Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Cowboy

The movie star Jon Voight, once an icon of the counterculture, is now among America’s loudest conservative voices supporting Israel

Print Email
Voight at “The Perils of Global Intolerance: The United Nations and Durban III” conference, September 22, 2011. (85 Photo Productions Inc.)

Jon Voight had a question for me on that August afternoon. “Do you know about the Balfour Agreement?” he asked over the phone. I did. “Do you know anything about the League of Nations mandate in 1922?” I was pretty sure I knew the gist. “Do you know anything about the San Remo Accords?” He got me there.

Did I know anything about Jon Voight? I knew the famously tough-guy actor has emerged as a strong, vehement supporter of Israel, seemingly of the Christians United for Israel school—the obvious thing I could take away from the trip he made to the Holy Land earlier this year with evangelical uber-Zionist Mike Huckabee, the Fox News host and former Arkansas governor. They had visited the site of a planned Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem and hobnobbed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And I knew that Voight was slated to be in New York City during the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly to attend a conference titled “The Perils of Global Intolerance: The United Nations and Durban III,” sponsored by Touro College and the conservative Hudson Institute. I had called his agent seeking an in-person interview about his very public Zionism, and Voight had phoned back.

But I hadn’t known enough to predict an impromptu lesson in Zionist history. Voight wound his way, like a skier expertly slaloming past every flag, through the Mandate, the Mufti, the Holocaust, and the partition. “And as we know, again, there was silence from the world community,” this time as Arab nations invaded the brand-new State of Israel, Voight said, his voice high-pitched with agitation. “No one said anything from that body.” He meant the United Nations. “We didn’t.” He meant the Americans. “France didn’t. Germany didn’t.” Well, we recognized Israel, I pointed out. He spat back, defending Israel’s founders: “But they did nothing to stop them from being annihilated. Nothing! Just like they did nothing to stop them from being annihilated during the Holocaust. When they could have stopped the murder of hundreds of thousands, of millions of lives.”

I asked Voight why he felt so strongly about this issue. “How can you not have an admiration?” he replied. “You walk the land in Samaria,” he continued, referring to a part of the West Bank by its biblical and politically charged name, “where I was, and you are amazed at what they’ve been able to accomplish.” What on paper would be boilerplate—what must seem to you as boilerplate—felt credible in his impassioned voice. What was less clear was where the passion came from.

***

A few weeks later, I found myself in a mid-sized, mildly ornate room on the second floor of the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel, across the street from the U.N. General Assembly building on the East Side of Manhattan. Several dozen of us were there to listen to a roster of speakers—including Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz, John Bolton, Ed Koch, and the omnipresent Huckabee—inveigh against the persistent anti-Israel bias within the building on the other side of First Avenue, which that day was playing host to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing as well as Durban III, a re-re-affirmation of a 2001 U.N. conference’s notorious report that had toyed with revivifying a (since-annulled) General Assembly resolution stating that Zionism is a form of racism. Huckabee provoked the loudest applause of the afternoon when he called for Israel to accelerate settlement-building. Conference speakers dropped Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s name the way rock aficionados drop Jimmy Page’s.

If you were looking for him, as I was, Voight was instantly recognizable, a cap of thinning gray hair half-a-head above the other seated figures near the front. Men with real presence tend to have large features, but Voight has small eyes and a tiny, half-triangle of a nose that get crowded out by his ruddy-complexioned, square face. In profile, his long, flat, vertical jaw is almost a dead-ringer for that of his daughter, Angelina Jolie.

“My dear fellow Americans,” began his prepared remarks when his turn came to speak, “I’m here today to express my outrage that anti-Semitic Arabs can give themselves the right to decide the fate of Israel, when we all know by now that the Arab and Palestinian mandate is to wipe Israel off the map.” When he reached his rousing conclusion, it sounded like it was written by a conservative who had been forced to watch 40 hours of The West Wing:

And now, they try to spew out this insane new poison: Zionism is racism. These people, who themselves are terrorists and killers, are trying to find new ways to bring hatred to the Jewish people once again. [Dramatic pause.] Zionism is philanthropy, a belief in helping others, a belief in life, and freedom. “To save one life is to save a world.” It is belief in God and good. The Palestinians that have orchestrated this lie believe in death and killing. It’s just their way of covering up who they really are. If Israel falls, America will fall. Let us stay tuned and focused on the Palestinian agenda at the U.N. President Abbas is a Holocaust denier and wants to create another holocaust for Israel with his agenda, and he is trying to make it all look legal, to point fingers at the people of Israel, who are the true democratic society and human rights-keepers. I pray that every good, God-fearing American understands the truth of this onslaught. My love to you all.

As much as Voight relished his prepared oration, bomb-throwing but carefully wrought, he also seemed genuinely, enthusiastically earnest in his opening remarks, which can so often seem perfunctory. “I’m a fan,” he’d said of the other presenters. Conference organizer Anne Bayefsky was “this beaver after the truth.” Black conservative intellectual Shelby Steele was “my good friend, who sees this from a new aspect.” Smart English guy Douglas Murray was “quite brilliant.” Ruth Wisse’s “insights and her words about anti-Semitism were quite brilliant—and she’s up in Harvard.” He added, to more laughter, “That’s like coming from Hollywood!”

After the conference, I introduced myself to Voight, and he told me I could take a walk with him. He seemed delighted to be in my company, which surprised me, because I had sent his representatives repeated emails and put in numerous phone calls after that initial conversation, but I had received no reply. “An eager person like yourself should be rewarded,” he told me.

We arrived at First Avenue. “What building is that?” he deadpanned. The United Nations, an erect rectangle of glass next to a snug, curled horizontal French fry of white adobe, was directly in front of us. It was after six, and most of the diplomats and protesters seemed to have gone. “When I look at it, I always think, Maybe they’re fumigating it,” he said. “It would be the perfect thing to do to the whole place: fumigate. Get rid of all the rats.”

This was not the only outrageous thing he said to me. “There is no Palestinian people,” he had told me over the phone. “Palestine was the name of that area given by the Romans—comes from the root ‘Philistine.’ They were just Arabs that came there.” And there was the speech.

Moreover, Voight was once a sergeant of the counterculture. In 1969, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for the titular role in Midnight Cowboy, a Southern good ol’ boy who finds himself a hustler in New York City. In a bit of convenient symbolism, his main competition for the statue was the ultimate old-school cowboy, John Wayne. Wayne won, for True Grit; Midnight Cowboy, however, took home Best Picture honors—the only X-rated film ever to do so. Voight still lives in Hollywood. Recent roles have included Pope John Paul II and FDR. In 2001, Voight also played the coal-miner father of the male model Derek Zoolander’s in the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander, a role so deadpan it absolutely required a sense of humor.

I prodded him again about why he chose defending Israel, out of all possible causes, to promote. “I’m just trying to do what I can,” he said. “I can contribute some of my celebrity—that’s helpful. And that’s a reason to have celebrity, to do something good with it. If you have physical strength, you can use that. If you have money, you can do something with money. You give what you have.”

Exhibit A in the use of celebrity toward good causes, I pointed out, might be his daughter. “It’s not a coincidence, obviously,” he replied. “Her mom was a humanitarian, I’m a humanitarian.” However, I pointed out, her causes are quite different. Starving African children and West Bank settlers don’t look the same, least of all in Hollywood’s eyes.

We were standing still now, periodically shuffling back and forth, like two boxers in the ring. (Voight had won every round.) The late afternoon took on a weirdly quiet quality; First Avenue was still closed off, but, most of the day’s business complete, few people were actually around.

“When the left walked away from the murder that took place when we pulled out of Vietnam—all the millions of people who were massacred when we pulled out—it should’ve awakened anybody that was on the other side, who was against the war,” he told me.

But the narrative of the ’60s lefty turned contemporary conservative isn’t exactly original, and, knowing this, you tend to look for something specific. Voight’s association with Huckabee led me to assume that his faith, no doubt some evangelical Christian variant, was what led him to feel strongly about Israel, and that his Southern upbringing planted the seeds for his conversion that just happened to take 30 or 40 years to bloom.

Isn’t he from the South? That’s what I had assumed back before he first called me on that afternoon. His most iconic character, Midnight Cowboy’s Joe Buck, was a Texan hayseed. And in my imagination, he was most shaped by his role as Bud Kilmer, the racist redneck coach of the West Canaan Coyotes in 1999’s MTV-produced Varsity Blues.

Well, apparently, it’s called acting for a reason. Voight is from Westchester County, N.Y. He was raised not evangelical but Catholic. “I knew Jews from the community that I come from,” he had told me on the phone. “My father was a golf professional at a Jewish country club. So, when I was very young, I understood anti-Semitism, because these people at the club who were employers of my dad couldn’t get into other clubs because of anti-Semitism. So, they built their own club.”

He continued: “I grew up understanding that these people were for some reason the victims of bigotry or racism or whatever you want to call it, and I saw them to be admirable people. They had the freedom to build their own club.

“No one told me that,” he added, “I just knew it. I grew up with these people. I liked them—they were my dad’s mentors, because he grew up as a caddy at the same club. I was very fortunate to grow up in their company as well.” Voight, it turns out, was born in Yonkers. The club in question is Sunningdale; it’s a little farther north, in Scarsdale.

But back to First Avenue, creeping ever closer to dusk. “I usually say, ‘Don’t ask about people’s political affiliation,’ ” he told me after I asked him, one more time, why he should give a damn about Israel and the Jews. “I’m interested in knowing about the truth and acting on it. That’s it.” Voight was getting excited again. “I would say the Republican Party is being attacked by the left—vilified—much like Israel is being vilified across the world. And I say it’s wrong.”

We were alone on the sidewalk, everything getting dark as the sun prepared to set. “So then when that happens”—the Republican Party is being vilified—“I say: ‘I’m a Republican!’ That’s what I say. I say, ‘Hey, you’re gonna pick on these guys? Pick on me! I’m big enough. Go ahead, take a shot.’ ”

Print Email

What’s the problem? Everything he says is true. Also why is calling it Samaria more politically charged than calling it the West Bank? Samaria was the original geographic name. It was called the West Bank only when the British split the territory granting the Palestinians the territory east of the Jordan to be ruled over by their Hashemites toadies. Maybe you should have listened a little better when he was explaining to you about the history of the region.

Herb Gold says:

Mr. Voight is very involved with the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg Florida. He has spoken there many times.

Jon Voight was an attendee to Glenn Beck’s sick Nuremberg rally in Jerusalem last summer. How mightily the feeble have fallen from grace.

I don’t think that the Jewish people or Israel need to vet their supporters!

One’s perspective on one thing doesn’t necessarily negate one’s perspective on other matters.

We supporters of Israel should be happy to have people such as Jon Voight be an advocate, especially during this period when Israel is being deligitimatized and iolated.

Bill Pearlman says:

Jules is nostalgic for the original Nuremberg rallies. His kind of people

Bill Pearlman, believe you me Nuremberg is in the here and now with Neoconservatives like Mr. Voight, bullies like Binyamin Netanyahu, yourself of course Bill, and big bad bat shit crazy Glenn Beck.

I wouldn’t boast if I were you Bill.

Jules,

I find Glenn Beck despicable, ignorant, and a fraud. However, when you lump him in the same category with Binyamin Netanyahu, you expose your own ignorance of Israeli politics.

It never ceases to amuse me how the “pundits” outside of Israel – especially those in the “enlightened” Western media – consider Binyamin Netanyahu a far-right, hawkish neoconservative. It’s all the more ridiculous when you consider that most of Netanyahu’s left-wing detractors in Israel criticize him for many things but rarely call him a far-right hawk.

The Likud is a right of center party, just as Labor is a left of center party. Neither is radical or extremist. If you disagree with Netanyahu and the Likud, do so based on fact, not fluff and vicious canards repeated ad nauseam by people whose knowledge of Israel and its politics is LIMITED TO WHAT THEY CAN READ IN ENGLISH FROM FOREIGN JOURNALISTS.

If you can’t handle the Hebrew reporting from the ground where the action takes place because of your ignorance of the Hebrew language, then at least go to the best source for English-language reporting from Israel, the centrist (more left than right but generally excellent) YNET News, which is the English-language website of Yediot Ahronot (Israel’s best-selling daily newspaper for a couple of decades now).

Visit http://www.ynetnews.com

And get a grip on your Nazi name-dropping. By comparing Netanyahu to Nuremberg, you’re broadcasting your ignorance and proclivity to repeat others’ fantasies and foolishness without checking the facts.

Sahar, your petty and patronizing attitude might mask the ugly occupationist and expansionist policies from your eyes but not from mine. Shalom.

A disgusting embarrassment: http://www.zoa.org/content/dinner2011.asp

Dani ben Leb says:

Jules,
this is you.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIhayNe6BAU
stay away from the meth, read less Blumenthal.

Dami, thanks for the crazy warning. I always enjoy the cheap advice of a moral coward. I read a wide cross section of news…what’s your favorite watering hole – Fox?

Dani ben Leb says:

You are plainly lying Jules.
I think the server is back up at mondoscheiss. please go back.
What you leave at Tablet is like dog faeces stuck in between the beautifully complex relief which Tablet works hard at every day.

If ever I’m in a deep need to be tarred and feathered, defamed, and or smeared in fecal matter I’m sure you’ll be the sick self appointed and self anointed deputy to do it Dani.

Thanks.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

Well well well. Iranian paid bloggers are trained to incite and to insult, objective is to distract the free discussion in free sites. I have encounter them in other blogging places. They use the same methodology. Jules is a paid Iranian blogger. He should be blocked by the moderator. Otherwise he should be ignored altogether.

I saw John Voight years ago in a TV fund raiser of the Lubavitchers. I was pleasantly surprised. It is very refreshing that he is a strong defender of Israel.

Iranian paid bloggers are quite desperate. With all the Muslim countries going haywire, they do not know what to scream at.

Well Jules will be loosing his job. Jules will be going back to his previous assignment, shoveling Iranian camel’s manure.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

Although there is good coming out from paid Iranian bloggers like Jules.

The information of Sahar is excellent

The posting by June is also excellent.

Although is difficult not to be incited by the paid Iranian blogger, just ignore him.

Tablet Magazine has the most free blogging of any other. And it is really honest and fair with Israel. And the people blogging are of a higher level
And quite civil. It is a shame that paid Iranian bloggers disrupt this excellent site. Thus we need the Moderator to chase out Jules the paid Iranian blogger. At minimum I have identified him.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

Has the Iranian paid blogger utter any words about the criminality corruption terrorism played by Iran and his peons. Thousands of missiles planted by Hezbollah in all of the villages in southern Lebanon, there will be enormous civilian casualties indeed. Hamas in Gaza armed also by Iran. The Iranian dictators must be in despair that all the money invested in Syria, Hezbollah, Gaza. Will soon be going down the drain.
Then Ahmadenijad and his master Ayatollah Khameini try to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington and as many civilians as possible.
Well Kadafhy is dead. Soon will see heads roll like Syrias Assad and the Iranian dictators. Is Jules the paid Iranian blogger saying anything about the truth? This word does not exist in their neck of the woods.
Wonder what the Iranian people are thinking. We will never get a straight answer from the paid Iranian bloggers. Notice how Jules without Jill talks about the occupation and attacks the prime minister of Israel. They are pathetic. They should grow up and use civilized intelligent arguments. Where do they recruit these paid Iranian bloggers? Back to my statement, they are Iranian camel manure handlers.

Jean Terry says:

I was a liberal in my younger years and became conservative beginning in my 50’s. I agree totally with Mr. Voight. I love Israel and the injustice that has been done to Israel and the Jews is unconscionable. The press misleads people and I wonder if they are totally blind or not very bright. As a Christian though, I can only think there must be something supernatural about it as it makes no sense at all. Bless Mr. Voight for standing up for Israel.

Jean Terry says:

Glen Beck is certainly not despicable. He is right on and history will prove him right. He is telling truths that most people don’t want to hear as it is too unsettling. The world is on a collision course but we don’t know where the US is headed. It could be the same way or we could again become a light in the darkness.

Glenn Beck is a bi-polar Bozo the clown and sideshow bullshit artist with deep demented delusions of egotistical godhood. He is freak, fetishist, fanatic, fascist, and demagogue. Anybody who would hold fast and and cling to his each and every fearing and hate mongering word is the saddest excuse for a human being of which I have ever heard.

Beck is a severe and profoundly sick man. He lost his show on Fox. What he is doing now a days is only known to his slavishly stupid and simple minded devotees.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGeZQrpZbjI

Beatrix says:

Who cares about Beck? And by all means, let Jules continue. It’s good to know what 5th columnists think. I don’t know that he’s Iranian, but his stilted language indicates that he’s not American, the ponderousness of his posts are indicative of propaganda, as are his constant links to other web sites and the repetition of some of his sentences that he culls from propaganda sources.

Most of us disagree with each other by challenging each others positions. Jules wallows in his hated by personally attacking people he considers to be Jewish. (Not everyone who posts to the Tablet is Jewish. And not all anti-Israeli posts are 5th columnists).

Angelina Jolie may have been channeling her father (from whom she was estranged when she was younger) when she did the movie about Daniel Pearl’s wife. It didn’t do well. Perhaps she should have done one about Daniel, then Marc could have interviewed her.

Zionist says:

Jules is actually taling about himself when he describes Glenn Beck. The anti-semitics pro-Arab terrorist Jew-haters are so ignorant and patheitc.

Rob Braun says:

But Mr. Voight, not all Republicans think alike. Take, let’s say, Pat Buchanan or even present Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, who both see Israel’s continued settlement expansion as a threat to American national security. And, by the way, many Israelis also disagree with Israel’s continued settlement expansion in east Jerusalem and the West Bank as well. They see it as a threat to Israel’s national security! So, being a Zionist doesn’t mean we need to declare all of the Arab population of the West Bank and Jerusalem are “Terrorists and murderers.” Painting any group of people with such a broad brush is never wise or helpful, it just creates a false caricature of the Palestinians that undermines any bases of a dialogue for peace.

Silly simple rabbit Beatrix are for credulous kids…I have no idea what a fifth columnist is but you sound as if you’ve had a fifth of cheap vodka for breakfast with Beck.

I think “movie-star” is really overstating the case.

jzsnake says:

I hope Voight is making some money from these gigs cause I guarantee you he’s losing jobs in liberal Hollywood. Just like Juan Williams got fired from NPR for not following the party line.

The mocking and sardonic tone of the article betrays the authors left “progressive” liberal bias. Tiresome to say the least.

Peter W says:

What’s funny is that Voight, the actor, comes across as much more informed and intellectually astute than the journalist who authored this.

After study a few of the weblog posts in your website now, and I truly like your method of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site record and might be checking back soon. Pls take a look at my web site as properly and let me know what you think.

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Cowboy

The movie star Jon Voight, once an icon of the counterculture, is now among America’s loudest conservative voices supporting Israel

More on Tablet:

The True Story of Thanksgiving

By Zachary Schrieber — A new historical account was recently discovered. It is recorded here.