Inside the Writers Guild’s Tortured Debate Over Denouncing Hamas Violence in Israel | Exclusive

“Not taking a stand is very much taking a stand,” says David Kohan, co-creator of “Will and Grace”

WGAW President Meredith Stiehm / Memorial for victims of Hamas attack
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Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman On the Business of Entertainment

The founder and editor of TheWrap’s take on life on the left coast, high culture, low culture and the business of entertainment and media. Waxman writes frequently on the inside doings of Hollywood, and is is also the author of two books, Rebels on the Back Lot and Loot

The Writers Guild of America spent the weekend embroiled in argument over whether it should denounce Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel on Oct. 7. Ultimately, guild president Meredith Stiehm sent a note to some members acknowledging this was impossible, saying, “We found consensus out of reach.”

That inability to formally denounce the massacre of 1,400 Israelis by Hamas – men, women, children, babies and elderly – two weeks after the event infuriated some members of the guild, most prominently “24” and “Homeland” co-creator Howard Gordon, Joel Fields (“The Americans”) and Jonathan Prince (“American Dreams”), according to multiple individuals who spoke to TheWrap. 

Some 75 guild members met over Zoom on Friday afternoon to share their frustrations about the matter. And since the guild’s decision to say nothing, several said it was beyond comprehension that their board could not do something all the other Hollywood guilds and major companies had already done — make a simple declaration denouncing the massacre of innocent civilians in the most brutal of ways, even while also recognizing Palestinian suffering.

“It’s shocking,” David Kohan, co-creator of “Will and Grace,” said in an interview with TheWrap. “To me, it’s either cowardice or something worse.”

“I want to know how come that is,” said Matti Leshem, another guild member. “I don’t want to draw conclusions about the board of the Writers Guild, but for me that’s the question: Why can’t they thread that needle?” 

He added: “It’s a moral question. You’re either pro that, or against that. And if you’re not against what Hamas did, you’re pro-terror. You’re pro-raping women and burning babies.”

When reached by TheWrap, one board member declined to go into detail, but reflected the internal strife in saying only: “I’m too exhausted and frustrated from all this. Nothing to say.” 

A spokesperson for the guild declined to comment on Sunday. 

The difficulty seems to be among guild members who sympathize primarily with the Palestinian plight, or who do not agree with showing any support to Israel. Their views mirror those of the progressive left, which has shown support on campuses across the country for Palestinians and against Israel, and among activists like The Squad in Congress, who have called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. 

That view was reflected in an open letter posted on Medium on Saturday and signed by 267 members of the WGA, SAG-AFTRA and the DGA. The letter accused “high profile members” of the WGA of exerting pressure to issue statements supporting Israel.

“We must tread carefully when endorsing any government’s actions, especially when said government has been accused of carrying out human rights violations, war crimes, and genocide,” the letter read. 

“As storytellers, the narratives we craft matter, and the language we use has consequences,” the letter continued. “This is especially true in a moment where many of us who stand against genocide cannot even take that bare minimum position publicly without fear of being doxxed or blacklisted.” 

The signatories did not use their names, only initials and guild affiliation. TheWrap could find no guild members willing to speak on behalf of that view. 

Reached by TheWrap on Sunday, showrunner Gordon called the letter “a gross distortion” of what was being asked. “No one ever asked for that,” referring to an endorsement of Israel, he said.

He added: “Words like ‘genocide’ are being thrown around. All that was ever asked for by me or anyone else was merely acknowledging the horror.”

The letter provided no specific examples of signatories or others being blacklisted or doxxed for opposing Israel. 

Like other Jewish progressives who have been reeling from an antisemitic backlash to the war in Gaza, those in the Writers Guild who have supported causes, from LGBTQ rights to Black Lives Matter, said they were wounded by the lack of support from their guild. 

“I’ve always been a progressive,” Kohan said. “But the facts matter. The truth of the situation and the history matters. The actual context matters. If you don’t have the moral backbone to condemn an act of mass slaughter on civilians, women and elderly, does that make you pro-slaughter?”

In an interview with TheWrap before the controversy took root at the Writers Guild, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, urged Hollywood organizations to denounce Hamas’s actions as a moral imperative.  

“The people creating the content are king,” he noted. “The brands and stories that come out of Hollywood have extraordinary power, as do the people behind them.”  

He went on: “In this world that seems complicated, there are moments that are not complicated at all. This is one of them.”

But this moment has been extremely complicated inside the guild, which represents the heart of Hollywood storytelling.  

“The Board of Directors has worked exhaustively to consider the great diversity of opinions among our members on this issue, and determine how best to address this as a Guild,” said Stiehm, without providing any further detail. 

She added: “Like the membership itself, the Board’s viewpoints are varied, and we found consensus out of reach. For these reasons, we have decided not to comment publicly.” 

Asked to respond to why a statement was necessary, Kohan said: “because all the other guilds have done it. And your reluctance to do it is now taking a stance. By not doing it, you’re taking a stance.”

“In a vacuum, maybe you wouldn’t take a stand. But not taking a stand is very much taking a stand.” 

Gordon added: “To be characterized as taking a side in this conflict is factually and irresponsibly wrong. I would hope the guild leadership, if they’re not going to make a statement of sympathy for the victims of the terror attack, would at least disabuse anyone of that misapprehension.” 

And, he added: “I’d like a toning down of the rhetoric, which isn’t helpful. I’d like to call for calm, even internally. We will never be understood if we’re yelling.”


2 responses to “Inside the Writers Guild’s Tortured Debate Over Denouncing Hamas Violence in Israel | Exclusive”

  1. Gayle T Avatar
    Gayle T

    My guess is that they haven’t taken a public stand because if you mention having any empathy for the people in Gaza caught in the cross-fire between Israel and Hamas then it’s branded antisemitism and you’re canceled.  This demand that people only speak up for the atrocities committed against Israelis (and they were horrific atrocities) with no consideration for the plight of Palestinians is pretty disgusting.  Revenge is not justice. 

  2. John Wanless Avatar
    John Wanless

    From the article:

    >>>”You’re either pro that, or against that. And if you’re not against what Hamas did, you’re pro-terror. You’re pro-raping women and burning babies.”

    This demonstrates the extreme tunnel vision the corporate media is trying to shove down our throats, just as they did when they pushed us into the horrific war in Iraq! – Of course you can condemn the Hamas attack AND condemn the monstrous genocide Israel is carrying out in Gaza. Just as there was no excuse for Hamas killing Israeli civilians, there is no excuse for Israel to kill Palestinian civilians. At the most, Israel’s response should be a police action to ferret out those who actually did the attack.

    As Israel bombs men, women and children, they lose all moral authority and all sympathy flows to the millions of innocent Palestinian civilians they are killing. The U.S. must use all their influence to demand a cease-fire now!

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