During the recent Gaza war, when two Hollywood stars – Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem – signed a letter accusing Israel of committing "genocide," the first to rush to Israel's defense was Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight. Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Voight scolded them: "You had a great responsibility to use your celebrity for good. Instead, you have defamed the only democratic country of goodwill in the Middle East: Israel."
Cruz quickly walked back her words: “I don’t want to be misunderstood on this important subject. I’m not an expert on the situation..."
Celebrities shouldn't speak out unless they've properly researched the topic.
"People are uninformed about the basic facts," Voight says. "Israel gave the Palestinians all of Gaza as a peace gesture. What they got in return was thousands of rockets fired into Israel. Hamas doesn't want a piece of the pie, they want the whole pie. A person should not speak out unless they've properly researched the topic. That applies even more to influential celebrities."
Voight would like to give all his fellow actors a history lesson. "People are jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon because it's fashionable. When someone asks me a question about Israel, I say: 'Do you really want to know? Are you willing to devote the time to study it, or are you just going to parrot what you read on Facebook?' I tell them: 'Do your homework and get the full picture. Go to Israel and see things firsthand. Then decide'."
Standing with Israel
For decades, Voight has been one of the most outspoken voices defending Israel and the Jewish people. "My connection to Israel is a result of everything Judaism has given the human race," he says. "I've always been in awe of the Jewish people. They are the conscience of the world."
Voight was raised a religious Christian, and as an avid reader of the Bible – he calls the Torah "the greatest gift to humanity" – has always respected the Jewish people. "God told Abraham: 'Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed.' That's exactly what we've seen over the past 4,000 years," says Voight.
Voight is sensitive to his status as a Hollywood icon – star of Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, Coming Home – and proud father of Angelina Jolie, Hollywood's highest-paid actress.
Over the years, he has endeavored to leverage that influence by getting friends and colleagues in the entertainment world to speak out, to provide a counter-voice to the anti-Israel activism of people like actor Danny Glover, singer Bryan Adams, and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd who compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
In 2009, when Jane Fonda – Voight's co-star in Coming Home – boycotted the Toronto Film Festival in protest of its plans to showcase films from Tel Aviv, Voight publicly accused Fonda of "aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel." (She later recanted.)
In 2014, a few weeks after Voight's outspoken support of Israel in the Gaza campaign, a group of 200 Hollywood elites including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Mayim Bialik issued a statement bashing Hamas and defending Israel.
Voight, who has travelled to Israel many times, takes a broad view of how Israel fits into the geopolitical interests of the United States. He believes the imperative to stand with Israel grows stronger by the day.
"This is a very dangerous time for humanity. Hamas, ISIS and Iran are acquiring resources and weapons to challenge the West. It's a clash of civilizations. Due to its geographic location, Israel is at the forefront of this battle. Israel is not asking anyone to fight its wars. Israel just wants America's full backing to do the job. It's in our vital interest to support that."
Voight traces his activism back to the days of the Vietnam War. He protested against the war, yet underwent a political transformation following the massive human rights abuses in Vietnam and Cambodia after the American withdrawal. Reflecting on those times, Voight says: "We didn't want to believe in evil, so we hid from it."
In defending Israel, Voight is motivated in part by what he terms "theological child abuse." "These regimes teach their children to hate. The kids grow up thinking that the solution to all the problems is to kill Jews and Israelis. It's a sick society, but nobody wants to talk about it because it's not politically correct."
Voight's support for Israel has not come without price. This year, when he was nominated for a television Emmy award, one Hollywood publication posed the question: "How Will Jon Voight’s Blistering Political Statements Impact His Emmy Chances?"
If Israel falls, we all fall.
Voight is sensitive to the professional risks, but is determined to push on. "My agent says, 'Jon, maybe for the sake of your career it's better not to be talking about this stuff.' But I'm getting older and thinking more about the future, of what world we are leaving for our grandchildren. If I'm going to make a difference, the time is now."
Voight sees Israel's battle as a microcosm of the larger battle against evil. "Israel is a moral beacon, the vanguard of our values of liberty and justice. If Israel is demonized in its fight against terrorists and religious extremists, then we are all at risk. History has proven that these battles start with the Jews, but do not end with them. If Israel falls, we all fall."
As for his willingness to speak out, Voight told Aish.com: "There is evil afoot and if my voice can be heard, it is my obligation to do so. I think that all sane people should have a passion for Israel at this time. The stakes are very high and we can no longer get away with being ignorant."