Jewish power and blood libels are millennia old tropes. Ashakenazi Jews as “white Europeans” is a neo-Nazi canard, called the Khazar theory, that has shockingly been bolstered in Hollywood. Jew in the City, which launched the first and only Hollywood Bureau for Jewish representation in 2021 returned to Sundance for the second year in a row, with a panel called Sects, Lies and Videotape: Debunking Deadly Tropes About Jews and Israel in TV, film and media. The panel took place on Sunday, January 21, to a standing room only crowd and explored the the origin, danger, and use of these myths against Jews and Israel in TV and film and what could be done to dismantle them.
It featured Israeli actress and activist, Noa Tisbhy, JITC Hollywood Bureau founder and executive director, Allison Josephs, and was moderated by award-winning writer Malina Saval, editor in chief of Pasadena Magazine, formerly features editor at Variety. The event began with a sizzle reel of Israeli characters engaged in violent activities, like Law and Order: Organized Crime’s Israeli mobster pouring molten gold over his associate when he realizes he’s been skimming off the top. It featured scenes from You People, where Jews are accused of profiting off of the slave trade and the Jewish mom, Shelley Cohen (Julia Louis Dreyfus) apologizes on behalf of all white people. The panel explored Jewish history and genetics, the founding of Hollywood which came with internalized shame.
Saval noted, during the panel, that the Jewish consultant who worked on You People was not allowed to consult on the entire movie. He was only brought in to make sure the synagogue scene looked and sounded correct. That was how all of the antisemitism got in, but the movie could still claim it had a Jewish consultant. Josephs brought up You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah as a recent positive Jewish portrayal. What she loved most about the film was when Stacy Friedman (Sadie Sandler) declared at the end, “I’m really glad I’m a part of this.” It was such an unusual moment to see a Jewish character on the big screen love her Jewish identity and Josephs explained that with all that Jews have gone through, we may sometimes regret our identity. This moment was such a wonderful one to watch that she encouraged the audience to keep on increasing their Jewish pride and advocating that Hollywood show us more representation like this. Tishby said that we are in a watershed moment. For years she felt as if she was screaming into a void about the danger of the destruction of Israel. There is not a danger of gas chambers now, but the sole Jewish state could be existentially threatened. She wrote about this for Variety before October 7 and tragically, she was vindicated. The panel ended with a trailer produced by Bring Them Home. It looked like a horror movie, but was actually footage from October 7. Since impact studies show the correlation between representation and viewers’ opinions, JITC Hollywood Bureau ended the presentation with this trailer as a reminder that the depictions of Jews could have deadly consequences.