Kirk Douglas stung by recent accusations of racism

LOS ANGELES — In a lifetime of Hollywood stardom, Kirk Douglas has shrugged off hundreds of rumors about his personal life. But he is deeply frustrated and angered by the latest story making the rounds of the international media.

During the past months, Douglas has seen himself described as an "anti-Arab racist," as "a man known for his racist positions against Arabs and Moslems" and as a partner of the controversial Irving Moskowitz regarding land purchases in the Arab and/or Jewish quarters of Jerusalem's Old City.

"When I read this story for the first time, my initial reaction was to laugh. But then I became angry about this complete fabrication," the 80-year-old actor said in an interview at his Beverly Hills home. "All my life I have fought against racism of any kind and in a small way have tried to diminish hatred between different races and religions."

The rumor apparently started with an announcement that Douglas was to be honored at a dinner hosted by Aish HaTorah, attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent visit to Los Angeles.

Aish HaTorah, whose main building stands opposite the Western Wall, is an Orthodox yeshiva that emphasizes its worldwide outreach to Jews of all denominations, as well as its non-political nature.

Following his return to his Jewish roots some years ago, Douglas has taken classes at the Aish HaTorah branch in Los Angeles. He has also contributed $2 million toward the construction of a multimedia theater at the Aish HaTorah World Center in Jerusalem, where visitors can learn about the history of Judaism and the Western Wall.

The Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida was apparently the first to add an ominous twist to Douglas's involvement with Aish HaTorah. Under the headline, "A racist American actor finances settlement in Jerusalem," the paper jumped from Douglas' theater project to a linkage with Moskowitz and his controversial housing purchases in the predominantly Arab Ras al-Amud section of Jerusalem.

From there, the rumor spread quickly. The New York Daily News reported that "`Spartacus' star Kirk Douglas" had joined an "Abraham Moscovitz" in financing right-wing Israeli groups — an obvious errant reference to Moskowitz.

Back in Israel, the daily Jerusalem Post reprinted the original item in its "Palestinian Media Review" column, while the bi-weekly Jerusalem Report, citing a story in the mass circulation Yediot Achranot, noted that Douglas was interested in buying property in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

The French news agency picked up the item, while the Associated Press, the only medium to actually check up on the rumor, apparently decided that there was no story.

What enrages Douglas in particular is that far from stoking Arab-Israeli tensions, he has funded the renovation of a playground for Arab children in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem at a cost of $180,000.

"I dedicated the park to the memory of the Oklahoma children, to teach the lesson that bombs kill kids," Douglas said.

Funding public playgrounds for children has become a trademark of Douglas and his wife Anne. There are now parks and playgrounds funded by the couple in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem, in Kiryat Gat and in the Ezra neighborhood of Tel Aviv, dedicated to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin.

Douglas is now planning a project in the mixed Jewish-Arab area of Jaffa's Ajami neighborhood, while back home, the Douglases are renovating 31 run-down playgrounds across Los Angeles.

"All my life I've believed that if kids were given a chance to grow up and play together, maybe they'd also get along as adults," said Douglas. "That's why these ridiculous charges of racism hurt me so much."

Douglas stated categorically that he has never spent or given a single dollar to promote land purchases in Jerusalem, in Israel or anywhere in the Middle East.

As for the alleged relationship to Moskowitz, Douglas said he has never met or talked to the American millionaire.

Recalling the times when Douglas' name was frequently linked romantically to this or that Hollywood beauty, there was at least the hook that he might have squired her to a fashionable restaurant.

"But as for Moskowitz," said Douglas, "I've never even taken him out for dinner."

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent