(JTA) – The year’s biggest movie phenomenon was a one-two punch of blockbusters with Jewish roots — and they both came up big at Tuesday’s Oscar nominations.
“Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s biopic of the Jewish “father of the atomic bomb,” led the year’s nominations with 13, including best picture and director, and is favored by many prognosticators to win the big prize.
The film’s rendition of J. Robert Oppenheimer covers a fair amount of Jewish ground, including his personal animus toward the Nazis; his recruitment of expelled European Jewish scientists to work on the bomb; his relationship with Albert Einstein, and his late-in-life rivalry with Jewish atomic energy bureaucrat Lewis Strauss. Both Cillian Murphy, who plays Oppenheimer, and Robert Downey Jr., who plays Strauss, were nominated for acting Oscars, as was Emily Blunt, who plays Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty.
The movie’s summer release-date companion and partner-in-memes, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” picked up eight nominations, including best picture. The doll at the center of the musical comedy was created by Jewish inventor Ruth Handler (a minor character in the movie, played by Rhea Perlman). Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz, an executive producer on the film who greenlit Gerwig’s playful take on the property, is Israeli and helped organize a controversial Los Angeles screening of footage of the Hamas attacks that was protested by pro-Palestinian groups.
Also nominated from the film are Gerwig’s partner Noah Baumbach, a credited co-writer, and composer Mark Ronson for best original song. Both are Jewish.
Another Jewish-themed contender this year, Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro,” was the subject of some derision upon its premiere for Cooper’s use of a prosthetic nose to play Jewish composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein. But the biopic, a passion project of Cooper’s, sailed over the objections and picked up seven nominations — including, notably, for best makeup. (It was joined in the latter category by “Golda,” the biopic of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, which starred Helen Mirren.)
“Maestro” was also nominated for best picture, with producer Steven Spielberg among the nominated names, as well as lead actor for Cooper and lead actress for Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre, the actress whose paternal grandfather was Jewish and who in real life converted to Judaism for Bernstein.
Meanwhile, “The Zone of Interest,” a challenging and formally daring cinematic take on the Holocaust, picked up five nominations, including for best picture and best international feature (submitted by the United Kingdom). The film is loosely based on the real-life Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, and is directed by British Jewish filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, who was nominated for best director and best adapted screenplay (he based it loosely on the novel of the same name by Martin Amis, who died last year).
Nolan’s screenplay for Oppenheimer was also nominated; he adapted it from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Oppenheimer biography “American Prometheus,” co-written by Kai Bird, who grew up watching his American diplomat father try to negotiate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and later married a Jewish woman who was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. After his Oppenheimer work, Bird published a 2010 memoir, “Crossing Mandelbaum Gate,” describing his firsthand experiences watching Israeli-Arab diplomatic efforts.
While several actors were nominated for playing Jewish roles, no actual Jews received acting nominations this year — despite what many critics called a career-best performance by Natalie Portman in the Netflix film “May December.”
Notable Jews scored some nominations deeper down on the list. Diane Warren, the Jewish veteran songwriter, received her 15th nomination for penning “The Fire Inside,” from Hulu’s “Flaming Hot.” Warren has never won an Oscar, but did receive an honorary award in 2022.
And Robbie Robertson, the rock star born to a Native American mother and a Jewish father — and who learned of his Jewish heritage late in life — received a posthumous nomination for best original score for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” about the Osage Nation murders. Robertson, who died last year, was a member of The Band and a regular collaborator with “Flower Moon” director Martin Scorsese.
Not to be outdone, two movies based on works by authors who have made antisemitic comments also received some nominations. “The Color Purple,” the new musical based on the Alice Walker novel (which followed Spielberg’s 1985 movie), was nominated for best supporting actress, while “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” Wes Anderson’s Netflix movie based on the Roald Dahl short story, was nominated for live-action short.
Walker has endorsed antisemitic conspiracy theorists in interviews. Dahl’s family and a museum dedicated to his work have both acknowledged and apologized for his antisemitism in recent years.
The Oscars will air March 10 on ABC.
Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas
A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment.
Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.
“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”
The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.
The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.
Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom.
The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.”
“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.
Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”
“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said.
Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus.
Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7.
She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”
She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing.
“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes. The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.
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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7
Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”
“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.
Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”
“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”
Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”
Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”
Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”
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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.
She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”
” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024
The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”
Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”
The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.
David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”
An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”
The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.
It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”
Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”
Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.”
When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”
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