Editors note: Michael Seitzman is a veteran film and TV writer and showrunner. He created the series Code Black and Intelligence and penned the Charlize Theron-starring movie North Country. In a guest column titled “Because Jews,” he shares his impassioned take on the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and its reverberations around Hollywood.
I’ve worked in Hollywood for the better part of three decades. Everyone here has rules about the stories they tell. A big one for me is, don’t ask what you need to tell the audience, ask what you can get away with not telling the audience. This is part of a process we like to call information management. Allow me to illustrate.
Last week, a letter was making the rounds in Hollywood, demanding that organizations like the Writers Guild of America not bend to “pressure campaigns to force them to align with Israel as it lays siege on Gaza.” The letter mentions, understandably, the unbearable tragedy of Wadea Al-Fayoume, the 6 year old Palestinian-American boy murdered by his family’s landlord. However, in all the outrage about civilian deaths, the brief, 458 word letter couldn’t find one word for the rape, torture, murder and kidnapping of jewish civilians, including children. Including babies. Information management.
Why leave that out, you ask? Occam’s Razor, another common rule of writing — and a problem-solving principle that the simplest answer is usually the right one — can be helpful here. Because Jews.
If the authors of the letter reminded people how this all started, they might not be so quick to sign it. The letter, posted in the form of a Google doc, purports to stand up against what it calls “genocide.” Well, who doesn’t want to stand against genocide? Curiously, the letter is signed only with initials, not full names, which the letter claims is for “fear of being doxxed or blacklisted.” Seems to me, if it really is genocide we’re talking about, you should be brave enough to sign your full name to it.
It’s only courage if it comes with personal risk. Otherwise, by definition, it’s cowardice. Another storytelling rule.
To be clear, genocide is the intentional killing or destroying of an entire group of people. Many throw this word around when talking about Israel’s response to the attack of Oct 7th. The information they generally leave out is that Israel has never called for the deaths of Palestinians. In fact, it is Hamas that is explicitly calling for the murder of all Israelis and all Jews worldwide. The actual definition of genocide mirrors the words in Hamas’ own charter. You might wonder, then, why the weighted and very specific word, genocide, is only used for Israel and its response to the mass murder committed by Hamas, but not for the mass murder itself, despite Hamas’ expressed intent to quite literally commit genocide. Occam’s Razor again. Because Jews.
In another corner of Hollywood, there’s been a published demand for a ceasefire by people who actually do have the courage to put their names to it. Jon Stewart, a personal hero of mine, signed it. Other names on it include Cate Blanchett, Mahershala Ali, James Schamus, Oscar Isaac, Mark Ruffalo, Ryan Coogler, among others, all people I have great respect for. This forced me to stop and think. These are reasonable people who want peace. I want peace.
I do the math: One, like most of you, I can’t bear the suffering and death of innocent people; Two, I hate everything Netanyahu stands for; Three, I’m fearful of the conflict spreading into something no one will be able to control; Four, I’m having trouble seeing how all this ends. Given all that, shouldn’t I be screaming for a ceasefire? Well, yes. Of course.
Then I think, if Israel suddenly heeded all of these calls to stop the conflict, what would happen next? Think about it for a minute. What do they do at that point? Negotiate for the release of the hostages? Okay, sure. But, negotiate with… Hamas?
Let’s imagine that Hamas actually does want to negotiate. And let’s say they agree they’re going to return the hostages, safe and sound, and they agree not to rape, torture and murder Israel’s children anymore. Can anyone honestly expect Israel to believe anything promised by those who would commit such acts of depravity, some of whom actually called their own families to brag about how many Jews they murdered that day? Why must Israel be held to this impossible standard of trust, when all trust is broken? Because Jews.
It’s easy to call for a ceasefire. Again, you just have to manage information. The bombs falling on Gaza are horrifying. I agree with all those calling on Israel to limit civilian casualties and, by many accounts, it is failing at that in horrendous ways. Hospitals should not be forced to evacuate when they can already barely treat the wounded, children should not be starved of food, water, and electricity, and attacks on the innocent are unacceptable, no matter what religion they practice or what side of the border they live on. As the son of one missing Israeli citizen said last week, “You can’t cure killed babies with more dead babies.” All of this is true and I believe it wholeheartedly.
A government, on the other hand, must protect its citizens. After October 7th, how can the Israeli government accomplish that without doing everything it can to root out and destroy the terrorists who could commit such unimaginable acts of violence? If they don’t succeed in neutralizing Hamas, how can a single Israeli citizen feel a modicum of safety ever again?
Many people talk about the numbers of missiles and bombs dropped on Gaza, but they never seem to count the missiles fired into Israel by Hamas. Once again, information management. In case you’re wondering, Hamas has hurled over 7,000 missiles in the first two weeks of this war, mostly aimed at civilian targets, but I don’t see many people signing letters demanding that Hamas stop. Why? Because of the iron dome? Maybe. But maybe the real reason is seeded much deeper. Because Jews.
Why do so many people demand peace of one and not the other, why do they label the Israelis as guilty of genocide, but not the acts of Hamas, who literally call for genocide? Why have so many decided to elevate, ally with, and even romanticize those who have committed such acts of mind-numbing violence against ordinary citizens, children, and the elderly? Because Jews.
The authors of that google doc I mentioned also call themselves storytellers, and say that “the narratives we craft matter.” Here’s another rule of storytelling. Character is defined by the decisions a character makes. Preferably when everything is on the line. True in storytelling, true in life. Yes, the narratives you craft matter. The language you use has consequences.
I debated writing this. I understand that there are people who are very angry and if they read this they will turn that anger on me. Maybe I should remain silent. Silence can be the loudest statement of all, right? The problem is that silence only helps those who commit evil. It never helps the victims of evil. Silence is complicity.
So, I refuse to be silent. Because truth. Because humanity. And yes, because Jews.
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