So the Anti-Defamation League has finally weighed in on L’Affaire Will Smith, and, I have to say, its statement is a little disappointing.recap: Will Smith, speaking off the cuff to a Scottish newspaper, suggested — quite reasonably — that Hitler was driven by a “twisted” notion of what he thought was “good.” The militant Jewish Defense League pounced, accusing the Hollywood star of saying that Hitler was a good person and having “spit on the memory of every person murdered by the Nazis.” Gossip sites joined in the frenzy, and Smith ended up issuing a clarification, attacking those who had distorted his words and calling Hitler “vile.”
Instead of calling out those who rush to defame celebrities over innocent mistakes, the ADL hailed Smith’s clarification and lectured that “celebrities bear a special responsibility to weigh their words carefully.” Everything in the ADL’s statement is true, but the emphasis seems off.
Decide for yourself whether the ADL struck the right note. Here’s the statement from ADL chief Abraham Foxman:
We welcome and accept Will Smith’s statement that Hitler was a ‘vicious killer’ and that he did not mean for his remarks about the Nazi leader to be mistaken as praise. Once Smith realized that his remarks may have been misunderstood, he took immediate steps to clarify his words and unequivocally condemn Hitler as an evil person. We would have expected no less from a celebrity of his standing in the strata of Hollywood stardom.
Unfortunately, in citing Hitler in what appears to be a positive context, Smith stirred up a hornet’s nest on the Internet, where hate groups and anti-Semites latched on to the remark and praised it. If anything, this episode serves as a reminder of the power of words, and how words can be twisted by those with hate and bigotry in their hearts to suit their own worldview. This is why all celebrities bear a special responsibility to weigh their words carefully, and an obligation to speak out against racism and bigotry whenever even a whiff of it appears, as Will Smith has done in this instance.
Incidentally, the JDL also welcomed and accepted Smith’s clarification — and used the occasion to weigh in on the Hollywood writers’ strike:
Will Smith’s apology is enough for us to call off JDL’s request for non-attendance of his motion picture, I Am Legend. We also have no problem with anyone who wishes to employ him.
In a related matter, the Jewish Defense League supports the Hollywood writers and hopes the strike is settled soon so that Smith, a very talented actor, can continue doing what he does so well.
Dallas Morning News religion blogger Jeffrey Weiss thinks that Smith actually raised “an interesting question” about Hitler. Alas, the message most celebrities will take away from this whole incident: Don’t raise interesting questions.
In October, it was Halle Berry. She found herself in the celebrity hot seat, apologizing profusely following an innocent, if clumsy, remark that only the most hysterical among us would view as evidence of antisemitism.
This month, apparently, it’s Will Smith’s turn.
In a rambling interview published in Scotland’s Daily Record, Smith was quoted as saying:
Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today.’ I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming.
Now, did Smith choose his words as precisely as he might have? Maybe not. But was he basically correct? Of course. Hitler clearly had a vision of what he thought would be a “good” society. Sure, it was a sick and twisted vision, but that’s precisely what Smith was saying.
Regrettably, and utterly predictably, the fringe Jewish Defense League pounced on Smith, accusing him of having “spit on the memory of every person murdered by the Nazis” (and, weirdly, calling on Barack Obama to repudiate the “I Am Legend” star’s words). Equally predictably, gossip sites have shamelessly milked this non-story for all it’s worth.
Hollywood gossip powerhouse TMZ.com ran a particularly ridiculous item, under the ever-so-tasteful headline “Will Smith – Hitler, Schmitler; He Wasn’t That Bad.” TMZ — which clearly isn’t too up on the Jewish organizational landscape — referred in its post to the JDL as “a leading Jewish group.” Of course, if the folks at TMZ read the Forward, they’d know that the JDL is in no way “a leading Jewish group,” although it does rhyme with one. (Alas, TMZ isn’t the only news outlet taking the JDL statement seriously.)
Now poor Will Smith has had to issue an indignant clarification, reiterating that Hitler is, in fact, bad:
It is an awful and disgusting lie. It speaks to the dangerous power of an ignorant person with a pen. I am incensed and infuriated to have to respond to such ludicrous misinterpretation. Adolph Hitler was a vile, heinous, vicious killer responsible for one of the greatest acts of evil committed on this planet.
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