During a visit to Israel this week, actor Jon Voight was interviewed by national daily Israel Hayom. In the course of the interview Voight commented that “Israel has a lot of support and many friends in Hollywood.” If this is indeed the case, it is clear that few are nearly as vocal as Voight, a gentile, who has emerged as the strongest supporting voice for the Jewish State emanating from Hollywood.
In truth since its founding in 1948, the relationship between America’s royalty in Hollywood and Israel has been temperamental. In its early days, the plucky young State’s compelling narrative of salvation, courage and redemption captured the hearts of the artistic elite. Earlier productions including Exodus, Raid on Entebbe and The House on Garibaldi Street, captured Israel’s struggle to garner international respect and security for its citizens.
In more recent years however the tone in Tinseltown has shifted, reflected in productions such as Munich, and Waltz with Bashir, which although not a Hollywood production, was widely acclaimed in Hollywood circles. The new tone portrays Israel as an established and robust entity, hunting down those that dare cross her, while the very human characters struggle with the ‘unjust’ nature of their assignments.
The storyline in all of these films is essentially the same. In every case Israel comes under attack and is forced to respond, however, in the earlier portrayals those tasked with coming to Israel’s defense are painted as just messengers of righteous retribution. In latter years, their image has shifted to vengeful, unjust and at times heartless killers.
The list of Jewish superstars that are politically active includes Natalie Portman, Sasha Baron Cohen, Jerry Seinfeld, Scarlett Johansson, Barbara Streisand, Sarah Silverman, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Yet, as pointed out by Michelle Oddis writing for Human Events, at a rally following international condemnation of the Flotilla incident last year, “of Twenty-five speakers that stood in support of Israel, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the only “Hollywood type” was Voight.”
At a Los Angeles event aiming to address this subject, organized by the World Alliance for Israel Political Action Committee, producer Marc Platt explained that “Hollywood loves an underdog, always has.” He continued, “because Israel is now in a position of power, power can be abused, and that leads to criticism.”
It may be true that Israel’s status has been shifted, which in and of itself is a travesty, but that perhaps is just another symptom of a greater underlying malady, namely Israel’s failure to harness and convey its own narrative. It seems that the Jewish State has all but relinquished control over the exposition and chronicling of its story.
Hollywood’s attention span is limited; a film never captures a complete picture, when the lone ranger rides off into the sunset, the happy couple embrace or the enemy is vanquished, and the credits begin to roll, what happens next is rarely explored, the viewers move on. It seems to me as if in the Hollywood mind, Israel’s movie came to an end in the early eighties and now its collective chronicle has become mundane. The latest Palestinian Arab release is more compelling. Who cares if it flies in the face of moral conventions, as the only equation is in its ability to captivate an audience.
Voight, a seasoned Hollywood professional has been principled enough to understand that ‘Israel the movie’ is sequel material. The components that captured hearts and minds across the world just a short while ago are still very much intimate components in the fabric that makes up Israel’s story. Israel is still that plucky, resilient nation of visionaries, once separated and now reunited with their beloved land. Its enemies have assumed new forms but are still bereft of moral compass, crouching in the dark, awaiting the opportunity to pounce for the kill.
As the storms gather, markets tremble, Islamists seize control in vacuums left in the wake of the Arab spring and the menace of Iran looms on the horizon, the script for ‘Israel Part 2’ has yet to be written.