of fuelling antisemitism.”

The letter notes how “alarmed” they are to see their colleagues in the industry “mischaracterize and denounce his [Glazer’s] remarks”, referring to the open letter published in March where over 1,000 Jewish creatives condemned Glazer’s speech for helping to fuel “growing anti-Jewish hatred around the world”. Actors, including Debra Messing and Tovah Feldshuh, signed the letter.

The film director was also condemned by The Holocaust Survivors' Foundation USA, where the foundation's president, David Schaecter, condemned Glazer's speech as "factually inaccurate and morally indefensible" in an open letter published on the foundation's website.

'Refuted his Jewishness'

Glazer's speech was misquoted by numerous pro-Israel figures, who falsely claimed he had "refuted" his Jewishness, leading to accusations of deliberately spreading misinformation about the director's criticism of Israel. 

Some of the misinformation was uncritically reported by mainstream media outlets, including an article in Variety that misquoted Glazer, perpetuating the falsehood that he had "refuted his Jewishness". 

Glazer's actual quote denounced Israel's weaponisation of Jewishness and the Holocaust in its ongoing brutal assault on Gaza, something that scholars of genocide have also criticised.

The filmmaker said in his Oscar speech: "Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization.”

The magazine was quick to correct the mistake, adding a note stating that "an earlier version of this article had a typographical error in Jonathan Glazer's speech."

The damage, however, was already done. Multiple American commentators reacted with outrage at Glazer, including Meghan McCain, daughter of the late Senator John McCain, and Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor for Newsweek.

'Zionist hoodlums'

Many were also quick to compare viewers' reactions to English actress Dame Vanessa Redgrave's speech in 1977 after she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

The actress critiqued the "Zionist hoodlums” whose behaviour is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world".

While Glazer has been praised for condemning Israel, Redgrave was booed by some audience members during her acceptance speech and even rebuked by a presenter later in the evening.

Glazer's speech coincided with dozens of actors, celebrities, and filmmakers, including Ramy Youssef, Billie Eilish, Mark Ruffalo and Kaouther Ben Hania, arriving at the theatre wearing red badges displayed as an act of solidarity with the people of Gaza amid Israel's destructive assault on the Palestinian enclave.

The pins were provided by the collective Artists4Ceasefire, which leads a campaign for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The film director also donated signed Zone of Interest posters to a Cinema for Gaza auction to raise money for Medical Aid for Palestinians. The posters, which were the auction’s most highly demanded items, reached over $50,000 on the first day.