For the better part of this century, anti-Semites have alleged that American Jews have conspired with their co-religionists to "control" the motion picture industry in the United States.
The assertion that Jews "control" Hollywood, the media, banking and finance, among other things, is an anti-Semitic canard which dates back more than 70 years to an anti-Jewish campaign waged in the 1920s by the Dearborn Independent, a long-defunct publication backed by the late industrialist Henry Ford Sr. The Dearborn Independent had mounted a seven-year anti-Semitic campaign based on the notorious and fraudulent book, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.
(In 1927, and again in 1942, Ford apologized to the American Jewish community for the harm done by his newspaper's campaign. Since then, the Ford family and the Ford Motor Company have engaged in numerous projects and endeavors in the public interest that have been supportive of Jewish concerns.) *
New Industry, Old Charges
By 1913, 10 million Americans were going to motion pictures every day. This rapidly growing industry provided another avenue for familiar allegations of Jewish "control" raised by anti-Semites. Yet the films made to satisfy this growing market included many so-called "Jew movies" which were produced at the rate of one every two weeks. Major producing companies, such as Universal, Keystone, Reliance, Mutual and General Film Company, were turning out productions which portrayed Jews as carnal, criminal, usurious, miserly and sly. Complaints to movie producers by the Anti-Defamation League and others fell on deaf ears. However, in 1916, a major breakthrough was achieved when Carl Laemmle, president of Universal, said that his company would no longer produce films that held Jews up to ridicule or contempt. But others continued the practice.
As late as 1921, the Dearborn Independent still proclaimed: "The motion picture influence of the United States -- and Canada -- is exclusively under the control, moral and financial, of the Jewish manipulators of the public mind." The publication asserted that "the picture business, on its commercial side, is Jewish through and through" and that "the American Public is as helpless against the films as it is against any other exaggerated expression of Jewish power." It concluded that "When the people know who and what is this intangible influence we call the 'movies,' the problem may not appear so baffling."
Conspiracy Theory Persists
To the present day, anti-Semites have continued to allege that Jews are engaged in a conspiracy to "control" Hollywood. Indeed, the Dearborn Independent's anti-Jewish writings continue to be circulated by anti-Semitic entities such as Liberty Bell Publications under the title The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem.
Even a reputable British magazine in 1994 revived the stereotype of Hollywood in which an alleged "Jewish cabal" controls the industry. The article, in The Spectator, authored by William Cash, a Hollywood correspondent for the conservative British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, contended that Jews have created an "invidious and protective culture" that denies employment to non-Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League expressed outrage at the article, saying that it raised the age-old canard of Jewish control and conspiracy and was reminiscent of classic anti-Semitic propaganda of the past hundred years. "Those Jews who enter the movie industry have done so as individuals pursuing the American dream, not as representatives of their religious group," commented ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman.
Also responding to the allegation of Jewish "control" of Hollywood, author Neil Gabler told The New York Times: "This is a tradition that will endure as long as the motion picture industry exists. It's made by people who hate film, who hate the modernizing influence that film has had on American life, and who hate Jews."
Debunking the Lie
In an essay headed "Who Says Jews Control Hollywood?" published in the February/March 1995 issue of Midstream magazine, Steven G. Kellman, a professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio, wrote: "Boosters and antisemites agree: Jews have been prominent and predominant in all phases of the [motion picture] business: production, distribution and exhibition." He noted that, at the time, "Of the 100 most powerful people in the industry according to a recent survey by Premiere, most, including the top 12, are Jewish," but observed, "Though individual Jews control Hollywood, Jewishness does not." In fact, Hollywood studios are publicly owned corporations and motion pictures are made by the efforts of individual men and women, some of whom are Jewish, many of whom are not.
While statistics and studies on the subject are not readily available, the Anti-Defamation League believes that the recitation of numbers and percentages is not the answer to the false charges of Jewish "control" of the motion picture industry, or, indeed, of similar accusations involving the media, banking, finance and other businesses. Reliance on statistics alone plays into the hands of anti-Semites. Generally, Jews involve themselves in non-religious and non-political activity as individuals, not as Jews. ADL takes the position that the number of Jews involved in a particular field bears no relationship to "Jewish power" or "Jewish control" of that industry. ADL does not accept the notion that Jews in any field act in concert with other Jews similarly situated simply because they happen to be Jewish. To believe otherwise is to accept a conspiracy theory that is the anti-Semites' stock-in-trade and relegates Jews to a kind of second-class citizenship.
In other words, American Jews have as much right as any other citizens of the United States to work in the motion picture business, in the entertainment industry, and in any other legitimate businesses. Moreover, it bears repeating that those Jews who involve themselves in the motion picture industry do so as individuals, not as representatives of their religious group or with an aim to act in some coordinated conspiratorial manner.
* Further information on Henry Ford, the Dearborn Independent and The Protocols can be found in the Anti-Defamation League's book A Promise To Keep: A Narrative of the American Encounter with Anti-Semitism by Nathan C. Belth. A Promise To Keep was published in hardcover by Times Books in 1979 and republished in paperback by Schocken Books in 1981 and Wiener Publications Inc. in 1988.
This report was originally issued in September 1999.
© 2000 Anti-Defamation League