In response to the rise of antisemitic tropes in mainstream pop culture, the Anti-Defamation League has launched a Media and Entertainment Institute to engage Hollywood insiders and tastemakers in dialogue on general societal perceptions of Jewish people and how they are portrayed in media and entertainment.
From Kanye West’s recent outbursts to neo-Nazi demonstrations in Florida and other states, antisemitism in U.S. culture has grown in recent years along with the volume of hate crimes against Jews. As reported by the ADL’s long-term studies, the number of Americans who had antisemitic attitudes toward Jewish people jumped to 20% in 2022, compared to 11% in 2019, according to Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO and national director. In the mid-1960s, when ADL began the survey, the level stood at about 30%. By the early 1990s, the level hovered reliably between 8%-12% for nearly 30 years, according to Greenblatt.
So what changed? Greenblatt points to a toxic stew of hard economic times, pandemic conditions and the social media echo chamber that offers a ready platform for hate speech.
“Extremists feel emboldened, whether it’s the former president welcoming white supremacists into the White House or tech CEOs engaging with antisemites and expanding their reach astronomically. Or the discourse that has become standard on college campuses that sees Israel and Jews as opposers,” Greenblatt told Variety. “There are people in the halls of Congress and political extremists in elected office at all these visible stations in society. Extremists feel emboldened.”
The ADL is highly aware of the power of entertainment and media to shape cultural opinion on social issues. “Social media is the super-spreader” of extremism, Greenblatt observed, but traditional TV and film has unique reach and influence.
The ADL’s initiative will involve research into Jewish representation in media and entertainment; guidelines for accurate an unbiased depictions of Jews; educational outreach on the historic roots of antisemitism; “recognition and accountability” to hold “individuals and studios accountable for hateful or biased content”; and a commitment to partner with outside advocacy groups to affect the portrayal of marginalized groups across the TV and film spectrum. To that end, the ADL has teamed with media watchdog Common Sense Media to develop a list of recommended movies and TV shows.
The Media and Entertainment Institute will formally launch Sept. 12 with an ADL-hosted dinner with industry leaders and stars at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
The ADL has kept a watchful eye on antisemitism in media since its founding as an anti-hate organization in 1913. The focused effort to reach Hollywood insiders is an effort to “systemize the work that we’re doing to engage more directly with the industry to promote a more diverse representation of Jewish people.”
Greenblatt also stressed that the ADL’s advocacy work is guided by data-driven analysis and extensive proprietary research. The entertainment industry outreach is a natural outgrowth of the 110-year-old anti-hate organization’s work in other areas of public life.
“The entertainment industry was once known as a safe harbor for Jews. That is no longer true. There’s been an alarming rise in antisemitism within our professional ranks, industry organizations and in our art forms,” said Modi Wiczyk, co-founder and CEO of MRC and a member of ADL’s Entertainment Leadership Council. “There’s never been a more pressing need for ADL’s Media & Entertainment Institute to step into this void and to engage directly with industry leaders on these issues. I stand ready to support them in any way I can.”
(Pictured: ADL CEO and national director Jonathan A. Greenblatt)
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