Since acting in the classic film Irma LaDouce in 1963, James Caan has appeared in eighty other movies, including his iconic role as don-in-waiting Michael Corleone's older brother Sonny in The Godfather. But until now Caan, a self-described lifelong Zionist, had not visited the state of Israel, an apparent shortcoming remedied last week by the Einstein Fund, the Hebrew University and the Ministry of Tourism, all of which combined to host Caan's maiden voyage to the Holy Land.
Clearly a man who speaks his mind, Caan left us in a quandary, having admonished us not to pay attention to Hollywood types, dismissing politically-active colleagues who act as though they hold impressive foreign policy credentials. But Caan himself had much to say. We recommend reading it for yourself…
The Media Line: The entertainment world seems to be divided between those who travel to Israel and those who won't. Did anyone ask you not to visit Israel?
James Caan: They would have gotten punched in the face. No, I don't hang around with anti-Semites if that's what you mean and I don't know any. And if I did, I'd punch them in the face.
TML: Is this your first visit to Israel? How does it feel?
JC: Yes. It's great so far. They are wearing me out with these tours and I just had my back operated on, so walking up and down those hills is not so much fun. But it's not supposed to be. Yesterday was great. I was at the Western Wall and got a great history lesson going through the tunnels. It's just mind-boggling.
TML: What does that make you feel after seeing it for the first time?
JC: It's my people. It's where I come from and it's just the wonder of how that was made. They talk about the pyramids. Well, that's a piece of cake. This tunnel is mindboggling. I saw a rock that was 40-something feet long, 11 feet high and weighed 560 tons. Who moved that? Three strong guys?
Then I went to visit Professor Hanoch Gutfreund (at Hebrew University) That was incredible. We sat for an hour and talked about Einstein. He has Einstein's collection. They have everything there. I talked about things I never heard.
TML: What was the reason for your visit?
JC: I've always wanted to go to Israel and was never given the opportunity. I was too busy having children all the time. Getting married and having children. Now, I took my 20-year-old son, and I thought it would be good for him to see as well as myself. I met the prime minister at a party a few months ago, and he said we'll have dinner together. I'm going to see him tomorrow, which is exciting. To bring my son over here—he plays football and this and that so he's used to smoking and drinking and I don't know what they do but I can't find him, can't catch him. I think this will stick with him, though.
TML: During your long career—53 years since your first film—you've been described as outspoken. In fact, you've been described as an "outspoken liberal," and one newspaper said you described yourself as an "ultra-conservative." What are your views on the Middle East?
JC: I don't know who writes that. I'm not outspoken when it comes to politics. Wherever this information comes from, that person should have their head examined.
Look, they didn't interpret what I said properly. I said, in a joking way, that I was a radical "middle of the roader." I was not into politics. I don't like actors who get on television and try to sway people. They don't have political science as a major. They're morons like me.
What's been going in the world today is this lack of current government and these entitlement programs, the weakness of the country that I live in which was once the sheriff. I think through power there is strength. Not that they go out and beat up people, but you say, "You touch her again and I'll break your neck." So that's all. That doesn't mean it keeps peace. When I refer to myself as being…I said, if this continues, this ridiculous, horrible, stupid policy, these policies that deal with Iran; and (the president) is partially responsible for the black-white divide. He's done less for "his people" or Americans. I mean, that's the goal. He got involved in the Ferguson shooting. He was wrong. He got involved in the other one with the DA. But you don't hear him say anything about Chicago where 30 kids a day are getting shot. Why don't you talk about that? Or the white guy who got shot by two black guys. A crime is a crime. Cops are being cops. It's got to be the worst job in the world today. I get flustered like I would in the streets.
It's driving me to be an "ultra-conservative." It's like horses for courses. Right now we need a hawk. That's a very ultra-statement. But it doesn't mean that it's my lifestyle. I was fortunate enough to be friendly with Bill Clinton who I thought was a great president. He was socially liberal and he was fiscally conservative. So it was not a problem. I have a problem with her and obviously with Trump. But at least with Trump, you don't know exactly what he'll do but I do think you know exactly what she'll do.
TML: Israel's critics have moved to boycotts to make their point and the effort finds a great deal of support in the entertainment and educational communities in the United States and elsewhere. What do you say to your Hollywood colleagues who urge their fans to divest from Israel?
JC: I don't like it because none of them have studied political science. And they stand up there and they have billions of dollars. So they can afford to be liberal. Or I can get on my triple-7 or private business jet to fly to the problem and talk about the problem.
Give money to where it belongs if that's how you feel, don't just shoot your mouth off. I don't take part in that. I hate when they talk about the Hollywood liberals. My best friend, Robert Duvall, and Gary Sinise, Friends of Abe (a secret society of Hollywood Conservatives ) who are conservative. As a matter of fact, the funniest thing was, when I went to a big dinner with 500 people and I thought I'd go with my buddy. We're listening and we sat down for dinner. And then John McCain got up and said "I'd like to start off by thanking James Caan for risking his career by coming here tonight." That's how silly it is.
TML: What are you taking away with you?
JC: I haven't finished. A lot of education so far, a stronger feeling for Israel, which in turn gives me a stronger feeling against our current government who I feel like is not the greatest ally in the world to Israel and hopefully that will change.
Article written by Felice Friedson
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line