EXCLUSIVE: Equity row as Jewish actors fear being ‘blacklisted’

Jewish actors have told the JC that they are hiding their identity in order to make sure they get work


LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: Maureen Lipman attends a Memorial Service for Sir Richard Attenborough at Westminster Abbey on March 17, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Jewish actors have told the JC that they are terrified of being “blacklisted” for having any connection to Israel and are hiding their identity in order to make sure they get work.

There is also deep concern that far from supporting its Jewish members, the actors’ union, Equity, is “fanning the flames of antisemitism”. 

Dame Maureen Lipman this week resigned from the union in fury after it called on members to join Saturday’s pro-Palestinian march in London, at which protesters burned Israeli flags and held up antisemitic placards. 

Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman — who also voiced her outrage over the Equity statement — said Jewish actors were beginning to hide their Stars of David at auditions.

“We are terrified of being thought of as Zionists,” she said. “One actor was turned on when it was found that they had family in Israel. 

“Jewish actors are frightened of owning their identity, and they are scared that they will be blacklisted.”

One young actor told the JC: “It was the first day of a Zoom read-through for a possible new theatre show. We all introduced ourselves online, which is standard practice — who we are, where we are from, what we have been up to professionally.

When it was my turn, having had very little acting work due to the pandemic, I explained that I had been working on a treatment, hopefully for TV, based on my own family’s experience and history of fleeing pogroms in Russia. 

“In front of the whole cast and director, an actor sneered on the screen and told me ‘look what you’re doing in Palestine. That’s a pogrom’. 

“I felt sick. Like the two are somehow connected and I had to feel the weight of responsibility to defend myself against something that had nothing to do with me or my own family’s lived experience, that our own personal horrors were somehow being dismissed and diminished. The Chinese actor in the same cast was not made to feel the same fear in having to speak about the Uyghurs. 

“So it’s hard not to feel unsafe as a Jewish actor — and it’s made me feel that I won’t be talking about my heritage or Jewish identity going forward.”

Agent Emma Engers said: “I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for 25 years and for the first time in my experience, Jewish actors are telling me that they’re frightened of identifying as being Jewish upon joining a new cast or in the rehearsal room. Young Jewish drama students are terrified to identify as Jewish for fear of repercussions.”

Another agent, John Rogerson, said: “I represent many Jewish performers who think they’ll be blacklisted if they speak out. Equity should be supporting these people to feel free to speak out, not fanning the flames of rising antisemitism in the UK.”

An Israeli actress said on social media: “[Equity] claim to support peace — currently they are choosing sides, while I, as a minority performer in their union, witnessed a march this week being led by people screaming in Arabic ‘massacre the Jews’, and I do not feel safe to go into a casting room saying I am Israeli.”

Several other actors and performers including Oberman, Dom Joly, Sanjeev Bhaskar,and Eddie Marsan have also condemned the union over its call for members to join last Saturday’s rally for the Palestinians.

In a statement released on Thursday ahead of the demonstration, Equity General Secretary Paul Fleming and President Maureen Beattie condemned Israeli actions in the Middle East and called on union members to support “Palestinian comrades” and join the march.

Dame Maureen, who has been an Equity member for 54 years, said the union president, Ms Beattie, “doesn’t speak for me or any actor in the union with a brain. 
“She speaks for a mob mentality.” 

She added that the statement had “nothing to do with the poor Palestinians, who are only pawns, and everything to do with Jewish people”. 

She added: “Thank you, Equity, for increasing antisemitism and your deep understanding of Israeli actions.”  
Both Dame Maureen and Ms Oberman questioned why Ms Beattie — who has endorsed a petition calling for sanctions against Israel — was not calling for sanctions in defence of the Uyghurs, the Rohinga, or those oppressed by the Syrian regime. 

Murray Hecht, who chaired the general branch of Brighton and Sussex Equity but has now resigned from the union, told the organisation: “Please listen to your Jewish members. How can we feel safe in this union? I have gone from being the proud chair of the Brighton and Sussex Equity General Branch to a very ashamed chair.” 

Ms Engers added: “Actors Equity is a union for all actors and therefore they shouldn’t be fanning the flames, on what are very real and frightening issues for Jewish actors, by encouraging their members to attend a political rally. We need then to understand how this fuels the narrative that Israel is evil and that therefore all Jewish people are responsible for something happening in a country, 3,000 miles away.”

Mr Marsan, addressing Ms Beattie, said: “You have a right to your personal opinion but in your role as president of our union, you haven’t shown the same urgency in expressing solidarity with Jewish members in the face of recent appalling antisemitism.” 

Mr Bhaskar, commenting on an antisemitic banner held at the Palestinian march, wrote: “Appalling banner solely designed to stoke up religious hate. 
“It’s ironic that Ms Beattie’s Twitter banner suggests ‘creating safe spaces’”. 

Mr Joly observed: “This is truly disgusting. Equity, what the f**k is going on?”

Esti Zakheym, head of Shaham, the Israeli Actors Guild, and Avi Benalal, its CEO, said in a statement to the JC: "The texture of life in Israel is a lot more complex than it may seem. It’s absurd to be using the power of arts to create more division, and against Israel’s citizens (Jewish and Arab). Arts and culture are a platform that should bring people together to discuss the complexity of life and the overbearing conflict we live in. Thus, using it as a form of boycott is a ridiculous notion.

"We expect Equity to act for the peace and safety of its artists, regardless of religion, race or gender, as they are committed to in their charter."

Equity said in a statement: “After listening to the concerns put forward by some members regarding the union’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, we would like to emphasise that while we condemn the recent military actions of the Israeli government, we are appalled by all of the violence directed against civilian Israelis and Palestinians, including the terrorist activity of Hamas. We categorically condemn the abhorrent abuse that has been directed towards members of the Jewish community in the past couple of weeks.”

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