Friday, November 16, 2007

JJ editor: 'Writers Strike is a Jewish issue'

My editor at The Jewish Journal, Rob Eshman, disagrees with the premise of my Wandering Jew column last week, in which I argued that the writer's strike is not a Jewish story. Here's the nut:
Indeed, "Hollywood writer" is among the most Jewish job descriptions anywhere, which is why, as this long-anticipated strike approached, my editors asked me to report the news through a Jewish lens. The difficulty, however, is that this really isn't a Jewish story. It's a business story that just happens to deal with an industry built largely by Jewish immigrants and sustained by their successors.
In his column this week, Rob writes:
The Writers Strike is a Jewish issue.

How do I know that? Because everyone is saying it's not. The writers who are demanding a larger share of DVD rights and residuals for their work and the producers who refuse to give it to them both say, repeatedly, that despite the fact that so many of them happen to be Jewish, the strike is not -- as Jewish writers and producers told our senior reporter Brad Greenberg last week -- a Jewish issue.

To paraphrase a Clinton-era favorite, you can be sure that when everyone is saying it's not about being Jewish, it's about being Jewish.

Strip away the brand-name products and gossipy inside Hollywood milieu of this strike, and what you have is a question of fair compensation and just treatment of labor.

It is a question our sages wrestled with, beginning with a law laid down in Leviticus 25:14: "And when you sell something to your fellow, or buy from the hand of your fellow, don't oppress each other."

How shallow has our Jewish life become and how silent have our pulpits fallen when we blithely accept the idea that a 4,000-year-old ethical tradition has nothing to say about how we do business?
Certainly, Jewish ethics should not be dismissed in how the Jewish writers and producers treat each other in this labor dispute. But I don't think that makes it a Jewish issue -- that makes it an issue influenced by Jewish values. The same could be said for most of the things that happen in certain pockets of Los Angeles where Jews abound.

Sometimes, as in the ongoing case for and against expansion of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a controversy becomes a Jewish issue because it deals with more than just morals and ethics but actual Jewish interests and institutions. I just don't think the plight of TV and film writers -- even if it was once an almost entirely Yiddish operation -- fits into this category.

But, then again, Rebecca Spence at The Forward spoke with the same union leader I did, David N. Weiss, and got the exact opposite angle from very similar responses.

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