Jonathan Glazer's Oscar speech sparks fierce reactions from supporters of Israel

Hollywood, CA - March 10: English director Jonathan Glazer poses in the press room with the Oscar for Best International Feature Film for "The Zone of Interest," in the deadline room at the 96th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, CA, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Jonathan Glazer, backstage with his Oscar for "The Zone of Interest." (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

With the conflict in Gaza looming large over Sunday's Oscars ceremony and sparking a pro-Palestinian protest outside the venue, director Jonathan Glazer gave the evening's most politically charged speech on the subject when he took the stage to accept the international film award for his Holocaust drama "The Zone of Interest."

Glazer, who is Jewish, directly linked his film's chilling depiction of a Nazi commandant's family blithely living just outside the walls of Auschwitz to the current crisis unfolding in Israel and Gaza.

“All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present, not to say, ‘Look what they did then’; rather, ‘what we do now,'” Glazer said, reading a prepared speech. “Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst. It’s shaped all of our past and present.

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“Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people,” Glazer continued. “Whether the victims of October 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization — how do we resist?”

As a kind of answer to that question, Glazer concluded by dedicating his Oscar to the memory of the real-life Polish woman depicted in the film who sneaked into the concentration camp at night to leave food for prisoners.

While Glazer's speech was met with applause inside the Dolby Theatre, where several Oscar attendees, including nominees Mark Ruffalo and Billie Eilish, wore pins supporting a cease-fire, the reaction on social media was far more polarized, with Glazer's comments drawing swift and blistering condemnation from supporters of Israel and several Jewish organizations.

Some, taking Glazer's words out of their full context, blasted Glazer for refuting his Jewishness itself, as opposed to rejecting its usage as a justification for the ongoing Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

“By saying he refutes his Jewishness on the biggest stage in the world five months after the attack on Israel, Jonathan Glazer has instantly made himself into one of Judaism’s historical villains,” Commentary editor John Podhoretz wrote on Twitter.

"I simply cannot fathom the moral rot in someone's soul that leads them to win an award for a movie about the Holocaust and with the platform given to them, to accept that award by saying, 'We stand here as men who refute their Jewishness,'" Newsweek opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon wrote on Twitter.

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Meghan McCain criticized the applause that the speech received, writing: "Lotta people in Hollywood showing their ass when a man gets on stage to 'refute his Jewishness' and half the room claps."

Others criticized Glazer for creating what they regard as a false moral equivalence between the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and the conflict between Israel and Hamas, arguing that it was the filmmaker who was hijacking the Holocaust.

In a statement posted Monday morning on X (formerly Twitter), the Anti-Defamation League wrote: "Israel is not hijacking Judaism or the Holocaust by defending itself against genocidal terrorists. Glazer's comments at the Oscars are both factually incorrect & morally reprehensible. They minimize the Shoah & excuse terrorism of the most heinous kind."

A spokesperson for the World Jewish Congress called Glazer's comments "an affront to the memory of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust. There is no comparison between the Nazis' attempt to annihilate the Jewish people and the defensive war that Israel is waging in response to the October 7th attacks carried out by Hamas.”

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Writing on X, Michael Freund, a former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called Glazer “a self-hating Jew of the worst sort who exploits the Holocaust to attack Israel in public at the Oscars ceremony.”

Speaking with The Times about "The Zone of Interest" earlier this year, Glazer said the film's depiction of the banality of evil that led to the Holocaust was intended as a kind of urgent wake-up call to those who think such horrors are only in the past.

“Of course it speaks to this moment,” he said. “Of course it does. But it’s about who we are as a species and what we are capable of. I think the film has alarm in it. It certainly was made with that intention. We’re trying to ring a warning.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.