Controversy over Wiesenthal Center’s honoring Tom Cruise as humanitarian

Michael Barger emails:

Hi Luke!

I don’t know if you have heard but the Wiesenthal Center in LA is honoring Tom Cruise with a swank Hollywood fund raising dinner on May 5 and will present its Humanitarian Award to Tom Cruise.

There has been outrage among Jews I know here and in Israel, many of whom have relatives who have died in the Holocaust, and who know just how ridden the Scientology regime of David Miscavige is with manifold human rights abuses.

I have been researching Jewish writers who have written on Scientology and was trying to find out how to contact Joey Kurtzman when I came across videos you have done with him. Since you have done some writing on the cult I am writing to you.

I sent an email to Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt at Emory University and she wrote back that she is flabbergasted at the news. This was confirmation of the seriousness of the issues involved.

I have written a sort of backgrounder from the information I sent Prof. Lipstadt and include it below.

I also note that you are originally from Australia. There have been major reports exposing Scientology abuses there, and Sen. Nick Xenophon has done amazing work pressing for investigation of the cult.

By way of background I am a former Roman Catholic clergyman who got interested in Scientology’s abuses as a result of the rise of the young people’s protest movement called Anonymous that arose in early 2008. When I did the research I was horrified by what I discovered. A church with a intelligence agency that has carried out the largest known infiltration of our government? No way. So I have since been writing and speaking and educating about the dangers of Scientology particularly among Catholics.

I think what this new scandal needs is more Jewish writers voicing their opinions on the affair. If you would be moved to write something from the information I have provided that would be all to the good.

Backgrounder on the Wiesenthal-Cruise Affair

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has decided to honor Tom Cruise with its humanitarian award at a fundraising dinner of Hollywood celebrities and power brokers on May 5 in Los Angeles.  California Senator Diane Feinstein and producer Steven Spielberg are among the co-chairs.  

The news has been greeted with shock and dismay by former Scientologists and activist advocates for victims of Scientology abuse since Tom Cruise is known to millions as the chief celebrity promoter of Scientology, and there are numerous testimonies of violence and abuse within the Church of Scientology.

SWC was founded in 1977 by Rabbi Marvin Hier as a Jewish human rights organization and named after Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. It promotes human rights, combats anti-Semitism, and teaches lessons from the Holocaust. The organization operates on a budget of $28 million and is headquartered in Los Angeles. It maintains Museums of Tolerance in Los Angeles, New York, and Jerusalem, and offices in Toronto, Paris, and Buenos Aires.

There has been a flood of reporting on Scientology abuses in the last two years the most recent of which is Lawrence Wright’s massive article on the defection of Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis. The St. Petersburg Times has exposed violence and abuse in Scientology leader David Miscavige’s regime in its The Truth Rundown series. In light of these reports SWC’s decision seems inexplicable.

There has been no commentary in the main stream media on the humanitarian award to Cruise, but Danielle Berrin at the Jewish Journal’s Hollywood Jew has given us the first report. She addresses the questions about why Cruise should qualify as a humanitarian.  She quotes SWC founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, and two Board members, one of whom drops the F-bomb.

A second important commentary comes from William Burke at Ask the Scientologist. He is a former Scientologist and one of the sharpest analyzers of Scientology currently writing.

Burke takes no issue with SWC’s decision but focuses on how the Church of Scientology will exploit the award to legitimize itself and point to SWC as an approver of its status as a legitimate religious and humanitarian organization.  Burke also explicates core Scientology doctrine that blames victims of the Holocaust for their fate and places the SWC event in the context of Cruise’s career rehabilitation.

SWC founder Rabbi Hier in saying that SWC respects all faiths elevates L. Ron Hubbard to the status of Moses and places Scientology at par with Judaism, Christianity, and the other great faith traditions that have shaped lives and civilizations for millennia.

Scientology, which began in 1950 with Hubbard’s publication of Dianetics, is recognized as a religion in only a handful of nations. It has no recognition as a religious organization in Israel, where it is widely considered a business enterprise and a cult.  

Though Scientology is recognized as a religion by the IRS, no US citizen is bound to deal with Scientology on that basis except in the strictest of legal circumstances. Millions of Americans are adamant in their belief that Scientology is in essence a business and in no way a legitimate religious let alone a human rights organization.

Noted Holocaust scholar Professor Deborah Lipstadt at Emory University in writing about Tom Cruise has put her finger on the problem when she quotes a major critic of Scientology, Ursula Caberta of the Government of Hamburg’s Scientology Working Group, about Cruise being the celebrity promoter of a totalitarian regime.

Tom Cruise is not just an actor who is a Scientologist. He is an ambassador for Scientology. All totalitarian systems have their celebrities to open doors for them.

Not many familiar about Scientology abuses are likely to be convinced by Rabbi Hier’s contention that it is possible to honor Cruise the humanitarian while not honoring Cruise the Scientology promoter.  

Scientology itself will not be in agreement with Rabbi Hier because it will gleefully exploit SWC’s humanitarian award as legitimizing the cult. In its propaganda it trumpets:  “Tom Cruise has disseminated LRH technology to 1.1 billion people of earth.”  A Church of Scientology video interview “Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise, Scientologist” was leaked to the internet in January 2008. It has been viewed over 6.5 million times.

The Church of Scientology forced YouTube to remove the video and in so doing sparked the largest opposition the cult has seen in its sixty-year history. Outraged at this suppression of free speech on “their internet” thousands of college students around the world formed the Anonymous anti-Scientology movement and have been relentlessly protesting on the streets and the internet for the last three years. Their impact has been enormous in liberating people terrified of speaking out for fear of Scientology’s intelligence agency, the Office of Special Affairs (OSA).

There are other important Jewish dimensions. Foremost is the totalitarian cult’s 15-year-long persecution of Holocaust survivor Paulette Cooper. Shortly after her birth her family was sent to a concentration camp. Her parents were subsequently murdered in Auschwitz. Seventeen of twenty-two of her relatives died in the Holocaust.

Raised in a kosher home after being adopted by US parents, she graduated from Brandeis University.  In accord with the best Jewish values of sympathy for the underdog and a passion for justice she wrote one of the first critical books about the cult, The Scandal of Scientology. Scientology conceived Operation Freak Out to silence her. It used covert agents to smear her with accusations of engaging in sexual perversions with her rabbi.

They stole stationery with her fingerprints and wrote bomb threats for which she was indicted and arrested. She faced a nightmare proving her innocence and was sued nineteen times by the cult. When the cult’s intelligence agency was plotting to smear her before she came to testify at hearings in Clearwater, FL, (Scientology’s self-proclaimed Mecca) one official wrote in a telex:

If you want legal docs, from here on we will provide. Then if she still declines to come we slap the writs on her before she reaches CW [Clearwater] as we don’t want to be seen publically [sic] being brutal to such a pathetic victim from a concentration camp.

Paulette’s reflection on her experience is here. An interview with is here.

Why is a Jewish human rights organization honoring Cruise when Scientology’s human rights abuses will be hanging over the event?

Profesor Lipstadt has addressed two important issues: the cult’s shameless exploitation of the Holocaust against psychiatry and its campaign against the German government comparing Scientologists to Jews and the German government to Nazis.

She has called Scientology’s blaming psychiatrists for the Holocaust a “soft-core” form of Holocaust denial since it does not place blame where it truly belongs, on the shoulders of the Nazi regime.

Scientology’s campaign against the German government sent Rabbi Ignatz Bubis into a rage and dismayed Abraham Foxman at the Anti-Defmation League. Bubis was chairman (and later president) of the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany)

Scientology is engaged in a War on Psychiatry that aims at nothing less than the destruction of all mental heath professions and institutions, in which Jews have played a pioneering role from Freud through Otto Selz, murdered at Auschwitz, and Viktor Frankel, who survived, and many others.

Scientology may rightfully be considered a hate group and has been so named by American Psychiatric Association President, Dr. Nada Stotland:

There is no other medical specialty I know of that has its own particular, dedicated hate group.

Also relevant is the fact of opposition to Scientology in Israel. Benjamin Beit Hallahmi at Haifa University has written extensively on New Religious Movements and denies Scientology’s status as a religion.

Scientology in Israel is not considered a religion but rather a cult, and there has been an important investigative report from Friday Studio on Israeli TV (Part One; Part Two). There is also an organization  called The Israeli Center for Victims of Cults. Their Scientology page is here.  

Though Christian leaders have scarcely spoken out any more than Jewish leaders, Roman Catholic Cardinal Ouellet of Quebec has warned Catholics and criticized Scientology at his last two annual press lunches The Catholic Archbishop of St.  Lucia has denounced invasion of the island by the Scientology front group, The Way To Happiness International.

Scientology in Itay has threatened to sue a women’s religious order, the Daughters of St. Paul, for publishing books by a former Scientologist who has returned to practice of her Catholic faith.  Jesuit sociologist Fr. John Coleman has described Scientology as a “totalitarian cult.” Editor Randy Sly at Catholic Online has written extensively and been lambasted by Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis for promoting “religious hatred and violence.”

The best interpretation one can put on SWC’s decision is that it was made in naive ignorance.  There is no indication that SWC has revisited its decision and so the event is most likely to proceed as planned. It will not be the first time that Mammon has triumphed over Moses in Hollywood.

As scandalous as the Wiesenthal-Cruise affair appears to many, one can hope that it will be the occasion for discussion of Scientology particularly within the Jewish community. Totalitarian regimes cannot abide the truth; they start to crumble when people speak out.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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