Oscar and Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas did not grow up Jewish, but has long considered himself to be, particularly after encountering and tackling anti-Semitism growing up. The actor, who now considers himself to be Jewish, felt compelled to write the op-ed piece that appeared this weekend in the Los Angeles Times describing his experience with anti-Semitism after his son encountered anti-Semitism aimed at him during the family’s recent vacation.
The incident involving his son, Dylan, occurred at a swimming pool in a Southern European hotel. The young teen was verbally accosted for wearing a necklace with a Star of David pendant. A man started hurling insults at the adolescent.
Seventy-year-old Douglas recounted in the Times his own early confrontation with bigotry towards the faith of his 98-year-old actor father, Kirk Douglas (née Issue Danielovitch), who was nominated for three Best Actor Academy Awards during his career (Lust for Life, The Bad and the Beautiful and Champion) and received an honorary Oscar in 1996. While in high school, a friend told him, with no provocation, “Michael, all Jews cheat in business.” This led Michael, who was raised with no formal religious training and a non-Jewish mom, to begin “passionately defending the Jewish people.”
The actor, who starred in Wall Street, Beyond the Candelabra, Fatal Attraction and more, is married to someone non-Jewish as well: Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago). While she is not Jewish, their children developed a connection to Judaism, being exposed initially through friends. Dylan went to Hebrew school and had bar mitzvah celebrations in both New York and Jerusalem. Their 11-year-old daughter, Carys, is studying for a bat mitzvah.
He noted in the piece that, while they have embraced the faith, he and his children are not considered to be Jewish by religious law, since their mothers were not. But, as the actor noted, “I have learned the hard way that those who hate do not make such fine distinctions.”
Anti-Semitism, Douglas noted in the L.A. Times, “is like a disease that goes dormant, flaring up with the next political trigger.” He then goes on to posit three reasons he believes that are fueling anti-Semitism today and incidents like the kosher market attack earlier this year in Paris and the recent announcement that Dutch schools would no longer teach about the Holocaust to avoid offending Muslims:
- First, he talks about historical trends when economies are bed. He says that income disparity and abject poverty lead some to make Jews a “convenient scapegoat.”
- The second reason he cites is hatred of Israel leading some to blame an entire religion for national-policy decisions there.
- The third reason that the actor mentions is the shifting demographics in Europe, which is now home to more than 25 million Muslims (which is twice the size of the remaining Jewish population worldwide). The radical extremist fringe is driven with hatred of those who do not think like them and using social media to rally others to support them.
The actor challenges regular citizens to take action. He talks about the Muslim community joining fellow Norwegians to form a ring of peace at an Oslo synagogue. The star noted that Pope Francis said, “Let anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman.” Lastly, Michael Douglas encouraged others to confront anti-Semitism whenever they see it, tackling the problem “individually and as a society,” in the hope that his song will never have to teach his children about it.
By Dyanne Weiss