Jerusalem Film Festival stands by decision to honor Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone has criticized Israeli influence on American politics, downplayed the Holocaust, defended Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and complained about Jewish political influence.

 OLIVER STONE (top left) with a delegation of international figures, meet with then-Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in 2002 (photo credit: LASZLO BALOGH/REUTERS)
OLIVER STONE (top left) with a delegation of international figures, meet with then-Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in 2002

The management of the upcoming Jerusalem Film Festival is standing behind its decision to invite Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone, who has made remarks deemed antisemitic and pro-Putin, as one of its guests of honor.

A representative of the festival, which is run by the Jerusalem Cinematheque, cited the statement about Stone on the festival’s program. It describes why Stone was chosen to receive the Jerusalem Film Festival Achievement Award, and it reads, in part: “Oliver Stone is one of the most important contemporary voices in contemporary American culture. Living up to his name, he’s left no stone unturned to reveal the truth about his homeland’s past and present. With politically charged and activist cinema that’s engaging and communicative, Oliver Stone’s work has given rise to some of the most iconic Hollywood films of the past four decades.... We are proud to present Oliver Stone with the Jerusalem Film Festival Achievement Award and to thank him for his canonical films and the questions they have forced us to ask.”

In recent years, Stone’s films and public statements have raised controversy and led some to criticize him for being antisemitic and pro-Putin. While two-time Best Director Oscar winner Stone, whose father was Jewish, has made such hugely successful and critically acclaimed films as Platoon, a gritty look at an idealistic young soldier in the Vietnam War; Wall Street, a drama about a young man who takes on a greedy tycoon; and Born on the Fourth of July, a biopic about a paralyzed Vietnam veteran and human-rights activist, starting with his 1991 movie JFK, he began to turn outside the political mainstream. JFK stars Kevin Costner as a New Orleans district attorney investigating alternate theories of the Kennedy assassination, and Stone continued to pursue the subject in other films and television series.

Oliver Stone's controversial comments on the Holocaust, Iran, Vladimir Putin

But more disturbing to many is that in the past decade or so, he has criticized Israeli influence on American politics, notably in a 2010 interview with Britain’s Sunday Times in which he downplayed the Holocaust, defended Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and complained about the extent of Jewish political influence.

In the interview, Stone said America’s focus on the Holocaust was a product of the “Jewish domination of the media.” He said his then upcoming Showtime documentary series The Untold History of the United States would put Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin “in context.” “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million killed],” Stone said.

Adolf Hitler (credit: MIHAILO1997/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Adolf Hitler (credit: MIHAILO1997/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

When asked by the interviewer why so much of an emphasis had been placed on the Holocaust, Stone responded, “The Jewish domination of the media. There’s a major lobby in the United States. They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years.” Stone, who recently met with Ahmadinejad, said American policy toward Iran was “horrible.”

“Iran isn’t necessarily the good guy,” he said. “But we don’t know the full story!”

Former Diaspora affairs and public diplomacy minister Yuli Edelstein slammed Stone for his remarks, saying, “Beyond the ignorance he proves with his comments, his demonization of the Jewish people could be a sequel to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.... When a man of Stone’s stature says such things, it could lead to a new wave of antisemitism and anti-Israelism, and it may even cause real harm to Jewish communities and individuals.”

Abraham Foxman, who was national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “Oliver Stone has once again shown his conspiratorial colors with his comments about ‘Jewish domination of the media’ and control over US foreign policy. His words conjure up some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence.”

A day later, Stone walked back much of what he said in remarks quoted by The Wall Street Journal: “In trying to make a broader historical point about the range of atrocities the Germans committed against many people, I made a clumsy association about the Holocaust, for which I am sorry and I regret. Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry. The fact that the Holocaust is still a very important, vivid and current matter today is, in fact, a great credit to the very hard work of a broad coalition of people committed to the remembrance of this atrocity – and it was an atrocity.”

Stone had previously raised an uproar when he defended Hitler at a press conference in January 2010. “Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it’s been used cheaply,” he said. “He’s the product of a series of actions. It’s cause and effect.” Simon Wiesenthal Center director Rabbi Marvin Hier responded by saying, “To talk about ‘placing Adolf Hitler in context’ is like placing cancer in context, instead of recognizing cancer for what it really is – a horrible disease, just as we must recognize Hitler as the ultimate expression of evil.”

WHILE STONE condemned Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, he made a 2017 documentary series for Showtime, The Putin Interviews, consisting of interviews with the Russian president, and he made numerous statements before the war supporting the Russian government’s stance on Ukraine. For example, in 2014 he said that Viktor Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president who was overthrown in the Ukrainian revolution, was forced to leave by armed “neo-Nazi radicals.” He also intimated in a 2014 Facebook post that the CIA was responsible for deposing Yanukovich, saying that following “the tragic aftermath of this coup, the West has maintained the dominant narrative of ‘Russia in Crimea,’ while the true narrative is ‘USA in Ukraine’.... The United States and its allies in NATO have been provoking Russia for, since two years now, actually three years – over the Ukraine.”

The Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs July 13-23, is presenting a tribute to Stone, but is showing mostly his older, critically acclaimed films. The tribute will include Platoon, Wall Street, JFK, and Natural Born Killers, a look at a serial-killer couple and a critique of tabloid media coverage. The only recent film that will be shown is Stone’s 2022 pro-nuclear power documentary, Nuclear Now.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.