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Walt Disney’s Anti-Semitism, and Modern Day Bias Towards Israel

January 15, 2014 8:18 am 12 comments

Walt Disney, in 1954. Photo: WikiCommons.

Walt Disney, in 1954. Photo: Wiki Commons.

JNS.orgActress Meryl Streep has reignited a debate that has simmered below the surface in Hollywood for decades: Was Walt Disney anti-Semitic?

The occasion was the annual awards event of the National Board of Review, an organization of filmmakers, students, and movie scholars. Streep presented an award to Emma Thompson, for her role in the new movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” about the making of Mary Poppins. Thompson co-stars as Poppins author P.L. Travers, alongside Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

Streep took the opportunity to blast Mr. Disney as racist and misogynist who also “supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group.”

She did not actually call Disney an anti-Semite, but many people took it that way. The Hollywood Reporter declared that Streep accused Disney of being “sexist, racist and anti-Semitic.” Film professor David Hajdu said Disney was “a deeply flawed human being. A misogynist? You bet. An anti-Semite? That, too.” An unnamed “female Academy member” interviewed by the Reporter referred to him as “that old anti-Semite, himself, Mr. Disney.”

Hollywood historian Neal Gabler examined the antisemitism charge in his 2006 biography of Disney. “Of the Jews who worked [with Disney], it was hard to find any who thought Walt was an anti-Semite,” Gabler reported. “Joe Grant, who had been an artist, the head of the model department, and the storyman responsible for Dumbo… declared emphatically that Walt was not an anti-Semite. ‘Some of the most influential people at the studio were Jewish,’ Grant recalled, thinking no doubt of himself, production manager Harry Tytle, and Kay Kamen [head of Disney’s merchandising arm], who once quipped that Disney’s New York office had more Jews than the Book of Leviticus. Maurice Rapf concurred that Walt was not anti-Semitic; he was just a ‘very conservative guy.'”

On the other hand, one former Disney animator, David Swift, has claimed he heard Walt make an anti-Semitic remark, and another ex-staffer, David Hilberman, has alleged that one employee was fired because he was Jewish. (However, according to Gabler, Disney himself was rarely involved in firing anyone except the top brass). In addition, the original animated version of the “Three Little Pigs” portrayed the Big Bad Wolf as a stereotypically Jewish peddler, although after complaints, the segment was altered.

When it comes to explicit proof that Disney was anti-Semitic, the critics’ case weakens. “There is zero hard evidence that Disney ever wrote or said anything anti-Semitic in private or public,” according to Douglas Brode, author of Multiculturalism and the Mouse: Race and Sex in Disney Entertainment. Brode told The Hollywood Reporter that Disney used more Jewish actors “than any other studio of Hollywood’s golden age, including those run by Jewish movie moguls.”

Gabler also revealed that Disney “frequently” made unpublicized donations to a variety of Jewish charities, including a Jewish orphanage, a Jewish old age home, Yeshiva College (precursor to Yeshiva University), and the American League for a Free Palestine. The League, better known as the Bergson Group, publicly supported the armed revolt against the British in Palestine by Menachem Begin’s Irgun Zvai Leumi. Disney was embracing not just Zionism, but its most militant wing.

How, then, did the rumors of Disney’s alleged anti-Semitism spread so far and wide?

That’s where Meryl Streep comes in. The “anti-Semitic industry lobbying group” with which Disney was associated was the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. The group’s statement of principles said nothing about Jews; its declared purpose was to prevent “Communist, Fascist, and other totalitarian-minded groups” from gaining a foothold in Hollywood. Among its members were politically conservative actors such as John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Ginger Rogers. But some of its other members were accused of being privately anti-Semitic, and in general it had a reputation as being reactionary.

Gabler believes that “the most plausible explanation” for the rumors about Disney were a kind of guilt by association: “Walt, in joining forces with the MPA and its band of professional reactionaries and red-baiters, also got tarred with their anti-Semitism. Walt Disney certainly was aware of the MPA’s purported anti-Semitism, but he chose to ignore it… The price he paid was that he would always be lumped not only with anti-Communists but also with anti-Semites.”

The irony is that while Meryl Streep was condemning Walt Disney for associating with extremists, she herself was doing the very same thing. The actress to whom she gave that award when she made her anti-Disney speech, her close friend Emma Thompson, is active in the anti-Israel boycott movement.

Streep hailed Thompson as “splendid, beautiful, practically a saint… a living, acting conscience.” Yet this ‘saint,’ together with other British actors, publicly urged a boycott of Israel’s Habimah theater troupe when it participated in a festival in England. Habimah, of course, has nothing to do with Israeli government policies or any political issues. Its only “crime” is that it’s Israeli.

By contrast, Thompson had no problem with the National Theater of China taking part in that festival, even though it really does represent the Chinese regime—a regime guilty of the most heinous human rights violations, aid to terrorists around the world, and support for the genocidal government of Sudan. But of course, hypocrisy is the hallmark of the ‘saints’ of the anti-Israel boycott crusade.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. The Wyman Institute worked with Disney Educational Productions on its new DVD, “They Spoke Out: American Voices Against the Holocaust.”


  • Before accepting this whitewash of Walt Disney, it is worth examining what his own niece, Abigail, had to say about his anti-Semitism, misogyny, and racism.

    • She’s not his niece, she’s his grand-niece (granddaughter of Walt’s brother, Roy). She didn’t know Walt at all, and her statements are based on “assumptions” she’s making on her own. She’s actually fairly ridiculous. She has no evidence at all for her statements. And you’ll notice she’s not turning down the Disney money.

  • Will the real Walt Disney please stand up? I keep seeing the pendulum swaying back and forth with no obvious conclusion being able to be drawn from it.


  • I think Ms Streep should be more concerned about Emma Thompson’s anti-Semitism. Even if Ms. Thompson disagrees with Israel’s policies (which everyone has a right to do), her vocal and impassioned support for BDS can only be described as a form of anti-Semitism. There is really no other way to characterize singling out Israel and all things Israeli (esp. cultural and intellectual organizations) when there are any number of other countries that have policies that one disagrees with and are not held out for special contempt. Why is Israel held out to special scrutiny and animosity? Anti-semitism is the only answer that comes to mind.

    • To be honest, I wonder if Streep launched her attack on the long dead Disney in order to distract from the issue of Thompson’s BDS efforts.

  • Jack Koplowitz

    Walt Disney’s support of the Bergson Group puts him head and shoulders above most Jews and Jewish organizations of the time. The Bergson Group tried desperately to mobilize the Jewish community to call for action during
    the Holocaust after it became evident that millions of
    Jews dad already perished. But except for recent Jewish immigrants his call fell on deaf ears.

  • Since Disney has been cryogenically frozen, couldn’t we defrost him and ask?

    Thompson’s time of artistic prominence has come and gone. She doesn’t get invited to appear in many movies any more and so she has to stand on street corners shrilling her anti-Semitism to get attention. Streep, on the other hand, can endure as long as she wishes. Since her friend, strangely, received some kind of award, Streep praised her, then protected herself from allegations of anti-Semitism in Jewish Hollywood by condemning a possibly dead, possibly anti-Semitic, Walt Disney.

  • n my opinion Anti Zionists go hand in hand with Anti Semitics. There is no real dividing line between them.

  • Bias towards Israel, or against it? I think your headline writer meant to write “against”, rather than “towards”. Bias towards Israel is a good thing, and we should applaud it, not condemn it!





    • Mireille Mechoullam

      Can you tell me why you think being bias against Israel is good?
      The truth of the matter you are the perfect antisemite.
      And while you are at you should also boycott all the new medical inventions done by Israelis.

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