Director of Oscar winning film about Auschwitz slams ‘hijacking of Jewishness, Holocaust’ for Gaza war

‘The Zone of Interest’ director Jonathan Glazer condemns Israel-Hamas war in Oscar speech. 11 March 2024. Screenshot from a video by NBC News. Fair use

This article was originally published in the New Arab on March 11, 2024. It is republished on Global Voices as part of a content partnership agreement. 

The Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer slammed the misuse of “Jewishness” and the denounced the war in Gaza on Sunday, during his acceptance speech as he picked up an Academy Award, better known as an Oscar, for Best International Film.

Glazer, who was joined on stage by producer James Wilson, who used the BAFTA awards speech to make a similar statement, warned against the Holocaust being used to justify Israel's war on Gaza, where over 30,000 people have been killed.

The director, who is Jewish, directed a film adaption of the Martin Amis book The Zone of Interest, which is set in a Nazi death camp during the Holocaust.

“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,” Glazer said, speaking for himself and Wilson, who is also Jewish.

“Whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel, or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all are victims of this dehumanization.”

Glazer said his movie should not only be understood as a cautionary tale from the past but also be interpreted in light of current events.

“All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present,” Glazer said at the beginning of his acceptance speech. “Not to say look what they did then, rather look what we do now. Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst.”

Set in Auschwitz, The Zone of Interest follows the life of Nazi camp commandant Rudolf Höss, his wife and their five children who lead an idyllic life a stone's throw away from the concentration camp

An estimated 1.1 million people were systematically murdered in Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, the vast majority of whom were Jewish.

Glazer concluded by dedicating the film to Aleksandra Bystron-Kolodziejczyk, a Polish woman living next to Auschwitz who owned the house where The Zone of Interest was filmed. She resisted the dehumanization of Holocaust victims through small acts of resistance like bringing apples to camp detainees. 

Glazer's speech came after around a thousand people protested outside the Dolby Theatre, where the ceremony was held, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, slightly delaying the start of the Academy Awards ceremony.

Protests continued on the red carpet as dozens of actors, celebrities, and filmmakers — including Ramy Youssef, Billie Eilish, Mark Ruffalo and Kaouther Ben Hania — arrived at the theatre wearing red pins provided by the collective Artists4Ceasefire, which leads a campaign for ceasefire in Gaza. The badges were displayed as an act of solidarity with the people of Gaza, most of whom have lost their homes, loved ones, and belongings in Israel's assault on Gaza.

One Israeli–American film producer, Avi Arad meanwhile wore a yellow ribbon pin to remember the hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7.

Glazer and Wilson's win marks the first time a British movie earns an Oscar in this category. The movie, which was shot in German by a mostly Polish crew, earned a total of five Oscar nominations.

Within hours, Glazer's comments attracted harsh criticism from pro-Israeli accounts on social media, who called them “self-loathing” and “morally obscene.”

Several prominent Jewish figures also criticized Glazer after his quote was taken out of context and shortened, giving listeners the impression that Glazer was rejecting his own Jewish identity, rather than its manipulation to justify the occupation.

Other Jewish activists welcomed his speech, saying it represented the views of many Jewish people across the world.

Em Hilton, co-founder of the UK Jewish activist group Na'amod, slammed critics of Glazer on X.

Na'amod, which campaigns for the UK's Jewish community cutting support for Israel, also retweeted Glazer's speech with two ‘clap hands’ emojis to signal their approval of his message.

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