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


What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship