In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, actress Vanessa Redgrave has defended her infamous “Zionist hoodlums” remarks in her Oscar acceptance speech 40 years ago.
She faced an intense backlash after her 1978 Oscar acceptance speech, in which she congratulated the Academy for standing up to “a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums” who had attacked her for producing and appearing in a documentary about Palestine (some in the audience gasped, and others booed).
Her comments were directed at extremists in the Jewish Defense League, who had not only burned her in effigy but had offered a bounty to have her killed. There was even a firebombing at one of the cinemas showing the documentary. But the phrase “Zionist hoodlums” discredited Redgrave for many — even if she concluded her speech promising “to fight anti-Semitism and fascism for as long as I live.”
Forty years later, Redgrave is unapologetic.
“I didn’t realize pledging to fight anti-Semitism and fascism was controversial. I’m learning that it is,” she says, chuckling. Turning more serious, she notes that she has always felt a responsibility to speak out, no matter the consequences. “I had to do my bit,” she says. “Everybody had to do their bit, to try and change things for the better. To advocate for what’s right and not be dismayed if immediately you don’t see results.”
As for her “pledging to fight antisemitism”, not a peep out of her about the manifest antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour party (she has previously described Jeremy Corbyn in utopian terms, as representing “an English spring”, and voted Labour in the last elections).
And it is not like she has not spoken out against Labour politicians or leaders.
She brought up the film, the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe and the indifference of politicians in Europe and elsewhere to the problem, several times during the press conference. Asked about her feelings toward politicians who do nothing to address the problem, or even demonize refugees, Redgrave paused.
“I am trying to speak seriously without swearing because I have this rage inside myself,” she said. “Because (politicians) have lost the understanding of reality in the world, in their countries, in our countries and in the rest of the world. The have lost the sense of reality. They cannot imagine the reality of being a refugee, being a woman who loses her child at sea.”
Redgrave also cleared up a misunderstanding regarding her rejection, in 1999, of a damehood. Declining the honor, she said, had nothing to do with the British royal family, who official proffers the title, and everything to do with former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his entry into the Iraq War.
“I’m not against the royal family; they do many good things and the royal family in England is one of the red lines that can save England at certain moments,” she said. “(But) it isn’t the royal family or the queen who offers the honor, it’s the government of the day. So I would never say I refused an honor from the queen. But I could not and would not accept any honor form Mr. Blair, when he has taken our country, and so many people, to war on the basis of a lie.”
Form your own conclusions about Ms Redgrave – I know what mine are.
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