Michael Douglas has urged political leaders to confront the “disease” of anti-Semitism.
In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, the actor used his teenage son’s experience of bullying while the family holidayed in the south of Europe as a sign that the tide of intolerance has once again turned on those who uphold the Jewish faith.
“During our stay at a hotel, our son Dylan went to the swimming pool,” he wrote.
“A short time later he came running back to the room, upset. A man at the pool had started hurling insults at him.”
His first instinct, he said, was to ask him whether he’d misbehaved. Tearfully, Dylan answered: “No.”
“I stared at him,” he continued. “And suddenly I had an awful realization of what might have caused the man's outrage: Dylan was wearing a Star of David.
“After calming him down, I went to the pool and asked the attendants to point out the man who had yelled at him. We talked. It was not a pleasant discussion. Afterward, I sat down with my son and said: ‘Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism.’”
Douglas, whose father Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch) was Jewish, was raised without a formal religion. He had reconnected with Judaism after his 14-year-old son took an interest in the faith.
Now 70, Douglas explained his own first experience of anti-Semitism at school.
“A friend saw someone Jewish walk by, and with no provocation he confidently told me: ‘Michael, all Jews cheat in business,’” he wrote.
“With little knowledge of what it meant to be a Jew, I found myself passionately defending the Jewish people. Now, half a century later, I have to defend my son. Anti-Semitism, I've seen, is like a disease that goes dormant, flaring up with the next political trigger.”
Douglas went on to describe three main reasons for the recent flare of religious hatred in Europe. The first, he cited, was that anti-Semitism historically “grows more virulent whenever and wherever the economy is bad”.
The second he claimed derives from “an irrational and misplaced hatred of Israel”.
“Does anyone really believe that the innocent victims in that kosher shop in Paris and at that bar mitzvah in Denmark had anything to do with Israeli-Palestinian policies or the building of settlements 2,000 miles away?”
The third he branded “simple demographics”, claiming that twice the world’s Jewish population live in Europe.
The Oscar-winner ended his piece by urging those who encounter it to confront anti-Semitism.
“Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness,” he concluded.
“My son is strong. He is fortunate to live in a country where anti-Semitism is rare. But now he too has learned of the dangers that he as a Jew must face. It's a lesson that I wish I didn't have to teach him, a lesson I hope he will never have to teach his children.”