Reflecting on his recent biography of Woody Allen, David Evanier describes conversations and correspondence with the filmmaker, discusses his cinematic oeuvre, and investigates his attitudes toward Jews, Israel, and the Holocaust. Calling Allen “the most identifiable, brazen, and forthright Jewish artist in the world,” Evanier claims that he could also still be afraid of being marked as “too Jewish”:
Allen told [the Israeli newspaper] Yediot Aḥaronot in 2012: “I support Israel and I’ve supported it since the day it was founded. Israel’s neighbors have treated it badly, cruelly, instead of embracing it and making it part of the Middle East family of nations. . . . I don’t expect Israel to react perfectly every time, and that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a wonderful, marvelous country.”. . .
However, he also told Marlow Stern of the Daily Beast in July 2014 of his feelings about the situation in Gaza, that it was “More terribleness. . . . It’s a terrible, tragic thing. . . . But I feel that the Arabs were not very nice in the beginning, and that was a big problem. . . . They were not nice about it, and it led to problems, and over the years, both sides have made mistakes. There have been public-relations mistakes, actual mistakes, and it’s been a terrible, terrible cycle of mismanagement and bad faith.”
Not very nice? Actually I think I left this quote out of my book because I found it distasteful, especially that childlike reversion to words like “not very nice.” Suddenly we are back in nursery school with little Woody at his wooden desk, an innocent except that he wants to shtup all the girls. Here he blathers on, keeping his head in the sand about all the rockets shot at Israel, wringing his hands and blaming both sides. The language, the evasion, the absurdity of this is undeniable. This is pragmatism and it is cowardice. He saw dead children and he didn’t want to be involved defending Israel.
And more than that, it is that full-fledged ambivalence that is an essential part of Allen’s personality. It is cowardice behind the courage about Jewishness and the Holocaust; in effect, he is still hiding from the goyim. He is not alone, and I do not condemn him for it. How often did Sidney Lumet, Paul Mazursky, Mel Brooks, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Arthur Penn, Clifford Odets, and countless other directors, playwrights, actors, and screenwriters speak out for Israel? In the history of Hollywood, Ben Hecht was one odd and brave exception, obsessed as he was with the Holocaust. When have we heard from Judd Apatow?
Allen has the perspective of many entertainers who, as assertively Jewish as they are, still do not want to be pigeonholed as “too Jewish”—too narrowly focused on Jewish issues and Israel at a time when Israel is a very unstylish subject for an important, fashionable segment of the public, including the media. It will hurt the box office.