Okay, so he was a philanthropist, and he believed – and lived his word – of giving back to society. And he was a brilliant actor, and, damn, one of the best looking men on screen.
But, as my good inspiring friend Marcy Newman reminded me, he did star in Exodus, “the most dangerously disturbing zionist propaganda film of all time.”
The film was one of the principal movers of the Palestinian image in the US from being nonexistent to being negative. As explained by Kathleen Christison: “Two trends in public thinking in the 1960s tipped the scales against the Palestinians even further. One was the revival of interest in the Holocaust because of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961. The trial brought out the horrors of the Holocaust again and had a truly electrifying effect on American public opinion. The Holocaust was written about and discussed by intellectuals, including primarily Elie Wiesel, and it was portrayed in popular books and movies, principally Leon Uris’s book and movie Exodus, which had an immense influence on an entire generation of Americans. In all of this, not only did Israel gain added sympathy and affection, but in a kind of zero-sum effect, every notch up in the Israeli image produced a notch down in the Arab image. Friends of Israel laid out for the public a kind of continuum of Jewish suffering, and Arabs were assigned the role of latter-day Hitlers, still trying to exterminate Jews. When the 1967 war broke out–the second of these major events of the ’60s–many people saw it as a concerted Arab attempt to continue Hitler’s work and genuinely feared that Israel was facing another Holocaust.”
Another writer explains that the book – and the movie – “the shadow it casts remains a long one. Exodus remains a good example of the argument that it is works of popular literature, with all their shortcomings, that influence history far more than do more highly regarded works of literary fiction. …. Yale’s Deborah Dash Moore has even argued that Exodus not only gave Israel its positive persona, but provided the narrative used by the U.S. media to cover the 1967 Six Day War. Yitzhak Rabin, notes Moore, was identified by both Life and The New York Times as the prototype for the novel’s protagonist. Moore’s thesis is that Uris borrowed his essential dramatic elements from the American Western. As recently as 2001, Edward Said was still complaining that “The main narrative model that dominates American thinking [about Israel] still seems to be Leon Uris’s 1950 [sic] novel Exodus.”
So, yes, Marcy, Paul Newman’s involvement in such a destructive, Zionist film definitely causes him to lose some points. To lose so many points, in fact, that in my mind he has been relegated to another pretty face in Hollywood. What is critical in doing good is to also do no harm. The harm that Newman caused in his involvement in that film outweights the good that he did in his philanthropy.