Press Release

Remarks by Jonathan Greenblatt to ADL at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

As delivered on September 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California 

Good evening!

It's nice to be here tonight.

As I look around the room, I feel tremendous gratitude, not only because of our shared values but because we can’t do our work alone and I see so many familiar faces. So let me start by thanking a few people who are here.

First, I want to recognize ADL Board Chair Ben Sax who is here from New York, here with his wife Holly and their children, along with all the members of our national board of directors and the members of our regional board who are based here in LA who have joined us this evening. A special shout out to the members of ADL’s Entertainment Leadership Council who also are here in the room.

I want to thank Bill Kramer, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who is hosting us here at the incredible space at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Bill, I’m so excited for what we will do together in the years ahead as the relationship between ADL and the Academy takes shape.

I want to lift up our friends from UTA who are here. All of us at ADL are proud to work closely with them and I’m particularly delighted that UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer is able to join us tonight.

Big kudos to Mattel Chairman and CEO Ynon Kreiz who hosted me just yesterday for a terrific town hall at Mattel’s amazing Headquarters in El Segundo. Congrats to Ynon and everyone at the company for their extraordinary success this past summer with Barbie, a groundbreaking film on so many levels.

Finally, I want to acknowledge Dominic Ng, who serves on the Mattel board as well as the board of this museum. In addition to being a longtime friend of ADL,  he is Chairman and CEO of East West Bank and I’m proud that ADL and East West Bank recently launched a new multi-year partnership, supporting our local work here in LA to combat hate in all its forms. Thank you, Dominic.

You know, I’m so happy to be back here in Los Angeles. This is the community where my business career got started, where I met my wife, and where our children were born. Whenever I come back to LA, I always feel like I’m home, and tonight I’m back home to commemorate Jewish storytelling and Jewish history through film and to talk about how ADL is harnessing the power of culture and media to address the very real crisis in this moment of antisemitism.

Zooming out for a moment, as many of you know, ADL is the oldest anti-hate organization in America. We were founded 110 years ago at a time when Jews in America were experiencing both systemic discrimination but also sustained defamation.

You see, back in 1913, the nascent motion pictures industry was exciting and innovative, but it provided another toxic avenue for familiar allegations of Jewish "control" promoted by antisemites. Vaudeville and cartoons often depicted Jews as “Shylock,” and then we saw the advent of so-called low-budget "Jew movies." They were produced in this era at the rate of one every two weeks.  Major production companies, such as Universal, Keystone, Reliance, Mutual and General Film Company, were cranking out productions that portrayed Jews as carnal, criminal, miserly and sly.

That is when ADL’s engagement with the entertainment industry began. In 1914, the ADL Executive Committee wrote a letter to the studio heads urging them to reduce the use of anti-Jewish stereotypes in their films.

A breakthrough occurred in 1916 when Carl Laemmle, president of Universal, said that his company would no longer produce films that held Jews up to ridicule or contempt. Laemmle was followed by others such as Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount, Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn who together started MGM. These Jewish executives built this industry and played a vital role in shaping Hollywood’s landscape. And then they championed stories that challenged stereotypes and advocated for inclusion.

That was followed by the successful transition of a generation of Jewish performers from Vaudeville to Hollywood in the 20’s and 30’s.  Films with the Marx brothers and Fanny Bryce laid the groundwork for Mel Brooks and Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer -- the list goes on.

In short, a new Jewish tradition was born, and we are so proud of the incredible and talented performers, executives, composers, directors, and screenwriters who represented our community for the world to see. 

With Jewish names and personalities flashing on the screen, Hollywood became the new avenue for us to be accepted and seen for our gifts, our culture, our humor, and most importantly, our humanity.

Entertainment developed into one of the key industries for Jewish Americans to find success and take a seat at the table contributing to American popular culture.  

Through small-town movie theaters and living room televisions, America welcomed Jews into their lives, even American who previously had never met a Jewish person.

So we were normalized and yes, we were celebrated.

But none of this happened without ADL and other organizations helping to guide these opportunities.

Addressing stereotypes, negative portrayals, and antisemitism in media, and pushing back against defamation in the press, these were core concerns when ADL was founded. That aim continues today.

Over the years, ADL’s national and regional leadership has formed deep relationships with industry leaders and tonight’s gathering is a testament to those relationships.

One notable example of this connection is the story of screenwriter and producer Dore Schary. In the late 1950s, after experiencing antisemitism in his own life and seeing its damaging impact on society, the former MGM chief went on to become the National Chairman of ADL.

Many Americans might not remember his name, but they should because Schary was a pioneer both in the industry itself as a screenwriter and as an executive but, most bravely, as one of the lone voices who stood up for the rights of filmmakers during the anti-communist Red Scare.

Dory battled against those who scapegoated his colleagues who so often were Jewish. His activism took a toll, but Dory pressed on as brave voice and a valiant leader against antisemitism in the U.S. Today, Dory often is remembered for his art as a playwright, screenwriter and director, but he also should be known for his courage and integrity as a Jew, so I’m deeply honored that Dory’s grandson and my good friend, Jeremy Zimmer, is here with us tonight and is building on Dory’s amazing legacy and taking it in bold new directions through his leadership at UTA.

In fact, we believe there is no better time to tell Dory’s story and to share so many others, as America is experiencing a resurgence of antisemitism, from Brooklyn to Colleyville, Pittsburgh to Pico Robertson.

We all should be troubled that antisemitism is becoming more mainstreamed and normalized than ever. This is a function of many factors, but particularly due to the role of social media platforms that act as a super-spreader to push antisemitism far and wide.

Now ultimately and unfortunately, amplifying antisemitism online virtually guarantees that it will show in the real world.

Last year, ADL tracked almost 4,000 antisemitic incidents across America, a 36% increase from 2021 and the highest total we’ve ever seen since we started tracking this information more than 4 decades ago.

And 518 of those incidents took place in California with 237 occurring right here in Los Angeles.

And the problem seems to be expanding rather than diminishing. In the past six weeks, ADL has responded to more than 50 swattings at synagogues and black churches across America, including half a dozen here in Southern California.

In addition, we have dealt with bomb threats against Jewish institutions, the distribution of hideous antisemitic flyers in neighborhoods across the country, and we even have seen white supremacists marching out in the open in Florida less than two weeks ago. Groups like Blood Tribe and the Goyim Defense League rallied in public without shame, waving swastikas and chanting racist, antisemitic slogans.

And this is just in the past 4-6 weeks.

More and more, it seems that these extremists are emboldened to act and oftentimes, bizarrely, they’re cheered on and championed by powerful personalities on social media who they feel are validating their views.

For example, ADL has been confronted over the past two weeks by a vicious hate campaign, one that was launched on Twitter (also known as X) by white supremacists and rabid antisemites but that quickly spread like wildfire across the platform. Last weekend, it was a trending topic and seized the attention of hundreds of millions of users, including the owner of the service, Elon Musk.

Browsing these antisemitic tweets was punitive, it was like looking at the ugly underbelly of society. It flowed like raw sewage across X and soon spilled out onto other platforms. The vitriol was so toxic, the content so raw and grotesque that I didn’t want my children to see it.

Ostensibly this was about ADL but in truth, it was about the Jewish people.

As Avi Mayer of the Jerusalem Post put it, the ADL simply served as a symbol for these bigots, a kind of synonym for our community.

To antisemites, Israel is the Jew in national form; depending on your politics, either George Soros or Sheldon Adelson are the embodiment of the Jew in human form; and the ADL is the Jew in organizational form. The thought is that, if you can impugn us, if you can slander and silence us, you can shut down arguably the most prominent defender of our community.

But, you know what? Here’s the thing that the right-wing extremists, the left-wing radicals, and even Mr. Musk need to keep in mind –

We’re not going anywhere.

ADL has been doing this work for more than a century.  We’ve endured attacks by Nazi sympathizers in the 30’s, slander from the John Birch Society in the 50’s, threats from the KKK in the 60’s, smears from Lyndon LaRouche in the ‘80s, libel from the Nation of Islam in the 90’s, menace from radical jihadists in the early 2000s, and hateful hashtag campaigns by rabid antizionists, QAnon conspiracists in the last few years.

So, to the BanTheADL crowd and their boosters, I say: get in line.

We’re not daunted by your threats.

We’re not intimidated by your insults.

We will never be quiet in the face of intensifying antisemitism.

Forget it.

Instead, let me assure you that we will be ferocious and unflinching in defending our community and we will not apologize for holding people accountable, irrespective of the heights of their celebrity or their political affiliation or the size of their bank account.

Have we made mistakes? Absolutely. Is there room for improvement? Again, absolutely. We should hold ourselves to higher standards and try to get things right. We don’t always get it right. And we try to acknowledge our errors.

But we are unapologetic in believing that a safer, healthier, less toxic social media universe is better for the Jewish people, for all marginalized communities, and users everywhere all over the world.

And this brings us back to the topic at hand tonight.

Studies have indicated that nearly one-third of Americans claim that they know no Jews and 53% of Americans say that they have heard anti-Jewish comments from TV, movies, and pop culture. It has been revealed that viewers who consume content that includes Jewish stereotypes are more likely to hold antisemitic views.

While Jews are present in movies and television in significant numbers, the quality of these representations matters because frequently they’re too poor, relying on stereotypes and tropes that create a narrow and oftentimes negative picture of Jewish people. 

So, what we see before us is a new opening for our mission as well as an opportunity to engage in this discussion more broadly and meaningfully within this important industry.  

Tonight here at the Museum, ADL is announcing the creation of a dedicated Media & Entertainment Institute that will engage, educate, and impact entertainment, media, and related industries to promote more diverse and nuanced representations of Jewish people and strengthen society’s understanding of antisemitism. 

ADL will work alongside our partners at UTA, many of whom are here today, as well as with industry leaders and partner organizations to advocate for content that shows viewers the full diversity of Jewish life and the nuanced characters that Jews embody, offers a well-rounded portrayal of Jewish culture, religion, and history, and educates on the insidious impact of antisemitism and Jewish stereotypes.

Because remember antisemitism starts with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews.

The institute will start by focusing on five areas for ADL to make the greatest impact and position itself as an innovative vehicle for change.

  • Public research about Jewish representation in different types of entertainment and media so we can define the problem, anchor the conversation in data and catalyze the right kind of change.
  • Guidelines and best practices for industry leaders to follow as they think about representation. 
  • Industry education focused on producers, directors, writers, and staff in Hollywood.
  • Recognition and accountability to uplift positive efforts in media and entertainment while holding individuals and studios accountable for harmful and hateful content. 
  • And partnerships with other advocacy organizations to increase our collective impact.

The Institute’s first project will be a preliminary study of Jewish characters in film and television to better understand these portrayals and to tackle the types of depictions that perpetuate negative ideas about Jews, while also highlighting productions that feature positive images of Jewish people. This will be the first of many projects that explore these issues and work towards a more inclusive and representative future. 

I want to close my remarks tonight by once again expressing my appreciation to all of you for joining us tonight. This is the very first step in moving this project forward and you are all a part of this endeavor.

Because just as the film industry was founded by those who dared to break barriers, who faced rampant discrimination, who came to the United States and found acceptance and their chosen callings, I can think of no better way to celebrate their legacy than ensuring we work towards a just, more inclusive future where Jews and people of all cultures are more accurately represented within this one, powerful, wonderful medium that simultaneously is able to make people dream as well as change those dreams altogether.

Thank you.