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The death of the legendary actor Marlon Brando brings to mind an incident that tarred his reputation for years afterward and that serves to illustrate how certain Jewish organizations and their self-serving “spokesmen” risk trivializing the entire issue of anti-Semitism.

In an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in April 1996, Brando started out praising Jews for their contributions to civilization, only to be reminded by King that he had some criticism as well. In fact, King badgered Brando for negative comments, leading the actor to blurt out at one point, “See, you are rushing me, I can’t think…I’m slightly rattled here.”


What Brando finally said that caused such commotion was a variation on a complaint he’d voiced before: “Holly wood,” he told King, “is run by Jews; it is owned by Jews, and they should have a greater sensitivity about the issue of – of people who are suffering. Because they’ve exploited – we have seen the – have seen the nigger and greaseball, we’ve seen the chink, we’ve seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap, we have seen the wily Filipino, we’ve seen everything but we never saw the kike. Because they know perfectly well, that is where you draw the wagons around.”

(Hardly reported was Brando’s answer when King wondered whether Brando’s complaint would play into the hands of anti-Semites: “No, no, because I will be the first one who will appraise the Jews honestly and say, ‘Thank God for the Jews.” “)

Brando was an eccentric, a devotee of radical causes, a man given to all manner of weird fulmination. But he certainly didn’t deserve the opprobrium that followed – he was branded a Jew-hater, stingingly rebuked by the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, received death threats from self-styled “Jewish militants,” and broke down and wept during a meeting with Jewish community representatives.

If Brando was an anti-Semite, we need more of that kind of anti-Semitism. As a young actor in 1946, Brando not only co-starred in Ben Hecht’s pro-Zionist play “A Flag Is Born,” but spoke at many rallies and meetings organized by the play’s sponsor, Peter Bergson’s American League for a Free Palestine.

But Brando’s feelings for Jews can best be appreciated from the following eloquent passages in his 1994 autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me. This is the man whose silly remarks on a talk show led to his verbal flogging and public humiliation by the likes of the ADL’s Abe Foxman:

“I attended the New School for Social Research for only a year, but what a year it was. The school and New York itself had become a sanctuary for hundreds of extraordinary European Jews who had fled Germany and other countries before and during World War II, and they were enriching the city’s intellectual life with an intensity that has probably never been equaled anywhere during a comparable period of time.

“I was raised largely by Jews. I lived in a world of Jews. They were my teachers; they were my employers. They were my friends. They introduced me to a world of books and ideas that I didn’t know existed. I stayed up all night with them – asking questions, arguing, probing, discovering how little I knew, learning how inarticulate I was and how abysmal my education was.

“I hadn’t even finished high school, and many of them had advanced degrees from the finest institutes in Europe. I felt dumb and ashamed, but they gave me an appetite to learn everything. They made me hungry for information….

“One of the great mysteries that has always puzzled me is how Jews, who account for such a tiny fraction of the world’s population, have been able to achieve so much and excel in so many different fields – science, music, medicine, literature, arts, business and more….

“They are an amazing people. Imagine the persecution they endured over the centuries: pogroms, temple burnings, Cossack raids, uprootings of families, their dispersal to the winds and the Holocaust…. Yet their children survived and Jews became by far the most accomplished people per capita that the world has ever produced….

“Whatever the reasons for their brilliance and success, I was never educated until I was exposed to them.”


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Jason Maoz served as Senior Editor of The Jewish Press from 2001-2018. Presently he is Communications Coordinator at COJO Flatbush.