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Gordon Haskell

Movie Depicts Anti-Semitism

(February 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 7, 16 February 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Darryl F. Zanuck’s Gentlemen’s Agreement comes as close to a serious treatment of anti-semitism as Hollywood is likely to allow under present circumstances. Unlike Crossfire which portrayed anti-Semitism in its Nazi extremes as it exists in fascist and near-fascist circles in the United States, Gentlemen’s Agreement puts its finger on the wide spread anti-Semitism among the most respectable people and institutions in our cultural, business and community life.

This picture deals with a young writer, Phil Green, who poses as a Jew in order to gather material for a series of articles on anti-Semitism for a liberal magazine. In a few weeks Green finds active anti-Semitism in the hiring policies of the very magazine for which he is writing. He finds anti-Semitism or the toleration of anti-Semitism in the respectable doctor who is treating his mother; in his Jewish secretary who is trying to “pass” as a Gentile and who is fearful that her comfortable position might be disturbed by the hiring of “kikey” Jews in her office; in his betrothed and the respectable middle-class circles in which she moves; in the barriers raised against his admittance to a fashionable resort or a suburban neighborhood; in rejections to applications for jobs or for admission to colleges; in his little boy’s playmates who taunt him for being a “dirty Jew”; in the inability of his friend, David Goldman, to take a good job because he can’t get a place for his family to live.

Personal Problem

This picture says much that needs to be said, and says it well. It even goes so far as to say that writing and talking about it, and protesting against anti-Semitism are not enough, but that what is needed is direct action against it whenever and wherever it rears its head. Yet the kind of action it advocates is the unorganized action of the protesting moral individual. This is the only kind of action the picture could logically propose. For anti-Semitism is portrayed in Gentlemen’s Agreement not as something which derives its driving force from the way in which our society is organized, but rather as a problem which stems from the ignorance, stupidity, bigotry and viciousness of individuals in our society.

No picture made in Hollywood can probe to the social depths of anti-Semitism or of Jim Crow in America, for to do so means to probe at the rotting heart of American capitalism. It is not just SOME colleges and universities which have racial and religious “quotas” imposed, perhaps, by individually prejudiced boards of trustees; Almost every institution of higher learning in this country which does not bar Jews and Negroes outright has such quotas. The whole government is so shot through with anti-Semitism that Jewish officials will pass over the names of Jews who stand at the top of civil service registers, in favor of Gentiles with lower grades or qualifications, for fear that they will be charged with favoritism.

Anti-Semitism is not solely a product of the dog-eat-dog struggle for jobs, for housing, for security and prestige in the professions and industrial and governmental bureaucracies, which is as much a part of capitalism as profits and unemployment. As a psychological fact it is perhaps equally generated by general feelings of insecurity, fear and helplessness in a tottering world which lead men to seek security by banding together with those who are most like themselves in appearance, language and religion and to strike out at those who are different.

This psychological fact is well understood by fascists. Thus, their anti-Semitic propaganda does not appeal solely to people’s economic needs or greeds. (“Kill the Jews and get their jobs and businesses.”) It appeals to the deep need of men whose lives and prospects are hopeless to find someone, or some group, weaker than themselves or their group as an object on which to vent their wrath.

Thus anti-Semitism and Jim Crow will last as long as the world is tottering, as long as people are helpless, insecure and afraid, as long as men must live empty lives. Anti-Semitism and Jim Crow will disappear from society only when mankind has so mastered its destiny that security and plenty and a full life are the normal prospects for the least of its members.

Though Gentlemen’s Agreement can urge those who see it to strike at anti-Semitism, it cannot urge them to smite it with methods adequate to the evil itself. For though anti-Semitism will die only in a society of plenty and security, its growth can be checked and its vigor sapped only by methods which strike at its social, economic and psychological roots. By this is meant: When men band together because they are determined to abolish a social and political system leading them into a blind alley, they no longer feel hopeless or afraid. People, thus organized, need no racial or religious scapegoats on whom to vent their wrath, for their hatred is directed against the real cause of their misery. For them, anti-Semitism is to be fought not only as an evil in itself, but as a double evil because it seeks to divide their ranks and confuse their objectives. For them human brotherhood is not simply a high ideal, but a method of organization and a necessary condition of victory.

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