Facing mounting pressure from more than 300 Hollywood screenwriters questioning why it had not publicly condemned the Hamas attack on Israel this month, the Writers Guild of America West sent a letter to its members on Tuesday that sought to explain its silence while also calling the attack “an abomination.”
The letter, signed by the guild’s leadership and viewed by The New York Times, said the reason the union had not issued a statement after the attack on Oct. 7 was not “because we are paralyzed by factionalism or masking hateful views” but rather because “we are American labor leaders, aware of our limitations and humbled by the magnitude of this conflict.”
The guild’s letter acknowledged that it had publicly commented on other situations “which could be characterized as beyond our scope,” but that it had not made any statement following, for instance, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It can be an imprecise science for a labor union to pick and choose where it weighs in on both domestic and world affairs,” said the letter, which was signed by the president, Meredith Stiehm; the vice president, Michele Mulroney; and Betsy Thomas, the secretary-treasurer.
Still, they added, “We understand this has caused tremendous pain and for that we are truly sorry.”
(The west and east branches of the W.G.A. are affiliated unions with separate leadership that together represent more than 11,000 writers.)
On Oct. 15, a group of screenwriters sent an open letter to the guild asking why it had not publicly denounced the attack on Israel, noting the union had made public statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the #MeToo reckoning. They also noted that other major Hollywood unions had issued statements condemning the attack.
The letter has now been signed by more than 300 writers, including Jerry Seinfeld, Eric Roth (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) and Amy Sherman-Palladino (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). Some Jewish screenwriters had begun to question whether they should remain part of an organization that they felt did not support them.
Ms. Stiehm’s initial reply to the open letter was an email to inquiring members saying that the lack of response was because “the board’s viewpoints are varied, and we found consensus out of reach.”
The letter on Tuesday, which said the guild’s leadership was “horrified by the atrocities committed by Hamas,” was an attempt to stem the outrage.
“I really appreciate this statement,” said the screenwriter Howard Gordon (“24” and “Homeland”), who added in an interview that the silence from the guild had prompted responses from both Jewish and non-Jewish members ranging from rage to fear to the desire to resign from the organization.
“I hope this letter goes a long way to sort of calming some of it down,” said Mr. Gordon, who signed the open letter to the guild. “Hopefully something constructive comes out of this, which is an acknowledgment of how we combat and confront and talk about antisemitism.”
For Dan Gordon, however, the apology came too late. Mr. Gordon, 76, sent a letter Tuesday morning resigning his membership in the organization, calling its silence “appalling.”
“It is corrosive to me as a writer and repugnant to every fiber of my being as a person of conscience,” wrote Mr. Gordon, who has no relation to Howard Gordon and is best known for “The Hurricane” and “Wyatt Earp.” I am resigning my membership not because I wish to work on nonunion projects, nor cross any picket line, but because I no longer wish to be a fellow traveler with those who hide behind the fetid veil of a morally bankrupt wokeism and stand silent in the face of unadulterated evil.”
Mr. Gordon’s latest film, “Irena’s Vow” — about a young Polish-Catholic woman during World War II who hid 12 Jews in the basement of a German officer’s house without his knowledge for almost a year — debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
He will change his guild membership status to “financial core,” according to his letter. Under that designation, he will still receive the contract benefits earned by the guild but he will no longer be able to vote or attend any guild meetings. The designation is irreversible and viewed by the guild as an act of disloyalty. The W.G.A. maintains an online list of members who have chosen this status, with a reminder that “Fi-Core is forever.”
Mr. Gordon called Tuesday’s letter from the guild “pusillanimous” and faulted it for not calling for a release of the hostages.
“I don’t retract anything I said,” he added in an interview. “If one cannot condemn, clearly, and without reservation, what Hamas perpetrated, one’s moral compass is absent, not broken.”