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The best villains played by Jewish actors

(JTA) — The film and TV world recently lost two Jewish actors who were not household names but were acclaimed for a pair of signature villainous roles.

Last month, Mark Margolis passed away following a career on stage and screen that spanned over 60 years. He studied with and was later the personal assistant of renowned acting teacher Stella Adler before appearing in “Scarface,” HBO’s “Oz” and multiple films by the acclaimed Jewish director Darren Aronofsky.

But he was most remembered for his Emmy-nominated performance as Hector Salamanca, the wheelchair-bound, largely non-verbal patriarch of a Mexican crime family in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” One could argue that Margolis, whose family “started a couple of Reform synagogues,” embodied one of the most well-known villains ever portrayed by a Jewish actor.

Later in the month, Arleen Sorkin died of pneumonia after a years-long struggle with multiple sclerosis. Possessing a unique comic sensibility, she was in the mid-80’s cast on “Days of Our Lives” as Calliope Jones — a quirky fashion designer based loosely on Cyndi Lauper. That character inspired Paul Dini, a writer on “Batman: The Animated Series,” to create the character of Harley Quinn — a jester-like henchwoman for The Joker, who would be voiced by Sorkin for nearly 20 years. Since Sorkin played Harley Quinn with an exaggerated version of her Brooklyn Jewish accent, the character became canonically Jewish as well.

Thanks in large part to Sorkin’s larger-than-life personality, Harley Quinn became so popular that she made the rare jump from animated series to comic books to live action films and has remained a uniquely endearing super-villain.

In memory of Margolis and Sorkin, and in tribute to the fantastically sinister characters they embodied, here’s a quick survey of some of the other noteworthy villains played by Jewish actors on screen.

Daniel Day-Lewis — “There Will Be Blood” and “Gangs of New York”

Three-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis learned at an early age that acting was an effective way to deal with schoolmates’ bullying that came from being an outsider on both sides of his family — Irish on his father’s, Jewish on his mother’s. On screen, Day-Lewis masterfully embodied two of cinema’s most deliciously villainous characters: Oil tycoon Daniel Plainview (for which he won the Oscar for best actor) in “There Will Be Blood” and nativist gang leader Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (for which he was nominated for best actor). Both characters embody the darkest sides of the American dream, and no one has ever made a milkshake sound more menacing.

David Proval — “The Sopranos” 

Before playing Toby Ziegler’s Rabbi on “The West Wing,” Jewish actor David Proval played many Italians on screen, from Tony in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” to Hunk Pepitone on “Fame” to perhaps his most memorable role: Richie Aprile, the ruthless, sadistic capo of the DiMeo crime family on “The Sopranos.”

Martin Kove — “The Karate Kid” 

John Kreese, the original Cobra Kai sensei played by the Jewish Brooklynite Kove, was one of the most well-known 1980s bad guys.

Michael Douglas — “Wall Street”

“Greed is good,” says Gordon Gekko in this classic indictment of 1980s Wall Street culture. So was Douglas’ performance, which earned him an Academy Award in 1988.

Kirk Douglas — “The Villain”

Michael’s father, the legendary actor and two-time bar mitzvah boy Kirk Douglas, was often the hero on screen. But he tried his hand at playing the bad guy in this ridiculous, forgettable Western comedy from 1979.

Joan Collins — “Dynasty” 

The acclaimed role of Alexis Carrington, the scheming ex-wife of the wealthy Denver oil magnate Blake Carrington, helped catapult the soap opera “Dynasty” to the top of the ratings. The Emmy-nominated Collins made Alexis a multi-dimensional character that frequently cracks the upper echelons of “greatest villains of all time” lists and inspired a bevy of prime-time imitators. Her father was Jewish and proudly identified as a member of the tribe.

Daniel Stern — “Home Alone” 

Who could forget Daniel Stern’s iconic shenanigans as Marv Murchins, one half of the inept duo that fails to take on the wily kid Kevin McCallister in the “Home Alone” series?

Mel Brooks and Rick Moranis — “Spaceballs” 

These two comedy legends put in hilarious performances as Dark Helmet and President Skroob — the bungling bad guys of Brooks’ 1987 “Star Wars” parody.

Wallace Shawn — “The Princess Bride”

The year 1987 also saw Wallace Shawn play the sinister Sicilian Vizzini to comic perfection in this silly classic.

Dustin Hoffman — “Hook”  

Hoffman played the infamous Captain Hook in the eponymous 1991 Spielberg film, which critics (and later Spielberg himself) wrote off as a failure.

Joseph Wiseman — “Dr. No” 

Plotting from his island lair, Joseph Wiseman’s Julius No was the first, and one of the best ever, to portray a James Bond villain on screen. The Canadian Encyclopedia notes: “Despite his on-screen performances as the ‘heavy,’ Joseph Wiseman was a Jewish scholar who travelled extensively, giving readings from Yiddish and Jewish literature.”

Yaphet Kotto — “Live and Let Die” 

Years later, the proud Jew Yaphet Kotto played another Bond villain heavily influenced (in a cringe-worthy way by modern standards) by the Blaxploitation era: Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big, a ruthless drug baron and Caribbean dictator. Kotto’s Cameroonian father was Jewish, and his mother converted to Judaism.

Jesse Eisenberg — “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

James Bond isn’t the only IP with memorable villains portrayed by Jewish actors — several villains in the Marvel and DC comic universes have been played by Jewish actors as well. The normally quiet-tempered Eisenberg played Superman’s archenemy Lex Luthor in a 2016 blockbuster (and Michael Rosenbaum portrayed the character on the TV show “Smallville”). Some fans might also call Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg portrayal a villain in David Fincher’s hit “The Social Network.”

(Although no Jewish actors have ever played Magneto, Marvel’s most significant Jewish villain, a small handful of prominent Jewish actors have played other Marvel villains, from Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” to Corey Stoll’s humorous version of M.O.D.O.K. in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Jeff Goldblum also gave a memorable turn as Grandmaster in “Thor: Ragnorok.”)

Steven Bauer — “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” 

We would be remiss not to mention another actor from the “Breaking Bad” franchise: Steven Bauer, whose Jewish maternal grandfather had fled Germany to escape Nazi persecution, settling in Havana. He plays the ruthless drug cartel leader Eladio Vuente.

Like Margolis, Bauer also appeared in “Scarface” (co-starring as Pacino’s best friend, drug-lord Manny Ribera). Unlike Margolis, Bauer is actually fluent in Spanish. He also learned Hebrew to play an ex-Mossad agent on Liev Schreiber’s “Ray Donovan,” as he had done decades earlier when he starred in “Sword of Gideon,” a Canadian film that was the template for Spielberg’s “Munich.”

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Argentina Court Blames Iran for Deadly 1994 Bombing of Jewish Center

People hold up pictures of the victims of the AMIA Jewish center bombing during a ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 attack in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

A new ruling by Argentina‘s highest criminal court has blamed Iran for the fatal 1994 attack against the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, declaring it a “crime against humanity” in a decision that paves the way for victims to seek justice, according to court documents released late on Thursday.

The judges ruled that the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) — the deadliest of its kind in the country’s history that killed 85 people and left hundreds injured — was carried out by the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and responded “to a political and strategic design” by Iran. The Iranian regime is the main backer of Hezbollah, supplying it with weapons, funding, and political support.

Representatives from Argentina‘s Jewish community said the court ruling was “historic” and “unique” because it opened the door for the victims’ relatives to bring lawsuits against the Islamic Republic.

President Javier Milei celebrated the ruling, saying this was a “significant step” that put an end to decades of “delays and cover ups,” in an official statement.

Argentina‘s judiciary has long maintained Iran was behind the attack, but joint investigations and Interpol arrest warrants have led nowhere. Iran has refused to turn over citizens convicted in Argentina. Tehran has denied involvement.

Prosecutors in the report charged top Iranian officials and Hezbollah members with ordering the bombing as well as an attack in 1992 against the Israeli embassy in Argentina, which killed 22 people.

“The significance of these grave human rights violations for the international community as a whole invokes a state’s duty to provide judicial protection,” wrote Judge Mahiques who argued for legal reform.

In 2013, Argentina and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding that sought to create a truth commission to investigate the attack, but the agreement never came into force and gave rise to a case against then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, for an alleged cover-up operation.

Judge Mahiques highlighted the figure of former prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was investigating the attack and was found dead at his home in January 2015 after fiercely criticizing Fernández de Kirchner for concealing Iran’s alleged responsibility in the attack.

“[Nisman] was very clear that all these circumstances were at the origin of the attack on the AMIA, which, taken to its ultimate consequences, could have had palpable results before this ruling,” Mahiques told local radio on Friday.

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European Parliament Denounces UNRWA Role in Inciting Violence and Antisemitism

A boy holds a placard as Palestinian Hamas supporters attend a rally against visits by Israelis to the Al-Aqsa mosque, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, May 26, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Antisemitic incitement and glorification of terrorism in Palestinian textbooks issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was a cause of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, the European Parliament (EP) declared in a series of resolutions passed last week.

The resolutions mark the latest denouncement of the Palestinian education by the EP and some of the first to address strong evidence that over a dozen UNRWA staff aided Hamas’ raping and slaughtering of Israeli civilians. Together, they rued the possibility that European tax dollars were funneled into Hamas and called for a complete restructuring, as well as increased oversight, of the Palestinian education system to ensure that antisemitic themes are purged from curricula in the Palestinian territories so long as the institutions administering them receive European aid.

“Today the European Parliament condemned the problematic and hateful contents encouraging violence, spreading antisemitism and inciting hatred in Palestinian school textbooks,” German Member of European Parliament (MEP) Niclas Herbst  said in a statement praising the action. “The European Parliament reaffirmed in the context of despicable terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas on 7th October 2023 that education to hatred has direct and dramatic consequences on the security of Israelis, as well as the perspectives of a better future for young Palestinians. Therefore, the EP requests the Commission to closely scrutinize that no UNWRA funds are allocated to the use of such hateful materials.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, UNRWA textbooks are among the most antisemitic and inciting in the world. No discipline is untouched by the problem. From math to theology, to literature and science, their content promotes blistering hatred for Jews and Israel, indoctrinating students as young as six to commit their lives to “martyrdom” and inter-generational war. Compromise with Israelis is described as betraying Palestinian identity, suicide-bombings as intrinsic to it and a prerequisite for entry into heaven.

“In this bipartisan resolution, the European Parliament has rightly made the inevitable and tragic connection between the horrors of October 7 and the systematic indoctrination which has flourished for too long in Palestinian schools, the majority of which in Gaza are operated by UNRWA,” Marcus Sheff, chief executive officer of Israeli education watchdog Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (Impact-se), said in a press release on Thursday.

He added, “For years, we have warned that the textbooks taught to Palestinian children create the conditions for the barbarism we all witnessed. The EU Parliament is now saying, ‘Enough.’ We need a new Palestinian curriculum.”

Impact-se has been a leading critic of the role Palestinian curricula plays in stoking the embers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and fostering religious extremism. In March, the organization unveiled transcriptions of recordings confirming the roles of Yusef Zidan Sliman Al-Hawajri and Mamdouh Hussein Ahmad Al-Qek — both of whom were hired as educators by the organization — in Oct. 7, citing them as evidence that UNRWA has violated its mandate.

Its last report, published in March, revealed that textbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority teach girls that women are inferior to men and demands that they sacrifice their bodies and families for “jihad.”

“The characterization of women as inferior in Palestinian Authority textbooks reflects a broader and worrying narrative of bigotry in the curriculum, which is continuing to shape the outlook millions of Palestinian children,” Sheff said after the report was published. “Furthermore, it contradicts international treaties on gender equality that the PA itself has ratified. In particular, the emphasis on women’s participation in resistance activities as a warped form of gender equality sets a disturbing precedent.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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‘Does She Really Want to See America Die?’: Rashida Tlaib’s Refusal To Condemn ‘Death to America’ Chants Sparks Bipartisan Backlash

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) addresses attendees as she takes part in a protest calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the US Capitol, in Washington, DC, US, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

On Wednesday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) refused to condemn anti-Israel protesters who chanted “death to America” and “death to Israel” during a rally in her district, sparking bipartisan backlash.

At an “Al-Quds Day” rally in Dearborn, Michigan protesters chanted “death to America” and “death to Israel.” A speaker at the event also quoted Malcom X saying “We live in one of the rottenest countries that has ever existed on this earth.”

The speaker continued, explaining that “The chant ‘death to Israel’ has become the most logical chant shouted across the world today.”

Another speaker proclaimed “Israel is ISIS, they are Nazis, they are fascists, they are racists.”

Michigan’s 12th congressional district, which Rep. Tlaib represents, includes Dearborn.

At International Al-Quds Day Rally in Dearborn, Michigan Protesters Chant “Death to America!”; Speakers at the Rally: America Is One of the “Rottenest Countries” on Earth; Israel Is ISIS, Nazis, a Cancer

— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) April 7, 2024

The initial incident sparked condemnation from both sides of the political aisle. The mayor of Dearborn, Abdullah H. Hammoud, wrote on Twitter/X that, at the rally, people chanted “statements that were unacceptable and contrary to the heart of this city.” 

“We reject all inflammatory and violent statements made at the gathering. Dearborn is a city of proud Americans; the hateful rhetoric heard on Friday does not reflect the opinion of the members of this community,” he continued.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates told The Daily Caller that “The White House condemns these abhorrent and Antisemitic remarks in the strongest terms. As [US] President [Joe] Biden has said, America is the greatest nation on Earth and a beacon to the world.”

Rep. Tlaib was approached by a Fox News reporter on Wednesday, who asked if she condemned the chants. She replied, saying she did not speak to Fox News and that the reporter was engaging in Islamophobic tropes in asking her the question — likely because she perceived the reporter as questioning the patriotism and loyalty of Muslim Americans to the US.

WATCH – Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Gaza) refuses to condemn ‘Death to America!’ chants at a rally in her home

— The First (@TheFirstonTV) April 11, 2024

The Algemeiner reached out to Tlaib’s office for clarification of her statement, but it did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to The Algemeiner, Democratic Majority for Israel — a group that supports Israel from within the Democratic Party — said “Chanting ‘Death to America’ incites violence and is patently anti-American. All political leaders should be able to join the White House & Dearborn’s Mayor in denouncing this slogan.”

“Congresswoman Tlaib’s refusal to condemn those words is sadly telling,” DMFI added, asking “Does she really want to see America die?”

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s national political director, Sam Markstein, had harsh words for Tlaib, telling The Algemeiner, “It’s no surprise that Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib would refuse to condemn anti-America and anti-Israel chants.”

He described Rep. Tlaib as “a disgrace” who “should not be representing the people of Michigan’s 12th district in Congress.”

He argued, “House Democratic leadership has coddled and enabled her vicious antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric for years – it’s long past time for them to hold her accountable.”

The CEO of The Jewish Democratic Council of America, Halie Soifer, pushed back on The Algemeiner’s request for comment, saying: “with all due respect, do you ever cover what Donald Trump says about Jews or Israel? It’s antisemitic and incessant — nearly daily at this point.”

Earlier this week, former US President Donald Trump told reporters that Biden “doesn’t know if he is supporting the Palestinians but he knows one thing: he is not supporting Israel. He has abandoned Israel and any Jewish person that votes for a Democrat or votes for Biden should have their head examined.”

Trump: “Any Jewish person that votes for a Democrat or votes for Biden should have their head examined.”

— Republican Voters Against Trump (@AccountableGOP) April 10, 2024

Trump’s comments come just a week after she would not give a direct answer when asked if he stands with Israel “100%,” raising questions about what his Middle East policy may look like in a potential second term. He also said a few days ago that American Jews who vote for Biden do “not love Israel” and “should be spoken to.”

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