Why Dan Gordon Quit the WGA Over Its Initial Silence on Israel: ‘I Have Nothing but Contempt for Them’

Pusillanimous. It’s a word with a nice sound to it, screenwriter Dan Gordon (“Wyatt Earp”) says, but it’s got a nasty definition: “Timid, cowardly, lacking in courage.” It’s the word Gordon uses to describe the Writers Guild of America West’s leadership, a guild from which he resigned October 23 after it initially stayed silent in response to the terrorist group Hamas’s surprise attack against Israel October 7. The result was the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust.

Hollywood didn’t condemn Hamas all at once, but eventually all the major guilds, including the DGA and SAG-AFTRA, issued statements condemning the terrorist organization, which has ruled Gaza with an authoritarian hand since 2006. The WGA — at first — did not, even after holding a Zoom call with prominent showrunners who urged the guild to speak out. Instead, a leaked message to members revealed that leadership was unable to reach a “consensus” on the issue and they did not plan to issue a statement.

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For Gordon, that was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“When that happened, my brain exploded,” he told IndieWire. “I’m sorry, I simply did not want to continue to be a fellow traveler with people so utterly lacking in any kind of moral compass.”

So on October 23, he declared “fi-core” status with the WGA, effectively leaving his guild of over 50 years. Minutes before his resignation letter hit the press the next day, the WGA formally apologized, but Gordon had seen enough.

“They still refuse to condemn Hamas,” Gordon told IndieWire of the guild’s apology statement. “They say, ‘Oh, we were horrified by what we saw.’ Good, you’re horrified. Was there a statement saying, ‘We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all of the hostages,’ which is a minimal? That’s not a very high moral bar. Was there a statement that said we utterly condemn the barbaric atrocity committed by Hamas against close to 1,500 men, women and children? You can’t figure out that that’s something that you can’t be silent about? I have nothing but contempt for them.”

Gordon, the screenwriter of this year’s Holocaust drama “Irena’s Vow” that premiered at TIFF, is a veteran of three wars with the Israel Defense Forces. He’s fought in Gaza before the arrival of Hamas and against them later on. The “7th Century barbarism” he’s seen in Israel and Gaza over the last few weeks has left him sickened. It’s “as massive in its implications” for the world as what the Nazis did during World War II, he says.

“If you can’t find consensus to condemn those acts of barbarity, if you can see those images that we’ve all seen and still somehow see a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel, you have to question why God gave you eyes,” he continued. Not speaking out now, he added, “is tantamount to those people who during the Holocaust stood silent or apologized for Hitler.”

Meredith Stiehm (Photo by David Buchan/Deadline/Penske Media via Getty Images)
WGA President Meredith Stiehm in 2016Penske Media via Getty Images

Since the attacks on Israel October 7, the Israeli Defense Forces’ retaliatory strikes on Gaza have resulted in an estimated 8,000 Palestinian deaths there, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, the Washington Post reports.

Gordon pins the blame for the guild’s silence on a group of extreme progressives within the WGA’s own board, who he says believe that Hamas’ actions have to be put into context and didn’t happen in a vacuum (the guild in its apology said the decision to not make a statement “did not fall along religious or sectarian lines”). In his letter he decried a “fetid veil of a morally bankrupt wokeism” for why people were afraid to speak out. He fires back that there is no context for their attack at a music festival earlier this month and quoted the covenant of Hamas, saying it is their stated purpose to commit genocide and kill Jews.

“It wasn’t so much why they should speak out, it was how can they possibly stand silent,” he said. “You have a guild leadership that was afraid to confront the progressives within its own board. And as their president said in a weak statement, they couldn’t come to consensus. Well, I’m sorry. If you really couldn’t come to consensus, somebody had to stand up and say, ‘I as a person of conscience, as an individual will speak out.’ No one had the balls to do that.”

Gordon is also quick to mention that it’s possible “to hold two thoughts at once,” denouncing Hamas and expressing concern for Palestinians caught in the crossfire. He shared a story from his military service in 2008 in which he says he spoke with a Palestinian farmer who in Hebrew asked him to help fight Hamas.

“He said, ‘You see this field we’re standing in? This was my farm. I used to grow the best sunflower seeds in the entire Middle East. Hamas came and took it, and now it grows rockets. How do I feed my family rockets? Go in there and kill them all,'” Gordon said.

Gordon was among the first to take such drastic action in response to the guild, but he may not be the last. Aaron Sorkin left CAA for WME after CAA’s film department co-chief shared, then deleted, an Instagram post that referenced “genocide” on the part of Israel. Other writers have spoken out in the press and criticized the WGA since. Gordon isn’t sure if others will follow suit, and he believes his resignation may have caused others to take a step back and calm down. But he says he’s heard from other writers, producers, agents, a studio head, and even the head of an agency who told him, “you said exactly what I was feeling.”

Aaron Sorkin
Aaron SorkinRob Latour /Variety

Gordon was an active WGA member. He said he was writing a major feature film before the strike began, and he was in talks for a mini-series that has since gone away because of the strike. That was a price Gordon was willing to pay, but he’s troubled that after having “the guild’s back” for five months on strike, they didn’t do the same.

“You sit there and say how is it the actors have the courage? How’s it the directors have the courage,” he said. “And we writers, who are supposed to be the people who point the finger and say “J’accuse!” We were the ones who stood up to McCarthyism. We’re the ones who fight fascism. We’re the ones who came out on a number of social issues. Nobody said I can’t join the #MeToo movement and make a statement in support of them because I’m afraid of offending Bill Cosby.”

By declaring fi-core, he’ll be unable to participate in WGA awards, elections, or get other benefits from membership, and he’ll be unable to rejoin the guild. Fine by Gordon.

“There will be people who won’t hire me, and that’s okay. Those are people I wouldn’t want to work with anyway. I will probably get the short end of the stick in arbitrations, which every writer has to go through, including those writers who are financial core. I wouldn’t doubt that for an instant. Those considerations are minor compared to taking a stand for what one believes in,” he said. “I was raised that if you see something that you feel is morally wrong, you have a moral obligation to take a stand, and if God for some reason or other gave you a voice and let you be in this business, then you have a double obligation.”

Sophie Nelisse (left) in Dan Gordon’s “Irena’s Vow”<cite>Quiver Distribution</cite>
Sophie Nelisse (left) in Dan Gordon’s “Irena’s Vow”Quiver Distribution

Gordon reacted so “viscerally” to the WGA’s statement because his recent movie “Irena’s Vow” was top-of-mind. The film is based on the true story of a 20-year-old Polish Catholic girl named Irena Gut Opdyke (Sophie Nélisse) who was obligated to work for the Germans during World War II. She had “an unshakable moral compass” and had her life change after witnessing a Nazi officer kill a baby and then kill its mother. In the film, she makes a vow to protect other lives and manages to hide 12 Jews in an attic and basement of a German officer’s house for almost a year without his knowledge. This month he came across a video of a Jewish woman hiding in an attic from Hamas and couldn’t help but think of Irena’s story.

“I thought, my God, we’re back in the attic. We’re back in the cellar. And the world doesn’t give a shit. My own guild doesn’t give a shit,” he said. “The moral courage that Irena Gut Opdyke had in such abundance is so woefully lacking in the leadership of the Writers Guild of America that knew what the right thing to do was and said, ‘Well, we just couldn’t reach a consensus without offending the progressives within our ranks.’ I’m sorry, stand up to them! If you can’t change their mind, speak out as the individual. Resign from the goddamn guild, resign from your office. But you have an obligation not to stand silent in the face of the magnitude of that evil.”

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