'Superman' Jumps to Israel's Defense

Defying stereotype as 'anti-Israel', Hollywood stars continue to defend the Jewish state over Gaza operation against Hamas.

Dr. Rafael Medoff ,

Hollywood actor Dean Cain
Hollywood actor Dean Cain

In the Gaza conflict, it's Israel that best represents "truth, justice, and the American way," says Dean Cain, the actor best known for his role as Superman on ABC Television.

Speaking on the Fox-TV talk show "Outnumbered" on August 8, Cain said that Israel, like the United States, is a democracy that is threatened by terrorists, and deserves America's wholehearted supported. "Clearly Hamas are terrorists," Cain said. "And if rockets were being fired from Mexico into my home town of San Diego, Americans wouldn't accept that for a minute, we'd be taking over that part of Mexico and making it part of California."

Cain, who played Superman on ABC's "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" in the 1990s, is the latest in a growing list of Hollywood celebrities who are speaking out in support of Israel.

The first Tinseltown figures to speak up were critical of Israel, but then backed down in the face of a strong backlash of pro-Israel sentiment.

Husband-and-wife actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz were among the Spanish celebrities whose names appeared on a July 29 open letter, in Spanish, accusing Israel of committing "genocide." At about the same time, actress and pop star Madonna tweeted about "the innocent children of Gaza," and teen idol Selena Gomez sent out a "Pray for Gaza" instagram.

Then Academy-Award winning actor Jon Voight ("Deliverance," "Midnight Cowboy") led a chorus of pro-Israel responses. In an open letter to Cruz and others, published in The Hollywood Reporter on August 2. Voight wrote: "Hang your heads in shame….You have been able to become famous and have all your monetary gains because you are in a democratic country: America...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 hastened to acknowledge that she is "not an expert on the situation," insisting that she just meant to call for peace. Madonna sent out a follow-up tweet, emphasizing, "I do not support Hamas!" And Gomez sent out a new instagram, in which she asserted "to be clear, I am not picking any sides, I am praying for peace and humanity for all."

Other pop culture stars have likewise come down on Israel's side. Comedian and talk show host Howard Stern praised Israel as "the only democracy over there, it's the only friend we have who's willing to fight and stand up for what's right…[In Gaza,] they elected terrorists to run their country." Hollywood veteran Joan Rivers famously took a shot at the youthful Selena Gomez, asking a TMZ interviewer if Gomez "even knows how to spell 'Palestinian'."  

More surprising have been the comments of several Hollywood notables who in the past had been critical of Israeli policies. Actor and director Woody Allen said the fact that "the Arabs were not very nice" was what "led to problems" such as Gaza.  Bill Maher, the comedian and HBO talk show host, said on his July 18 program, "I feel terrible for a Palestinian child who dies. But if it's your father, your brother, your uncle who's firing those rockets into Israel, whose fault is it really? Do you really expect the Israelis not to retaliate?"

For all its reputation as a bastion for radicals, the fact is that in the 1940s, Hollywood provided crucial support for the movement to create a Jewish State. 

Marlon Brando and Paul Muni, working for the union minimum wage, starred in "A Flag is Born," a 1946 Broadway play by Ben Hecht that helped mobilize public support for Zionism. Some of the performances also co-starred a young Sidney Lumet, who later directed such hits as "Twelve Angry Men" and "Dog Day Afternoon." Funds raised by the play were used to purchase a ship that tried to bring 600 survivors to Palestine, and drew international attention when it was intercepted by the British.

Both Brando and Stella Adler, the renowned actress and acting coach, were featured speakers at numerous pro-statehood rallies organized by the activists known as the Bergson Group. Famed horror film actors Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price also volunteered for Bergson events, while Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin performed benefit concerts to raise money for the group. Other Bergson backers included singer Frank Sinatra, comedian Carl Reiner, Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers, and actress Jane Wyatt (later the co-star of the TV series "Father Knows Best"), to name just a few. 

And the connection between Superman and Zionism long predates Dean Cain: Bernard Luber, who later produced the 1950s television series "The Adventures of Superman," supported the Bergson Group's campaigns in the 1940s in support of Jewish statehood.

Certainly there are some cultural celebrities who speak out on world affairs simply because they enjoy jumping on the nearest bandwagon. And there are others who say provocative things merely to attract attention and thereby boost their careers. But there are also many Hollywood stars who care genuinely about what happens overseas, and want to support the good guys. Today, many of them are beginning to realize - as an earlier Hollywood generation did - that the Israelis are the good guys.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C.is coauthor, with Prof. Chaim I. Waxman, of The Historical Dictionary of Zionism.