How Ben Hecht Went from Star Screenwriter to Outspoken Voice for the Jews

In 1928, Ben Hecht received an Academy Award (at the very first ceremony) for his screenplay of Unforgiven; a decade later, called in at the eleventh hour, he rewrote the script for Gone with the Wind. A man of strong moral convictions, Hecht also came to conclusions about his profession that are relevant today. As Edward White writes, he “loathed the philistine ogres in charge of the studios who filled their movies with preaching moralism, but in private treated everyone like dirt,” especially inveighing against men “who have been the targets of rape and bastardy charges and who make seduction a profession [yet] remain honorable figures in Hollywood society.”

With the beginning of World War II, Hecht became deeply troubled by the fate of his fellow Jews in Europe and, after a lifetime of indifference to Jews and Judaism, his life’s passion—and one that earned him few friends—became the Revisionist Zionist cause. White writes:

In February 1943, [Hecht’s partner, the Revisionist activist Hillel Kook, a/k/a Peter] Bergson, helped him make contact with the [Labor Zionist] activist Hayim Greenberg, who passed on revelatory research about the extent of the Holocaust. Hecht wrote an article for the American Mercury titled “The Extermination of the Jews.” It was swiftly picked up by Reader’s Digest and garnered huge attention. Hoping to capitalize on the publicity, Hecht arranged a meeting of 30 of New York’s most prominent Jewish writers. After he gave an impassioned speech asking them to use their pens to attack Germany, Hecht recalls that most of the room turned on him. He was accused of idiocy and recklessness. At a time when American soldiers were losing their lives in huge numbers, he was told, drawing attention to the suffering of Jews in Europe would only generate anger toward Jews in the U.S. [The novelist and playwright] Edna Ferber asked Hecht on whose orders he was acting, Hitler’s or Goebbels’s?

Undeterred, Hecht teamed up with the composer Kurt Weill and the producer Billy Rose to stage We Will Never Die, an extravaganza at Madison Square Garden that told the American public about the Holocaust. It featured a full orchestra, a choir, lavish scenery, and a gigantic cast of performers, including Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Leonard Bernstein, Stella Adler, and a teenaged Marlon Brando. Hecht even managed to persuade 100 Orthodox rabbis “to commit sacrilege” and appear on stage. It was put together in less than a month and was an unqualified triumph. . . .

When President Roosevelt announced the formation of the War Refugee Board a few months later, Hecht’s pageant seemed like a turning point, the moment when it became impossible to ignore Europe’s abandoned Jews. It’s estimated that around 200,000 lives were saved as a result of the board’s work.

Read more at Paris Review

More about: Ben Hecht, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, History & Ideas, Hollywood, Holocaust, Revisionist Zionism

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy