University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
JournalHistorical Research
Journal publication date3 Apr 2019
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Apr 2019


Hollywood's historical engagement with the State of Israel has long fascinated academic researchers and the general public, and no Hollywood figure has been more prominently engaged with Israel than Kirk Douglas: one of Hollywood's foremost actors, producers, and liberal political activists in the twentieth century. Utilizing archival and media sources in the United States and Israel, this article explores Kirk Douglas' decades-long support for Israel, both on and off the screen. It charts Douglas' central role in the production of no less than four American cinema and television feature films about Israel, from the 1950s to the 1980s, which projected to American and international audiences an Israel providing Jewish Holocaust survivors with an ancient national home and fighting heroically for its survival against invading armies or insidious terrorists. No less important, the article sheds light off screen on Kirk Douglas' longstanding Zionist philanthropy and passionate advocacy for Israel: his participation in numerous Israeli fund-raising drives and his public support for controversial Israeli government policies in times of peace and war, more recently picked up by his actor-producer son, Michael Douglas.
By examining the personal role of Kirk Douglas in supporting the state of Israel over some 70 years, this article discusses a number of themes which have intrigued historians researching the United States’ relationship with Israel. These include: the changing nature of the ideological attachment to Israel felt by large segments of the American public, especially liberals and Jews; the role of influential cultural agents such as Hollywood films and the American news media in the cultural construction of this ideological attachment; and the social power of celebrity and its ability to promote causes and shape domestic and international perceptions. The article demonstrates the importance of Hollywood in bonding the United States and Israel and in being at the cultural center of the alliance between the two countries. However, it also argues that the special relationship between Hollywood and Israel showed signs of weakening in the early twenty-first century, as the views of those like Kirk Douglas were challenged by a new generation of Jewish liberals that increasingly questioned its loyalty to Israel.


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