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October 24, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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October 24, 2014

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 24, 2014 By Rabbi Shraga Simmons Aish Hatorah Resources During the recent Gaza war, when two Hollywood stars - Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem- signed a letter accusing Israel of commit- ting "genocide," the first to rush to Israel's defense was Academy Award-winning ac- tor 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 demo- cratic country of goodwill in the Middle East: Israel." Cruz quickly walked back her words: "I don't want to be Stars of David: J00,n Voignt misunderstood on this impor- tant 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 Pales- tinians all of Gaza as a peace gesture. What they got in re- turn 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 con- nection 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 sta- tus as a Hollywood icon--star of "Midnight Cowboy," "Deliv- erance," "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 enter- tainment world to speak out, to provide a counter-voice to the anti-lsrael activism of people like actor Danny Glover, singer Bryan Adams, and RogerWaters 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 ac- cused 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 Schwar- zenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Mayim Bialik issued a statementbashing Hamas and defending Israel. Voight, who has travelled to Israel manytimes, takes abroad 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." Hollywood Influence Voight traces his activism backto the days oftheVietnam War. He protested against the war, yet underwent a political transformation following the massive human rights abuses inVietnam and Cambodiaafter the American withdrawal. Re- flecting on those times, Voight says,"We didn'twant 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 nomi- Wikipedia Jon Voight in 2013. nated for a television Emmy award, one Hollywood publica- tion 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 deter- mined 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. corn, "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." Rabbi Shraga Simmons spent his childhood trekking through snow in Buffalo, New York. He holds a degree in journalism from the Univer- sity of Texas at Austin, and rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. 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