Arlene Bridges Samuels
The Eclectic Evangelical @InEssentialsUnity

Gentleman’s Agreement: 1947 Film Sends a Message on Anti-Semitic Hypocrisy Today

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Anti-Semitism is an all too familiar word. So familiar it’s almost become stale among far too many people, including segments in both the Christian and Jewish communities in the United States. It’s splashed across hundreds of pages and newscasts flooded with hundreds of formulas in a so-called attempt to dam up rivers of hatred focused on the Jewish state. As a Pro Israel Christian Advocate (PICA) writer, I’m sure adding my ideas too.

Recuperating at home from an outpatient surgery, I’ve enjoyed watching old movies at Turner Classic Movies, one of my favorite channels. Re-Watching “Gentleman’s Agreement” threw me into a new stream of thought about Antisemitism.

The iconic, award winning movie starring Gregory Peck featured many versions of antisemitism. Peck starred as an acclaimed journalist, Philip Schuyler Green, tasked with writing an article about Antisemitism when a New York magazine hired him. After suffering with a series of frustrating writer’s blocks he finally came up with a fresh way to articulate it. He decided to “be Jewish;” going undercover in his everyday life to experience Antisemitism first-hand with all his colleagues (except his boss), and anyone he encountered socially or professionally. With a minor name tweak, he became Phil Green.

He took notes daily and entitled his future exposé, “I was Jewish for Six Weeks.” His decision led to an array of conflicts: with his fiancé who was a lovely society woman, the hurt his young son experienced when called ugly Jewish nicknames at school, his Jewish army buddy who couldn’t find housing after fighting in World War II due to housing discrimination and restrictions against Jews from hotels and clubs.

When Phil told his Jewish army buddy about his plan, he first exclaimed, “Phil, you’re crazy!” knowing what lay ahead for his gentile friend. Phil’s high society fiancé decidedly declared herself as never having an antisemitic thought. Yet, when issues arose she chose the easy way out; say nothing and avoid conflict whenever possible.

Gentleman’s Agreement was released in 1947 at a time of monstrous Jewish suffering and decimation due to Hitler’s industrial killing machines. The film was controversial yet accumulated well-deserved acclaim.

A particular aspect of the film gripped me most. As Phil’s encounters with prejudice stacked up one incident on top of another, his anger and frustrations grew. The focal point of his anger found a home with all the “nice” people among most of his colleagues, social circles, and fiancé’s family. As he and his fiancé Kathy sat one evening in her elegant New York apartment, they discussed the occurrence of an antisemitic joke when he was not around. Their relationship came to a head when Phil asked Kathy about her response. She admitted she was silent. All the other nice people allowed the joke to go unchallenged too, smiling congenially, unwilling to stir up the waters.

Their discussion grew more heated when Kathy defensively called it a “Gentleman’s Agreement.” While, by definition, a positive handshake could cement a deal, it also functioned to cement an unspoken agreement to overlook wrongdoing for the sake of harmony. Or would it be more accurate to describe it as a deep-seated unwillingness to look inside their own hearts?

Phil described the complacent people saying, “Antisemites are not just snobbish and nasty. They are persistent little traitors to everything this country stands for.” Phil added, “Life is rough, Kathy. We’re in a different kind of war. These people may never beat up anyone, but they hide behind their smiles. Nice people who despise, detest, and deplore antisemitism and say they are innocent. They think it’s far away in some dark corner full of crackpots, but they help it along and wonder why it happens, after they take a lovely sip of poison superiority.”

The film clearly highlighted occasions of complacency replacing confrontation; as if the New Yorkers wanted to forget the too-recent Holocaust. It was easy to dismiss disdain for Jewish people under the convenience of blaming it on the Germans over there in Europe. When Phil asked a hotel clerk first cordially-if the hotel was restricted in not allowing Jewish guests-the stammering clerk hurriedly got the hotel manager to intervene. When Phil pressed, the manager’s condescending smile disappeared as he slammed the front desk bell for the steward to grab Phil’s suitcase and escort him out. When schoolmates called Phil’s eleven-year-old son a “yid” and didn’t allow him to play with others, his army buddy understood it loud and clear: “They always want to get at us through our kids. The world makes it an advantage not to be Jewish.” By the way, the kid kept his promise to Dad not to reveal the secret that his Dad was not Jewish.

In another scene, Phil’s secretary confessed to changing her Jewish name to get her job at the magazine. Phil immediately added that to his antisemitic collection of facts. Toward the conclusion of the film, one of Phil’s genuine colleagues (well-played by Celeste Holm) discovered he was not Jewish when she read the finished product. Everyone in the office was slapping him on the back with congratulations. Ann wisely quipped, “Phil, not everyone fights. They don’t have the guts to take one little action.”

And therein is the reason for my blog, and the heart of the matter. I am encouraged that conservative Christians like me have found favor in many segments of the Jewish community with varying political and religious persuasions. Most of us understand we must unite to produce strength,now that antisemitism is not only focused on vulnerable American synagogues but also increasingly against the small Jewish state itself. It’s time to set aside our own internal conflicts WITHIN Jewish AND Christian communities for the sake of the biggest goal: to stand with the world’s only Jewish state. We must reduce the arguing and debates in Israel and the US and shift to a determined focus on what is really at stake. The survival of the world’s only Jewish state. Unity will help to tamp down debates. Leave your other disagreements at home.

I’m purposely stepping on both Christian and Jewish toes, including mine, when I say none of us can leave the heavy lifting to prominent pro-Israel Jewish and Christian organizations; among the many, Jewish Federations of North America, JTA, AIPAC, ADL, CUFI, Israel21c, NHCLC’s President-Pastor Sam Rodriguez, African American Bishop Harry Jackson, CAMERA, National Religious Broadcasters, Friends of the IDF, US Israel Education Association, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA, and The Christian Broadcast Network. We can’t simply count on well-known leaders, social media personalities, members of congress and President Trump’s historic Israel policies. Still standing by as cheerleaders on the sidelines? Suit up, put on your helmet and join what is becoming a more hard-hitting fray.

Our stand against antisemitism must take place in our own everyday encounters. We must shine a searchlight into ourselves and make sure we aren’t among the “nice” people. Am I promoting ugliness and incivility? Absolutely not. What I am challenging all of us to do is to factually and pro-actively engage. Be truth-tellers without the hysterics. Confront anti-Israel fiction with educated facts. We must all BECOME THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA OF FACTS; In person. In social media. In unengaged churches. In synagogues.

Time is of the essence, yet our advocacy can take very little time. Confrontation doesn’t have to be the key ingredient in every action of advocacy. How long does it take to pass along a positive article on Facebook? How about a few hashtags.

#StandWithIsraelNow,#IsraelIsRight,#ThanksIsraelForHelpingTheWorld.

Have fun! Make up your own. Be deliberate, wise, yet not overwhelming to others. Take at least one-and hopefully more-positive action steps each week. Inaction is your admission ticket if you choose to be part of “those who don’t have guts to take one little action.” Refuse to be part of the problem.

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It’s an easy journey of inattention to our own safety when we hear about Iranian threats to Israel when they are 7-8,000 miles away. No question that Israel is the proverbial canary in the coal mine when it comes to Iran and its hegemonic goals to establish a worldwide caliphate. This week’s Iranian killer drones out of Syria directed toward northern Israel are yet another reminder. Think I’m exaggerating? Like Gregory Peck, we can call the Iranian Imams crackpots, but they are dead serious about their apocalyptic goals. It extends to their own population in the way the Imams govern their own oppressed population;a clear indicator of their dictatorial leadership culture. May God prevent the day that the media reports that an Iranian warship is headed toward the Atlantic Ocean at 20 knots and armed with nuclear-tipped missiles. Iran may now have or remains intent on developing ICBMs but a terror cruise into the Atlantic with missiles aimed at New York and Washington is not a fairytale.

In the film, Philip Schuyler Green’s investigative journalism exposé of antisemitism resulted in some excellent attitude and policy changes. As a writer, I love that! Yet we need more than writing. All of us must have the guts to act in our everyday lives. Then and now Gentlemen’s Agreements are out of date when it comes to antisemitic behavior of all kinds.

One of the most powerful and moving examples of standing with a Jewish community is the true story of Roddie Edmonds, Master Sergeant of the 106th Infantry Division, 422nd Infantry Regiment. In World War II he and his division were captured by Nazis and imprisoned at Stalag IX-A. When the Nazis demanded that all the Jewish soldiers reveal themselves, Edmonds prevented his men from obeying the orders even with a Nazi pointing a gun to his head. The Master Sargent became extraordinary that day when he said in a firm, southern drawl, “We are all Jews here.” In 2015, Edmonds, a Christian, was awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations, Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews. Master Sargent Edmonds left a legacy not only for his son, Pro Israel Christian Advocate and Tennessee Pastor Chris Edmonds, but for all of us ordinary folks who stand with the Jewish people. #WeAreAllJewsHere

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None of us will likely ever stand with a gun to our heads, but Edmonds’ message is clear for us ordinary people; he was an ordinary man who in one act of courage,saying only five words,saved the lives of 200 Jewish soldiers under his command. You may read two poignant testimonies from Yad Vashem: From the testimony of Paul Stern and From the testimony of Lester J.Tanner (Tannenbaum)

And one last suggestion: Rent GENTLEMEN’s AGREEMENT for a good dose of reality. The time for complacency is past-tense.

NEVER AGAIN is already here. It’s still 1947.

About the Author
For almost two decades, Arlene Bridges Samuels has held pioneering positions with Israel Always, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, (AIPAC) and International Christian Embassy Jerusalem's project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Traveling to Israel since 1990, she is now an author at the Times of Israel, contributor to The Christian Broadcast Network and speaker, consultant, and networker. Her articles have appeared in Philos Project, The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Southern Jewish Life, ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem, Mercy Ships, and Concerned Women for America. She shares her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook and is an active member of a small Anglican church. After attending Winthrop University in her home state of South Carolina, Arlene earned her Masters degree at the University of Alabama.
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