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Hollywood: A ‘liability’ for Jews?

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The notion that Jews control Hollywood is a well known myth, labeled anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League. But in 1933, a rabbi and Zionist leader argued that Jews have a responsibility to improve it.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, Reform rabbi, lay leader and then chairman of the American Zionist Emergency Council, began his critique of Hollywood by stating that "the movies are largely a Jewish industry."

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As Spiderman would articulate many decades later, Silver implied that with great power comes great responsibility, especially with regard to portraying social mores.

[The motion picture industry] does not sell merchandise but ideas, and a people cannot remain permanently indifferent to the quality of ideas which are so vividly and forcefully purveyed daily to millions of its citizens, young and old. The movies are a school for conduct, for popular tastes and attitudes, whether they are aware of it or not.

 Silver wasn’t opposed to all films. "To be sure," he wrote, "there are some very fine pictures but they are the exception."

It is growing recentful of their general tone and atmosphere as well as of the lurid and pornographic advertisements which frequently accompany them. It is not turning puritanical, but is beginning to demand a standard of decency and a measure of good taste and a degree of social responsibility which have hitherto been lacking in the movies…

According to Silver, unless Jewish film executives were willing to contribute to cleaning up the industry, Jews risked being scapegoated for corrupting American minds:

This resentment will make itself felt more and more, and it will, quite naturally, soon seek its human victims. The Jewish people will then again serve as the convenient "whipping boy". It will be said—it is already being said—that the officers and chief executives of the moving picture industry in this country are mostly Jews and that, therefore, it is the Jewish people, though its deputized brethren in Hollywood, which is corrupting the manners and morals of the American people.

Is it asking too much of these Jews from Hollywood, whose private business affairs have now become matters of vital public concern, and the by-products of whose enterprises may prove of such serious moment to the whole body of American Israel, to set about cleaning house?

 Abba Hillel Silver died from a heart attack in 1963, days after eulogizing John F. Kennedy.

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