The spectacle of thespians making political interventions is rarely a dignified one. But that hasn’t stopped Hollywood’s elite from radical posturing; from the old days, Marlon Brando is one example, Jane Fonda another, while in our own time we can give a mention to Sean Penn, for his embrace of the late Venezuelan dictator (and the author of that country’s present misery) Hugo Chávez.
A particularly notorious example of fawning before autocrats and dictators is British actor Vanessa Redgrave. Unarguably one of the most brilliant screen performers of the post-war era, Redgrave identified as a “revolutionary Marxist” in the 1970s. In keeping with the trajectory of the New Left, whose ideas about Jews were pretty similar to the Old Left, she was a vocal advocate of the Palestinian cause.
In 1978, Redgrave won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in “Julia,” a searing drama about resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War. Given that she had just narrated a pro-PLO documentary, many outraged Jews pointed to the irony of Redgrave being honored for her portrait of a Jewish woman on screen. The Jewish Defense League (JDL) picked up the cudgels for an anti-Redgrave campaign that included the burning of a Redgrave effigy. During her acceptance speech, Redgrave saluted the audience for having “refused to be intimidated by the threat of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums, whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world, and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.”
The great majority of mainstream Jews, who certainly kept groups like the JDL at arm’s length, scoffed at Redgrave’s hypocrisy, and particularly her appropriation of Jewish victimhood to score political points against “Zionists.” In subsequent years, Redgrave was to claim that her statement had cost her several starring roles—an intimation that “Zionist hoodlums” were also running movie studios. She never expressed regret.
This week, Redgrave, who is now 81, reflected on her 1978 speech in a wide-ranging interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I didn’t realize pledging to fight anti-Semitism and fascism was controversial. I’m learning that it is,” she said, repeating the closing words of her Oscars’ speech. And then there was this gem: “ ‘I had to do my bit. … Everybody had to do their bit, to try and change things for the better. To advocate for what’s right and not be dismayed if immediately you don’t see results.’ ”
These are the sorts of soothing, motivational words one expects from advocates of breast-cancer awareness or increased children’s literacy or other worthy causes—not from an apologist for terrorism and anti-Semitic violence. While it is perhaps unfair to expect a show-biz publication like THR to delve into the political context of Redgrave’s 1978 speech, the net effect of publishing this last quote unchallenged is to perpetuate the same basic lie that she told 40 years ago.
During the 1970s, Palestinian terrorism acquired a new and alarming dimension. Non-Palestinians, non-Arabs, non-Jews, drawn from university campuses from Berlin to Tokyo, were enlisted into what was revered as “the armed struggle of the Palestinian people.” Translated, that meant deadly terrorism directed against civilians by individuals with no personal stake in the conflict, who were driven by a fanatical devotion to revolutionary nationalist ideology.
In May 1972, three members of the Japanese Red Army in the pay of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) gunned down passengers in the arrivals hall of Ben-Gurion Airport—then plain Lod Airport—near Tel Aviv. That massacre claimed the lives of 26 people, the majority of whom were Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico.
The Japanese leftists were not alone. In July 1976, two terrorists belonging to the German Revolutionary Cells (RZ) group joined a PFLP unit in hijacking an Air France plane after it had departed from Tel Aviv, eventually landing the passengers at Entebbe airport in Uganda, and into the hands of that country’s bloody despot, Idi Amin Dada. Once inside the sweltering terminal, the two Germans—Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann—coldly and efficiently separated the Israeli from the non-Israeli passengers, in much the same way as their parents and grandparents would have separated Jews from non-Jews in the Nazi concentration camps.
The Entebbe hostages were, of course, liberated during a remarkable Israeli commando operation, but elsewhere, the Jewish and Israeli casualties piled up. Many of the victims in the 1970s, Jewish and non-Jewish, died in operations directed by that era’s most feared terrorist—not a Palestinian, but the Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as “Carlos.”
While dozens of leftists from around the world were willing to give their lives for the Palestinians, thousands more, including Vanessa Redgrave, cheered on the slogans of this anti-Semitic war, loudly urging Israel’s violent destruction in the name of a “secular, democratic Palestine.” Then, as now, the far-left in the West demonized Zionism as a form of racism, lionized Palestinian terrorists as revolutionary martyrs and adopted an anti-Semitic interpretation of international politics as a battle against “Zionism and imperialism.” Thus did a handful of young Europeans again find themselves murdering unarmed Jews, this time in kosher restaurants, synagogues and even private homes.
Vanessa Redgrave’s present-day conscience is not troubled by any of this. Nor, apparently, is she troubled by the fact that the British group she dutifully served in 1978—an outfit called the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP)—was subsequently exposed as an anti-Semitic political cult, whose leader, Gerry Healey, raped and sexually abused dozens of young female members while receiving funds from dictators like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. No, according to Vanessa Redgrave, she and her comrades were just ”doing their bit“ to make the world a better place.
That same haughty, disingenuous attitude infests the far-left in Europe today, as demonstrated by political leaders like Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Jean-Luc Melénchon in France. For them, as for Redgrave, there are “good Jews” (who oppose Zionism) and “bad Jews” (who are Zionists, which by their definition includes the great mass of us who support a secure and thriving State of Israel). Do not expect them to show remorse either.
Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.