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Jonathan Glazer’s Gaza remarks have been twisted by both sides. It requires effort to misunderstand the Oscar-winner

Donald Clarke: The film-maker’s relatively mild snatch of humanist polemic has resulted in a furore that shows no signs of going away

The reaction in the hall suggested that Jonathan Glazer’s Oscar acceptance speech landed satisfactorily. Since then, however, the attacks have been relentless. What will it mean for one of the UK’s most lauded film-makers?

In the run-up to the 96th Academy Awards there had been much speculation about whether winners would refer to the conflict in Gaza. In the event, as at Bafta, it was the team from Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, a singular Holocaust drama, that dared to gesture towards that tragedy. The director’s hands were visibly shaking as, reading from a scrap of paper, he declared that he and his team “refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack in Gaza”.

The applause that broke out after the words “innocent people” felt like a breaking of tension. For weeks an industry that usually loves to mouth off had remained largely silent. There was further supportive interruption when he asked “How do we resist?” There were no audible boos. Now, perhaps, the conversation could start.

As is the way of such things, the initial response came within the crucible of intemperance that is social media. Many people who should know better claimed Glazer had said a thing he had not said. Meghan McCain, daughter of the late US senator John McCain, posted: “Lotta people in Hollywood showing their ass when a man gets on stage to ‘refute his Jewishness’.” Abraham Foxman, director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, objected to the news that “he refutes his Jewishness”.


This is not a fine distinction. If I write “I hate dogs being abused” it requires some creative wriggling to extract “I hate dogs” and make out that I have no time for those animals. Glazer could, perhaps, have used a better word than “refute”, which means to prove an argument false. One assumes McCain and Foxman are taking it to mean “renounce”. At any rate, it was the hijacking, not the Jewishness, that was being refuted (“object to” would have been clearer). In a spirit of balance, it is worth noting that some of Glazer’s supporters were also twisting his words. The following day a message on X accumulated well over 16,000 reposts as it identified Glazer as a “brave man” for calling “the genocide of Palestinians a Holocaust”. He came nowhere close to saying that.

If nothing else, the incident has demonstrated why so many Hollywood professionals, happy to mouth off about everything else, have refrained from denouncing the attacks on Gaza

Elsewhere, the attacks continued. Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, the film-maker Richard Trank said Glazer “equated Israeli Jews to Nazis, and then left the Dolby Theatre with his statue when the awards show ended to party”. The film itself, hitherto almost universally celebrated, came under assault. “What the satiric movie Saltburn does for the English upper class, The Zone of Interest is doing for National Socialism,” Peter Rutland wrote for CNN. “The film is even more troubling than Glazer’s speech.” (The argument seemed to be we were being asked to “identify” with both the posh family in Saltburn and the Nazi family in Glazer’s feature.)

Confirmation that the furore wasn’t going away came this week with the news that, according to Variety, more than 1,000 “Jewish creatives” had denounced the speech in an open letter. Glazer defenders snorted at the obscurity of some signatories. But such powerful people as Sherry Lansing, former chief executive of Paramount and head of production at Fox, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, among her generation’s most respected actors, were also on the list. At time of writing, Glazer has not responded.

If nothing else, the incident has demonstrated why so many Hollywood professionals, happy to mouth off about everything else, have refrained from denouncing the attacks on Gaza. A relatively mild snatch of humanist polemic – one that made sure to mention October 7th – has resulted in a kickback that, whether this is the intent or not, will cause engaged celebrities to keep those lips buttoned.

Will it also damage Glazer’s career? Dan Callahan, in his biography of Vanessa Redgrave, argues that her notorious “Zionist hoodlums” acceptance speech at the Oscars in 1978 “had a destructive effect on her acting opportunities that would last for years”. Well, maybe. But within two years she appeared in both Michael Apted’s Agatha and John Schlesinger’s Yanks. Just six years after the speech she was Oscar-nominated for The Bostonians.

These are, of course, very different times. In the age of social media, the conversation never stops. An auteur such as Glazer owns his film in a way no lead actor can claim. But he can probably count on a warm reception from the sort of independent companies that have financed most of his films. The respect he has earned over the past two decades will not be so easily worn away.