Back in the spring of 2002, as the Second Intifada was raging, American filmmaker Oliver Stone came on a trip to the Holy Land. He left his life of leisure back in LA to document the intense hatred and violence between Israelis and Palestinians up close, accompanied by his son Sean and local production teams. He filmed the harsh reality that included major terrorist attacks, IDF incursions, political dilemmas and the moral issues pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Those elements were weaved together into one documentary called Persona Non Grata. The name itself was somewhat peculiar, considering senior officials from both sides of the conflict were eager to meet the Oscar-winning filmmaker face to face. We're talking all the way from the commanders of the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Brigade to former Israeli prime ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, and even then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The only one who evaded him was Yasser Arafat.
Emanating from his visit, Stone created what was probably one of the most well-balanced and thought-provoking documentaries that were ever created by a foreign filmmaker about the Middle East conflict.
Fast forward two decades later and Stone is set to return to the Holy Land as the guest of honor of the Jerusalem Film Festival. Stone has credits aplenty. Everybody remembers masterpieces such as Platoon, which won the Oscar for Best Film back in 1987; Born on the 4th of July, which he won as a director back in 1990 and Midnight Express, which earned him another Oscar as a screenwriter in 1979. Those and many other accolades have positioned him as one of the world's foremost filmmakers.
His cinematic accolades notwithstanding, 76-year-old Stone is considered one of the most controversial personas in Hollywood, largely owing to his poignant criticism toward the United States, his inexplicable affection for America's enemies and last but not least, his intense objection to America's allies, Israel chief among them. Even the laziest of Google searches would turn up several anti-Israeli comments of his from recent years.
Many view Stone as one of the most prominent conspiracy theorists active before the dawn of the Internet. He was blamed for spreading historical fictional accounts about blanks being shot at President John F. Kennedy. In his 2010 docu-series called The Secret History of the United States, he raised the theory according to which American industrialists were supporting Hitler as he was fighting their war against socialism.
He also granted an interview with the Sunday Times in which he explained the Nazis actually killed many more Russians than they did Jews. Information that was supposedly buried due to the Jews alleged disproportionate control of the media. One of Stone's most infamous quotes was "Israel has fucked up United States foreign policy for years."
Naturally, the Anti-Defamation League, as well as other Jewish organizations, at which those sayings were targeted, responded quite fervently, labeling him an antisemite. Oliver Stone, whose father is Jewish, was forced to apologize.
"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."
In an interview with comedian and political commentator Bill Maher, Stone said "I feel our country has lost its anchor. We have a partner state that works with us and has its own foreign ministry known as AIPAC, and they dictate terms to us. As a nuclear power, they wanted to arm South Africa back in 1985 while it was still an apartheid state. Their interests do not align with ours, nor with those of the citizens of the United States, and yet they continue to dictate to us."
Stone's criticism of Israel and its cozy ties with the United States came up in the thriller called Snowden, which Oliver Stone directed, inspired by the story of Edward Snowden, who uncovered that average Americans were being subjected to surveillance by U.S. authorities. The movie dropped some hints that the Americans were inspired by some of the tactics employed by Israel's security services.
"Israel was always rather demanding," he said. "As far as nuclear arms are concerned, it violates international law." He added there are no substantial differences between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. "Obama is not a big fan of confrontation. It is possible that while inept at acquiring the necessary majority in Congress, he is actually one of the most ruthless presidents we've ever had. We have bombed several Islamic nations while he was in power."
Stone is known to be a bit too fond of autocrats, mostly because they stand steadfast against the American government. His worldview dictates that the United States is an empire with incredible power and influence and must be limited on a global scale in order to prevent it from destroying nations it views as enemies, including itself.
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was actually one of Stone's friends, alongside Cuban leader Fidel Castro, to which Stone dedicated no less than three documentaries. Stone also tried documenting then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unfortunately for him - to no avail.
However, he did get to spend some quality time with Russian President Vladimir Putin and collected all of the materials he had on Putin to compile a series called The Putin Interviews. In order to promote it, he went on Stephen Colbert's talk show. The conversation between them turned tense, on the verge of explosive, when Colbert asked Stone about Russian involvement in U.S. presidential elections.
In an unaired segment, the controversial director scorned Colbert by saying “Israel had far more involvement in the U.S. election than Russia.” Stone then reportedly challenged Colbert, saying, “Why don’t you ask me about that?” The talk show host was said to respond, “I’ll ask you about that when you make a documentary about Israel!”
The intensity of Stone's verbal onslaught against Israel has been on the rise, and is focused primarily on Prime Minister Netanyahu, which he labeled as "madman," "a monster" and "sick".
In an October 2018 interview with Indiewire, when asked why he chose not to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential elections, Stone said "I thought that Hillary was going in the direction of backing Iran, and Russia, and being pro-Israel, and we’ve gone too far with Israel. We’re following a madman with this fellow, Netanyahu, who has been a real disaster for the world — in the same sense of the Saudi Arabian Prince Salman. He’s the same kind of monster. They’re two sick people, and they’ve got ahold of Trump now. I’m scared about it."
He further added that the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia was the worst. "It enslaves us to Israel's interests. One of the most underhanded goals by the American State Department, is to undermine Middle Eastern stability. It's a complete disaster. If Trump declares war on Iran, it will lead to another disaster."
Stone wasn't too crazy about Netanyahu's railing against the nuclear pact that was being formalized with the Islamic Republic during the Obama administration. "Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia are doing their best to destroy our only chance for a safer world."
On December 12, 2017, Stone went on Facebook and wrote a post in which he tied the legal entanglement of Trump's national security advisor Michael Flynn to the false allegations of Russian involvement with the American elections and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"The Flynn guilty plea exposes if anything the groveling that goes on in US circles to help Israel get away with just about everything -- from ‘stealing’ our nuclear secrets to now declaring Jerusalem the capital of the country," he wrote.
"The ‘victories’ here belong to Netanyahu and Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia -- and stupidity in general. I fear for our upcoming Syria policy. Soon we’ll be saying that we have our troops there in order to prevent Iran from occupying Syrian territory east of the Euphrates. Interesting that this is going on just as Russia is pulling its troops from Syria.
Given the power of the AIPAC lobby in Washington, the Las Vegas money of the bellicose Sheldon Adelson, and Netanyahu’s brazen and multiple trips to lecture our Congress, it stupefies me still that our human intelligence allows us to believe Russia has any influence whatsoever in our country."
With his frequent sayings supporting the Islamic Republic, Stone actually became somewhat of a good friend to Iran and came to a personal visit to a Tehran Film Festival back in 2018. In an interview with a local Iranian channel, he said "I view history as a tragedy. The United States opens wars in order to destroy everything."
Upon returning stateside, he posted on Facebook again, praising Iran and criticizing the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, which he called "Three heavyweight dangers to the world that verbally attack Iran for fictional reasons."
After the assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani 18 months later, Stone berated Trump. "Because of him, it's now clear to the world that the United States is unilaterally supporting Israeli occupation of Palestine. He has completely debunked the fictional assumption that the United States is a neutral arbitrator in the Middle East."
Two years ago, Stone granted an interview with Ynet's sister publication Yedioth Ahronoth and was asked whether there will ever be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to which he responded, "I don't know. I don't think the Palestinians are going to leave you alone. And that is something you're going to have to deal with. It reminds me of the entire Black Lives Matter saga. I love peace, and it should be everyone's obsession to see it come alive in the world. I believe in coexistence."
Oliver Stone's fervent support of Iran goes hand in hand with his relationship with his son, Sean Stone, a filmmaker in his own right who converted to Islam in 2012 and took up the mantle of Shiite faith while he was staying in Iran.
In an interview with CNN, he defended then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amid the latter's outrageous sayings regarding the Holocaust. "I grew up with many Orthodox Jews, who are fervently against the existence of Israel," he said. "Regardless of his opinion of the Holocaust, it does not justify occupying the West Bank and what it has done to the Palestinians. I don't want there to be a war and if it happens because Israel starts bombing Iran for its so-called pursuit of a nuclear weapon, it is a complete lie. It'll be very dangerous if Israel received a green light to attack Iran."
One year later, Stone Jr. gave an interview with Russian Network RT, in which he proved that while he might have inherited his father's political inclination, he failed to inherit his knowledge and sophistication. Aside from repeating a widely-debunked conspiracy theory saying 9/11 was initiated by the U.S. government, he also tried justifying the existence of Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy.
"I don't view them as terrorists," he said. "I view them as stalwart defenders of Lebanese sovereignty, given the fact Israel has invaded Lebanon many times, so saying Iran is a terror-sponsoring state is a major exaggeration."
He also tried justifying the Arab world's hatred of Israel, saying "When they view the European Jews and the Russians who are immigrating into Israel, they say to themselves 'look at those European settlers. They are not Jews and have no roots.' I am not in favor of attacks against Israel, nor do I support its dissolvement, but I am saying that there is a reason Israel is so widely hated."
Ever since that quote, Sean Stone, who changed his name to Ali upon converting to Islam, has maintained a much lower profile, unlike his dad.
When you take Stone's oratorical history into account, his invitation to the Jerusalem Film Festival, and as the guest of honor no less, seems somewhat puzzling. His presence might put its organizers in a problematic stance against the Israeli government and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and perhaps also invoke anger within the Israeli public. And that is even before we mention his inexplicable support of Vladimir Putin, who is probably considered to be the most hated man in the world right now, in light of his invasion of Ukraine.
This raises an interesting question: Why is Stone so adamant about coming to Israel, the same nation he finds to be so repugnant, all the way to the city that he doesn't even believe is the Israeli capital?
The truth is that despite being quite active as a filmmaker, and taking into account his controversial image, all that he has left is bouncing from one festival to another and enjoying the honor he is bestowed upon by the crowd of fervent film enthusiasts.
To his credit, despite his clear reticence of the Israeli government and its policies, he is not a member of BDS, and instead of boycotting Israel, he prefers to stand up to it in oratory form, which at the very least creates some sort of discussion that was absent from our daily political discourse for so many years.
Stone volunteered to join the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, from which he returned as a determined man, vowing to combat what he views to be American imperialism. This was evidenced by him risking his life, while being led blindfolded in the middle of the night to a rendezvous with the commanders of the al-Aqsa Brigade in an underground bunker in Ramallah, all while Operation Protective Edge was unfolding.
"They were young guys and they had their masks and I came at midnight," he recounted on an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. "I was more scared of the Israelis than them because the Israelis could be tracking with all this equipment. You know, blow the shit out of us when we're in there. That's what I'm scared of. The Israelis were dangerous.
"They saw people going into an underground bunker with people with masks and who knows what they were thinking. They have great reconnaissance so you have to be careful when you fight them... I was very anxious to meet them. They call them terrorists but, you know, who's a terrorist these days? We can bomb other countries to death and call ourselves the good guys."