Celebrities Must Fight the Rising Tide of Antisemitism – Variety

Why Hollywood must quell antisemitic tropes and language
By James Linhardt
By now, it should be no secret that antisemitism is surging in the United States.
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2023 Antisemitic Attitudes in America report, 20% of Americans believe in six or more antisemitic tropes — significantly more than the 11% documented in 2019. The ADL’s Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in 2022 stated that antisemitic incidents rose by 36% that year, and hate crimes against Jews increased by more than 37% last year. It’s no shock that synagogues in the U.S. are routinely protected by armed guards.
In fact, this is hardly a new phenomenon. On an annual basis, more than half of all religious bias crimes target Jews, despite the fact that Jews comprise a mere 2.4% of the total U.S. population.

Yet the cultural power of artists and entertainers, when honed strategically, can prevent prejudice and hatred from taking root. Celebrities have the power to wield their influence for the greater good.
Jewish actor Emmanuelle Chriqui — known for her TV roles on “Entourage,” “The Mentalist” and “Superman & Lois,” and comedy films “Snow Day” and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” — embraces this sense of responsibility that is associated with celebrity status.
“I think we are shifting from being less secretive to prouder about our Jewish identity,” she says. “As antisemitism rises, so does the need to be more vocal about who we are and where we come from. For thousands of years, people have tried to exterminate us but we are still here. In being proud and true to who we are, we are able to honor those who came before us and who fought for our freedoms.”
Chriqui adds, “Collectively we are truly seeing that when one Jewish person suffers all Jewish people suffer. I feel like most of us have been cut off from that feeling, and with what we are witnessing now with antisemitism. We are standing in solidarity more than ever. It is imperative, at this time, to inspire pride and stay vocal.”
One organization dedicated to inclusion for people with disabilities has demonstrated just how powerful celebrity can be as a form of influence. For years, the Ruderman Family Foundation has been working to ensure that people in the entertainment industry understand the enormous responsibility that comes with that outsized influence.
“I would posit that entertainers have a bigger impact on our society than even elected officials,” says Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “You’re talking about individuals who are followed by millions of people who cling to their every word.”

The foundation has advocated for disability and mental health rights since the early 2000s, and then got involved in Hollywood “by accident,” Ruderman says. While many movements and initiatives were beginning to change the industry for Black and LGBTQ performers, Ruderman noticed a “dearth of people with disabilities representing themselves in entertainment.”
Over the past decade, the foundation spearheaded an effort to change the landscape in Hollywood for people with disabilities, making the industry more inclusive and ensuring that the issue is part of the diversity conversation.
As part of this mission, the foundation has had several major Hollywood studios sign its pledge to audition actors with disabilities in every new studio production. Ruderman notes that the 2022 film “CODA,” which featured deaf actors playing deaf characters in lead roles and won various awards, brought a moment of visibility in the entertainment world for deaf actors.
Chriqui, meanwhile, asserts that Hollywood’s commitment to diversity and inclusion should extend to the portrayal of Jews on screen.
“I think what the entertainment industry can get right about Jewish people on the screen is that there is a great opportunity to cast roles in a way that reflects the true diversity of the Jewish people,” she says. “There is a misconception among many that Jews look one way, when in fact we are an extremely diverse group that includes Jews from Ethiopia and all over Africa, China, India, the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, Italy, Portugal and more. The entertainment industry would bring awareness to Jewish diversity and reveal important untold stories from underrepresented Jewish voices.”
Now, the Ruderman Family Foundation is hoping that the entertainment industry can also utilize its power for good and work to tackle the dramatic rise of antisemitism.
Ruderman attributes this surge of antisemitism to several factors, including “the rise of populism, social media and the fact that certain world leaders are giving a wink and a nod to antisemitism,” adding, “I’m seeing people that normally would be embarrassed about such opinions voice them more openly.”
He points to the case of a prominent rapper who in October 2022 shared extreme antisemitic tropes on social media, threatened violence against Jews and whose bigoted rhetoric brought danger of emboldening others. Antisemitic tropes have existed forever, Ruderman says. “But when you hear them repeated by someone who has millions of followers, then people with power need to speak out against it.” In 2022, Ruderman was heartened when many in the entertainment industry responded immediately, standing together to denounce the rapper’s derogatory comments.
Antisemitic and anti-Zionist social media discourse has an outsized impact on real-world events, according to a study initiated by the Ruderman Family Foundation and conducted in July 2023 by the Network Contagion Research Institute. Along with the research, which analyzed 100 million social posts over a two-year period, NCRI’s CEO Adam Sohn said, “In the present as well as in previous analyses we’ve done, we found correlation with real-world antisemitic incidents.”

The study also demonstrated how anti-Israel sentiment frequently crosses the line into antisemitism. “With Israel currently at war following the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack, the connection between the two types of tropes, as well as their impact on public perception and discourse, is particularly concerning,” Ruderman says.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict typically activates passions overseas and particularly in the United States, giving rise to increased antisemitism and demonstrating Jew-hatred’s inextricable link with anti-Zionism,” he says. “We witnessed this pattern unfold during the 11-day outbreak of violence in the region in May 2021, which was accompanied by a surge in both physical incidents of antisemitism and antisemitic rhetoric online in America and worldwide. In the more recent aftermath of the unprecedented Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel — the worst massacre against the Israeli people in 50 years, and in fact, and what many are quantifying as the deadliest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust — entertainment industry influencers have the opportunity to utilize their platforms to spread factual information and counter toxic discourse in a powerful way.”
Ruderman says the foundation’s latest initiative aims to “talk to the entertainment industry and say, ‘You have an outsized influence. You can have a positive influence on the reduction of antisemitism, or you can have a negative influence of antisemitism.’”
The foundation’s advocacy builds on its ongoing work to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community through ongoing dialogue and mutual learning. “Basically 80% of the world’s Jewish population is split between Israel and the U.S.,” Ruderman says, noting, “These communities are extremely different from each other.”
For more than two decades, the foundation has undertaken multifaceted efforts to solidify Israel’s relationship with American Jewry. “We speak to Israelis about American Jews and the differences between the cultures, and right now, the biggest issue for American Jews is the rise of antisemitism,” says Ruderman, who adds that the foundation is planning to fund documentaries that address antisemitism in an impactful way.
Advocacy will also take the shape of white papers, surveys, reports, guides and videos. “We’ve always been an organization that has focused on research,” Ruderman proudly says of the foundation. “We’re not just advocating, but we’re putting out position papers that back up what we’re saying. We’ve tried to make our case through not just being critical, but also providing data to the industry and then working with the industry to change their policy.”
A Variety and iHeartRadio Podcast
The Business of Entertainment

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