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As Israel’s Situation Worsens, Celebrities Aren’t in the Picture

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Are Hollywood’s most visible Jews failing Israel as the country battles on both the security and propaganda fronts?

While film director Oliver Stone previously dropped in at Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, many Israelis are wondering why their embattled nation hasn’t received similar visits from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss or Michael Douglas.

No one ranks higher in the film world than Spielberg, director of "Schindler’s List," whose foundation has videotaped the testimonies of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors.

His chief spokesman, Marvin Levy, said that the filmmaker is involved on location with two movie projects, and hasn’t taken a nonbusiness trip since last summer.

No response was received to requests for comments by Streisand, Israeli-American producer Arnon Milchan or Michael Douglas. The latter narrated the pro-Israel documentary, "In Search of Peace." Dreyfuss was on the set of his TV series, "The Education of Max Bickford," and could not be reached.

Jewish organizational leaders who have worked closely with Hollywood celebrities said the reaction mirrors that of the country’s Jewish community.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, believes that up to this point, American Jews, including those in Hollywood, have simply not grasped the gravity of Israel’s situation.

"Most of the media have reported the struggle like a boxing match, and to American Jews the situation has become so politicized that many are just staying away," Cooper said.

"We are now seeing signs of a better understanding that the struggle is one for Israel’s right to exist," he added. "Once this becomes clear, American Jews, including the Hollywood community, will come through."

One harbinger of such a trend is the attitude of actor Scott Patterson, featured in the popular television series "Gilmore Girls."

Patterson, who says he has never been politically active, has asked Cooper whether he could join him on his next trip to Israel, which Patterson has never visited.

"I’ve become more and more concerned by the growing anti-Semitism in Europe and the anti-Israel stance of the Western media," said Patterson. "To remain silent now is to give aid to the enemy."

In the past, such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have included prominent Hollywood names in their missions to Israel.

Of these, only the federation appears to be working currently on such plans.

"We met a few weeks ago to discuss preliminary plans for such a mission involving entertainment industry people," said federation President John Fishel. "The events of the last couple of weeks have overtaken us, but we will continue our planning."

Federation efforts are currently focused on the community-wide Israel festival on April 21, and Fishel hopes for a turnout of 35,000 to equal the attendance at Israel’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1998.

Not surprisingly, the analyses of other community observers were influenced by their political outlooks.

Stanley Sheinbaum, a veteran leader of the Peace Now movement in the United States who has many Hollywood ties, said many in his circle feel that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s harsh policies are triggering more suicide bombings. However, the decision whether or not to visit Israel is based more on security concerns than politics, he said.

One of the city’s most prominent entertainment lawyers and a political centrist, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that while many Jews are concerned about Sharon’s response to the intifada, "more are coming to understand that there is no alternative."

The harshest criticism of his fellow Jews in the entertainment industry comes from Lionel Chetwynd, a veteran film writer and producer, and one of a handful of Jewish conservatives in Hollywood.

He charged that a combination of left-wing politics and secular humanism among American and Hollywood Jewish establishment figures have turned solidarity with Israel into a conservative cause.

Thus, Jews find it difficult to support President Bush’s pro-Israel stance, after "vilifying him as a half-wit for the last three years," said Chetwynd. These leftist Jews "may approve of Bush’s Israel policy, "but they wish that one of their own guys were doing it. That causes them a lot of discomfort."

Chetwynd himself is now working on two documentaries to illustrate the deep roots of Jews as the true Palestinians.

One project, titled "From Judea to Israel," will deal with Jewish resistance to Turkish rule during World War I. The other will center on Flavius Josephus, the chronicler of the Jewish revolt against the Romans.

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