The Endless Misinterpretations of Jonathan Glazers Oscars Speech

Ed Lander
The Psychograph
Published in
10 min readMar 20, 2024
Jonathan Glazer speaks at the 96th Academy Awards on March 10th 2024

On the 10th of March 2024, after nearly six months of war in Gaza, British film-maker Jonathan Glazer made a historic and controversial speech when accepting the Academy award for best international film for his 2023 historical drama The Zone of Interest — a film about the normalisation of the Nazi holocaust and the apparently mundane lives of the Nazis tasked with running the notorious Auschwitz extermination camp. In his speech Glazer touched on the themes introduced in the film, including the dangers of dehumanisation, and seemingly took aim at the Israeli leadership prosecuting the latest war in Gaza. Here’s Jonathan’s speech in full:

Thank you so much. I’m gonna read. Thank you to the Academy for this honour and to our partners A24, Film4, Access, and Polish Film Institute; to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for their trust and guidance; to my producers, actors, collaborators. All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present — not to say, “Look what they did then,” rather, “Look what we do now.” Our film shows where dehumanization leads, at its worst. It shaped all of our past and present. Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation, which has led to conflict for so many innocent people … [Applause.] Whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization, how do we resist? [Applause.] Aleksandra Bystroń-Kołodziejczyk, the girl who glows in the film, as she did in life, chose to. I dedicate this to her memory and her resistance. Thank you.

Now Glazer’s speech has clearly divided opinion, with pro-Palestinian voices celebrating his bravery on such an iconic stage at such a poignant time. Others accused him of being a ‘self-hating Jew’ — meaning that he was doing harm to himself and the Jewish community for making such statements. More recently a growing chorus of actors, producers and executives in Hollywood have signed an open letter criticising Glazer’s speech. Here it in is full:

We are Jewish creatives, executives and Hollywood professionals. We refute our Jewishness being hijacked for the purpose of drawing a moral equivalence between a Nazi regime that sought to exterminate a race of people, and an Israeli nation that seeks to avert its own extermination. Every civilian death in Gaza is tragic. Israel is not targeting civilians. It is targeting Hamas. The moment Hamas releases the hostages and surrenders is the moment this heart-breaking war ends. This has been true since the Hamas attacks of October 7th. The use of words like “occupation” to describe an indigenous Jewish people defending a homeland that dates back thousands of years, and has been recognized as a state by the United Nations, distorts history. It gives credence to the modern blood libel that fuels a growing anti-Jewish hatred around the world, in the United States, and in Hollywood. The current climate of growing antisemitism only underscores the need for the Jewish State of Israel, a place which will always take us in, as no state did during the Holocaust depicted in Mr. Glazer’s film.

So what was Jonathan actually saying, and why has he upset so many people? Firstly there appears to be a misunderstanding — Glazer didn’t appear to create a moral equivalence between the Nazi holocaust and the Israeli response to the appalling massacres in Southern Israel on October 7th. He is simply emphasising the dangers of dehumanisation, the central theme of The Zone of Interest

And crucially the dehumanisation of Israelis and Palestinians alike; the dehumanisation and genocidal anti-Semitism of the Palestinian militants who carried out the atrocities on October the 7th — massacres at multiple Israeli communities along the Gaza security fence and the notorious massacre at the Supernova music festival, where hundreds of young Israelis were killed whilst attending an open-air dance festival out in the desert near the Gaza strip — and the dehumanisation of the Palestinian children in Gaza, who are bearing the brunt of the conflict between the Israeli state and Palestinian militant groups fighting on the ground inside the Gaza strip, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). It’s the dehumanisation on both sides of this conflict that is driving the escalating violence and genocidal rhetoric accompanying it …

What else did Jonathan say? Well he implicitly called out the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land … which, despite long being acknowledged by the United Nations as well as by leading international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and is currently under review by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), is still considered controversial among Zionist groups and pro-Israel supporters alike. But perhaps the most controversial thing Jonathan said is that he rejects Israeli leaders leveraging his Jewishness, as well as presumably the Jewishness of the entire Jewish diaspora, to justify the extreme response in Gaza to protect Jewish lives in Israel; a response so extreme that the International Court of Justice declared at the end of January:

Palestinians had a right to be protected from acts of genocide, calling on Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent such actions and allow the entry of desperately needed humanitarian aid into the war-shattered enclave

President Joan Donoghue also called for the release of all the remaining hostages taken from Israel during the terror attacks on the October 7th; hostages being used as bargaining chips to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners arrested in Israel and the occupied territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Looking at the conduct of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza since the 7th of October massacres, there is evidence for a wide number of alleged war crimes:

Furthermore the death toll is truly staggering in Gaza — after Hamas, and other Palestinian militants, rampaged through Southern Israel on 7th of October 2023, killing hundreds of Israeli civilians and kidnapping hundreds more, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have apparently killed over 10,000 children in Gaza, and possibly as many women, with the official death toll at the time of writing at around 30,000. Let’s not forget that one half of the population of Gaza are children; as the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world any indiscriminate targeting of civilians inevitably results in massive loss of children’s lives. In fact analysis has shown that large amounts of the ordinates used in this conflict by the IDF have been non-guided so called ‘dumb bombs’, so Glazer’s statement is backed up by verifiable evidence on the ground in Gaza, as well as seen from space by satellite imagery, showing that at least half of the buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed.

Looking at the conduct of Hamas, and the other Palestinian militants operating inside the Gaza Strip, there has been continued indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel. There is also testimony from released hostages of civilian infrastructure being used for terror purposes, including hospitals being used to house Israeli hostages as well allegations of ambulances being used to discretely transport hostages around Gaza to evade detection by Israeli forces. Of course the deeply upsetting allegations of widespread rape committed by the Palestinians who breached the Gaza security fence must also be taken into account and thoroughly investigated.

Now, let’s look a bit more closely at the claims that Israel is the ‘Jewish state’ and that the Israeli people speak for the Jewish community worldwide. Wikipedia states that around ¾ of Israelis are Jewish. The population of Israel is approximately 10 million, so that means roughly 7.5 million Jews live in Israel. Now let’s look at the Jewish diaspora as a whole — according to Wikipedia the global Jewish population in 2020 was around 15 million — that’s around double the Jewish population of Israel. So, if roughly half the Jewish population in the world lives in Israel, then clearly the Israelis speak to a large percentage of Jewish global opinion, even if there is quite a marked spread of opinion within the Jewish community, both inside Israel and in the diaspora as a whole, and especially on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We should also not ignore the fact that Israel is a democracy, so its leaders represent, at least in theory, the sentiments of the majority of Israelis, therefore the sentiments of a large portion of the global Jewish population. Of course Glazer is completely entitled to disagree with the actions of the Israeli military, the current Israeli government and even the majority of Jewish opinion in Israel.

Now let’s look more closely at the response by the Hollywood pro-Israel community …

So I have already addressed the moral equivalency claim about the current Israeli assault on Gaza and the holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II — in that it seems, at least to me, a misunderstanding of Glazer’s statement. Looking at the next part of the statement, about an Israeli nation seeking to avoid its own extermination, there is clearly evidence to support this — even if Hamas, and the other militant groups in Gaza, did not have the capability to bring about the end of the Israeli state on October 7th 2023, the Israelis have been fighting on multiple fronts during this latest war, not least against Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, a major Iranian proxy force, but also against other Iranian supported forces in neighbouring Syria, and even as far away as Yemen — with the Houthis acting in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and targeting international shipping lanes in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. And it’s no secret that many Arab nations still do not formerly recognise the Israeli state, not least Saudi Arabia and Iran. Of course, on the run up to October the 7th 2023, the Americans were trying to broker ‘normalisation’ talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, something many Palestinians and their supporters were firmly against …

The next point in the Hollywood statement talks about Israel only targeting Hamas operatives — I have already provided ample evidence that this is not true, even if not in intent but as a side-effect of the strategy adopted by the IDF in Gaza, with Palestinian civilian casualties often callously dismissed by Israeli leadership as simply acceptable ‘collateral damage’ of the war they are prosecuting against Hamas …

The statement goes on to talk about how Hamas are in the driving seat and if they release the hostages this all ends — this is clearly false — the Israeli leadership have clearly said that, even if the hostages are released, the war will continue until all of Israel’s war aims are met, including the complete and total destruction of Hamas. These over-reaching war aims only encourage Hamas to hold onto the hostages as their only leverage, which prolongs the war and increases the risk of famine inside the Gaza strip …

The next statement talks about the occupation, which I have already addressed, as well as the history of Palestine and the founding of the state of Israel (of which I have written about at length previously). While it’s true that a small percentage of the population of historic Palestine, before the creation of the Israeli state, were Jewish, they were an overwhelming minority (<20%). Of course, as we’ve already looked at, Israeli Jews make up the overwhelming majority of the population of contemporary Israel (~75%). However this doesn’t include the Palestinian populations in the occupied territories and doesn’t factor in the dual Israeli policies of simultaneously denying the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the lands of historic Palestine whilst offering citizenship to any Jews living in the diaspora who wish to emigrate and live in Israel — both policies designed to help maintain the fragile ‘Jewish democracy’ in Israel that would be undermined by a surge in Palestinian citizens with the right to vote (there are an estimated 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and an estimated 2 to 3 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, making a total of approximately 5 million Palestinians in the occupied territories alone, which is equivalent to around half of the entire population of Israel when including Palestinian citizens of Israel and other ethnic groups; this of course doesn’t even include Palestinian refugees, of whom over 2 million are currently living in Jordan and hundreds of thousands living elsewhere in the Middle East) — this is why some commentators refer to Israel as an example of an ethnonationalist state.

The penultimate statement echoes many sentiments coming out of Israel during this war — that any criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza is anti-Semitic and tantamount to ‘blood libel’, one of the ancient anti-Semitic tropes. Unfortunately the statistics paint a very disturbing picture indeed — and it’s those horrifying images coming out of Gaza that are regrettably fuelling anti-Semitism globally, as well as a surge in anti-Israeli sentiment. However people such as Jonathan Glazer are choosing to use their platform, as Jewish artists, to challenge the pro-Israel, Zionist opinion on this conflict and push for an end to the dehumanisation and suffering that has characterised it for generations …

Lastly, the final statement refers to the atrocities of the second world war directly and the subject of Glazer’s film itself — the Nazi holocaust and the concentration camps in Europe, which collectively massacred Jewish Europeans on an industrial scale, in addition to the thousands of disabled, homosexuals and travelling communities, including the Roma and the Sinti. Clearly many European Jews could already see the writing on the wall even before the Nazis built the concentration camps, however tragically too many were either unable to escape from German held occupations on mainland Europe or were denied asylum in countries not under Nazi control … clearly this fear of another holocaust or, at the very least, a repeat of the countless expulsions of Jewish communities across history and across continents is at the heart of the fervent support for the Israeli state among some parts of the Jewish community — parts of the Jewish community who often find the idea of a Palestinian state, even one aligned with the so called 1967 borders of Israel, too much to countenance … with some staunch Zionists even refuting the existence of the lands of Palestine, prior to the existence of the state of Israel, deny that Palestinians — as an ethnic group — even exist, and fundamentally refuse Palestinians the rights to a homeland of their own …