In open letter, Jewish entertainers slam exclusion of Jews from Oscars diversity push

Michael Rappaport, David Schwimmer, Debra Messing, Iliza Schlesinger among 250 signatories on missive urging inclusion for Jews in ‘under-represented’ groups outlined by Academy

Harrison Ford presents the award for best picture at the Oscars, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Harrison Ford presents the award for best picture at the Oscars, March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Over 250 Jewish celebrities and entertainers signed an open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Tuesday criticizing the organization for leaving Jews out of its diversity and inclusion efforts for underrepresented communities.

“Jewish people being excluded from the Motion Picture Academy’s Representation and Inclusion Standards is discriminating against a protected class by invalidating their historic and genetic identity,” said the letter, first reported on by The New York Times on Tuesday.

“This must be addressed immediately by including Jews in these standards,” the letter read, in reference to sweeping eligibility reforms laid out by the Academy in late 2020 to add a diversity component for the Oscar awards, specifically in the “best picture” category.

Among the signatories of the letter were actor and comedian Michael Rappaport, who made a high-profile visit to Israel last month and continues to be an outspoken advocate of Israel online, David Schwimmer of Friends fame, actor-producer Josh Gad, actress Debra Messing, comedian and actress Iliza Schlesinger, as well as acclaimed TV writer and producer Marta Kauffman, the co-creator of Friends.

The reforms, intended to encourage diversity and equitable representation on screen and off, took effect this month and the changes pertain to gender, sexual orientation, disability, race and ethnicity.

For a film to be eligible for best picture, at least one of the lead actors or a significant supporting role must be from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. “Jewish” was not listed as an underrepresented group on the Academy’s list, although an “other underrepresented race or ethnicity” category was included.

Debra Messing addresses a pro-Israel rally in Washington on November 14, 2023. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The film academy also established four broad representation categories for general inclusion: on screen, among the crew, at the studio, and in opportunities for training and advancement in other aspects of the film’s development and release.

The letter, organized by the Hollywood bureau of the group Jew in the City, a non-profit organization that works to advocate for accurate Jewish representation and depiction in media, said that “the absence of Jews from ‘under-represented’ groupings implies that Jews are over-represented in films, which is simply untrue.”

It also emphasized that Judaism is not only a religion, but also an ethnicity.

Michael Rapaport addresses a rally at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv calling for the release of those kidnapped to Gaza by the Hamas terror group, on December 16, 2023. Yehuda Bergstein)

“While we applaud the Academy’s efforts to increase diverse and authentic storytelling, an inclusion effort that excludes Jews is both steeped in and misunderstands antisemitism,” said the letter. “It erases Jewish peoplehood and perpetuates myths of Jewish whiteness, power, and that racism against Jews is not a major issue or that it’s a thing of the past.”

The letter also addressed the current wave of antisemitism sweeping across the United States, noting that antisemitic incidents were up almost 400 percent since October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 240 hostages, amid brutal, widely documented atrocities.

Since then, global incidents of antisemitism have risen noticeably, according to researchers from UN Human Rights Watch and the Anti-Defamation League.

Additionally, the letter cited the 2022 FBI hate crimes report, which showed that antisemitic hate crimes in the US were at an unprecedented high even before the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas War.

“Online vitriol has also taken Jew-hatred to a new level. Cutting down perceived Jewish power has been an excuse for abusing Jews for centuries, most notably during the Spanish Inquisition and 1930s Germany,” the letter said. “Systemic racism against Jews in the United States included segregation, redlining, quotas and gatekeeping, and was the motivation for the founders of Hollywood to start an industry where antisemitism wouldn’t harm them.”

“There is a duty for the entertainment world to do its part in disseminating whole and human depictions of Jews, to increase understanding and empathy in viewers in these dangerous times,” it went on.

Allison Josephs, founder and executive director of Jew in the City, told The New York Times that the letter has been “in the works” since the summer of 2022, when the new academy standards were being discussed.

“It feels like a very big mistake to not recognize that we are maybe the most persecuted group throughout all time,” she told the Times.

AP contributed to this report.

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