Opinion: WGA’s statement on Israel is worse than too little, too late

Editor’s Note: Roy Schwartz is a pop culture historian and critic. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook and at royschwartz.com. The views expressed here are his own. View more opinion at CNN.

To condemn the slaughter of more than 1,400 people in Israel, including many children and babies, most through indescribable violence, is not a controversial stance. Or at least, in a sane world it wouldn’t be.

But the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents more than 16,000 members in various media, has been unable or unwilling to issue such a condemnation. The same organization that asked for solidarity with their four-month strike for fair pay and treatment couldn’t extend its sympathy to the innocent civilians murdered and kidnapped in Israel. Their silence was deafening.

Roy Schwartz - courtesy of Roy Schwartz
Roy Schwartz - courtesy of Roy Schwartz

Finally, after three weeks, they released Tuesday a letter to members, shared in The New York Times, that claimed to explain their silence and make their position clear. Remarkably, it does neither.

On Saturday, October 7, during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, Hamas bombarded Israel with thousands of rockets. Thousands of terrorists, armed to the teeth, launched a coordinated attack across the border, the equivalent of being invaded by a Russian army brigade. They raided mostly small towns and kibbutz communities, as well as a music festival, slaughtering at least 1,400 men, women and children and injuring thousands more. They also abducted more than 200 hostages, including women, elderly people and at least 30 children, ranging from teens to babies.

The evil perpetrated by Hamas, a religious fanatic terrorist organization, marks the largest single-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and the single deadliest terror attack on civilians in history after 9/11. (To give you scale, the entire State of Israel is approximately the size of New Jersey. It’s roughly tantamount to the murder of 45,000 Americans.) Yet WGA didn’t condemn it.

Even in their Tuesday statement, the closest they come to it is to “unequivocally state that antisemitism and Islamophobia have no place in this Guild,” which is ironic given the equivocation in the statement. Islamophobia is an ugly bigotry, but why does it need to be denounced in a letter addressing the mass murder of Jews and WGA’s failure to condemn it? Could they not simply condemn the barbaric massacre without any whataboutism or hedging?

Reasonably, the WGA is a trade union, not a political organization, so it shouldn’t be expected to issue statements on world events, let alone controversial ones. Except that it does.

In 2020, both West and East chapters issued statements in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Apparently, people’s right to not be brutalized because of their race is sacred enough to stand up and speak out, unless it’s Jews being butchered, including children, some, as Israeli forensic teams told Reuters, by dismemberment.

In 2022, WGA issued a condemnation of the US Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, only days after the decision. They spoke out for women’s rights over their bodies, but not for the numerous Israeli women who were raped. Or the Israeli nursing mothers murdered on such a scale that it’s prompted emergency breastmilk drives.

According to The New York Times, the Guild’s statement notes that, in the past, they had publicly commented on situations “which could be characterized as beyond our scope,” but had not made a statement after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example. But the fact remains that WGA was the only major creative guild or union in Hollywood to not issue a statement on the matter in the days following the Hamas attack.

On October 11, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) released a succinct statement; “The DGA unequivocally condemns terrorism and joins the many voices in our community decrying the recent Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel and violence against innocent civilians. We stand against the growing spread of antisemitism here in the US and abroad, and remain committed in our actions, words and deeds to supporting the Jewish people.”

On October 12, more than 700 Hollywood celebrities and notables, many of them WGA members, signed an open letter stating the simple truth; “This is terrorism. This is evil. There is no justification or rationalization for Hamas’ actions. These are barbaric acts of terrorism that must be called out by everyone. They are a terrorist organization whose leaders call for the murder of Jews everywhere.”

On October 13, the Screen Actors Guild put out a similar statement; “SAG-AFTRA deplores and condemns the horrific acts of aggression against the Israeli people on October 7. The attack was a fundamental violation of human rights and dignity. There is no justification for the murder and kidnapping of civilians. We mourn the loss of life and urge the safe return of those who are missing and held hostage.”

Several Hollywood studios and stars also issued statements condemning the attack. None of these were political. They didn’t “take sides.” Both the celebrities’ letter and SAG-AFTRA’s statement end with a prayer for peace and coexistence. They just unequivocally condemned an act of pure evil. WGA couldn’t even do that.

On October 15, WGA was called out publicly in an open letter published in Medium, penned by 22 Hollywood writers and showrunners and since grown to include 404 signatories, including Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Chozick, David S. Goyer, Jenji Kohan, Sacha Baron Cohen and James Patterson (a welcome and far too rare non-Jewish voice) stating, “When it comes to taking a stand, the Writers Guild of America has always led by example … When the BLM movement took flight, the Guild rightfully spoke up. When the #MeToo reckoning came and Hollywood needed to change, again the Guild spoke up. But when terrorists invaded Israel to murder, rape, and kidnap Jews … the Guild stayed silent. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is complex and full of nuance, but the crimes committed on October 7th were simple and cruel. If we cannot stand up to call it what it is—a monstrous act of barbarity—then we have lost the plot.”

WGA’s silence became a central topic at Variety’s Hollywood & Antisemitism Summit on October 18, where “The Americans” showrunner Joel Fields spoke. “The Writers Guild has failed us deeply,” he told the audience. “For an organization that constantly puts out statements to make sure that it’s on the right side of history, it has sadly issued its statements through its silence.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in formal statements, expressed similar frustration with the WGA.

According to Deadline, not only did WGA leadership fail to issue a statement, they also refused to engage with members in dialogue. Instead, Deadline reported, they reprimanded those who spoke out.

Allison Josephs, founder and executive director of nonprofit Jew in the City and founder of the recent Jewish Hollywood Bureau advocacy group, didn’t mince words. “Studios, guilds, agencies and academies need to stand up for the Jewish community … the same way they stand up for every other group,” she told me before Tuesday’s letter. “There is no ‘context’ or ‘cycle of violence’ that mitigates such atrocities. I applaud the WGA members standing up and demanding transparency as to who in their leadership condones genocidal violence against Jews.”

David Shore, creator of “House” and “The Good Doctor” and a member of the WGA Negotiating Committee, also shared his thoughts with me. “The vast majority of people, politicians, institutions and media have recognized it for what it is — an act of terrorism … And yet too many people, including the leadership of the Writers Guild, have remained silent. And I’m forced to try to understand why. Are they afraid of wading into a controversial area? Maybe … but it’s not right. And it’s now our job, as writers, to make it just as controversial for them to remain silent.”

I asked him if he thought WGA’s silence was rooted in antisemitism. “Based on my personal experience, absolutely not. I’ve seen no evidence of antisemitism from anyone I’ve dealt with at the board,” he said. “But I know the result of their silence is giving voice to antisemitism.”

He’s right. The void left by silence has been filled with the worst kind of moral depravity. Some American student groups have called the terror attack “a historic win” or issued statements “hold[ing] the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Some social and political organizations have held pro-Palestinian rallies, including at least one where a swastika could be spotted.

Actor Liev Schreiber, who recently played Anne Frank’s father Otto in the television series “A Small Light,” posted on Instagram a photo of a torn and defaced leaflet calling for the release of a four-year-old abducted boy “There is a particularly virulent strain of antisemitism in the air these days,” he captioned.

And to be clear, Hamas aren’t freedom fighters. They’re terrorists. To support them out of sympathy for the Palestinians is like supporting Al-Qaeda out of sympathy for Afghans or ISIS out of sympathy for Iraqis.

Israel can’t continue living next to what has become a de-facto existential threat, and Gazans deserve better than living under an oppressive Taliban-like rule. It is not despite sympathy for Palestinian national aspirations, but because of it, that condemning Hamas is so important.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, WGA’s board was divided initially on how to respond, fearing, in the reporter’s words, “that some of its activist members will oppose any statement supporting” Israel. (The WGA declined to comment for that report.)

That’s specious nonsense. No one asked them to support Israel, either in principle or in policy. Their reasoning for not condemning the mass murder of over 1,400 people in Israel is that it might upset pro-Palestinian members? What kind of moral stance is that? That’s not careful, it’s craven.

And now that the WGA has finally weighed in, their letter isn’t just a case of too little, too late. In true Hollywood Speak, it spends 500 words saying practically nothing.

They claim they “did not issue a public statement…because it felt outside the purview of a US labor union representing writers to comment on it,” but this obviously isn’t just a foreign affairs issue; antisemitic incidents have spiked across the US since October 7, and many WGA members were clearly directly affected, asking them to speak out, privately and publicly. And it doesn’t explain why some of those members were reportedly punished for it.

They do state that “All of us in Guild leadership are horrified by the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th. The murder of so many innocent people in Israel is an abomination.” It’s at least clear, but it’s still not a condemnation.

Worse, they conclude by saying that what “the Israeli and Palestinian people … need from us is not an expression of our anger and distrust … but a shared commitment to peace,” another bit of pious claptrap. How dare the Jewish community feel horrified and enraged when its children are butchered, all over again? How dare we expect our union leaders to show sympathy and support? Instead, the WGA lectures us that it’s time to play nice.

The whole thing is a mealy-mouthed, doublespeak non-condemnation. Maybe they should have just stayed silent.

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