Navigate to News section

Michael Douglas Takes on Anti-Semitism

‘We can stop the spread of this madness,’ actor writes in Los Angeles Times

Stephanie Butnick
March 16, 2015
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones on January 29, 2015 in New York City. (Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images)

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones on January 29, 2015 in New York City. (Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images)

“While some Jews believe that not having a Jewish mother makes me not Jewish,” Michael Douglas writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, “I have learned the hard way that those who hate do not make such fine distinctions.”

Michael Douglas has had quite the year, Jewishly speaking. His son Dylan became a bar mitzvah last spring, and though Douglas sustained a hora-related injury at the party, the family then headed to Israel for the second leg of the rite of passage celebration. The trip was sparked by Douglas’ renewed interest in his Jewish heritage—his father, Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch), is Jewish.

In January, Douglas, who is a United Nations messenger of peace, won the second-annual Genesis Prize, a $1 million award honoring his commitment to Judaism and the State of Israel. Now he’s taken on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.

He describes a scene at a hotel in Europe last summer where his son Dylan, wearing a Star of David necklace, was yelled at by a man at the pool. “Afterward, I sat down with my son and said: ‘Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism,’” he writes.

Douglas offers a three-pronged explanation for the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe: economic instability, misplaced anti-Israel sentiment, and a rapidly growing Muslim population from which extremist fringes have emerged. While some may argue with his understanding of modern-day Europe and the root causes of anti-Semitism, the actor is certainly taking his award-winning Jewish commitment seriously.

Douglas also gives credit to leaders who have openly condemned anti-Semitism, such as France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and applauds efforts like that of Norway’s Muslims who protested anti-Jewish violence by creating a human chain around an Oslo synagogue last month.

Actions like those, Douglas writes, “send a message that together, we can stand up to hatred of the Jewish people.”

So that is our challenge in 2015, and all of us must take it up. Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness.

My son is strong. He is fortunate to live in a country where anti-Semitism is rare. But now he too has learned of the dangers that he as a Jew must face. It’s a lesson that I wish I didn’t have to teach him, a lesson I hope he will never have to teach his children.

Here’s Douglas with son Dylan in May 2014 at the City of David in Israel.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.