Hollywood movie star and veteran peace campaigner Richard Gere weighed into the brewing corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling an Israeli interviewer over the weekend that accepting cigars would not be “a big deal” if the prime minister clinched a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In Israel for the premiere of Joseph Cedar’s “Norman,” Gere referred to a current police probe into Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan’s gifts to the Netanyahus, said to consist of cigars and champagne valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in the affair, dubbed Case 1,000, arguing the Milchans are his best friends.
“I’ve done two films with him [Milchan] and he was always a gentleman. I don’t know the details. But again, what’s the big deal about … cigars?” Gere told Channel 2 on Saturday. “If you’re dealing with guys who are committed to something extraordinary and got it done, who cares about the cigars?”
But, he added, Netanyahu must “come up with a peace plan now to make it happen.
“That’s what makes the other thing [receiving gifts] okay to me,” added the movie star, who insisted that peace with the Palestinians was possible.
“If you want it you can have it. I know from my life and everything around me, if you want it bad enough, you can have it,” he said.
Gere, 67, on his fourth visit to Israel, also revealed that disgraced former prime minister Ehud Olmert, currently sitting in prison on corruption charges, was “a friend of mine. With all the challenges he’s had, I really thought there was hope for this conflict with him.”
“If Olmert had done the peace process, who cares about whatever it was he took — he got the peace process done! And the same with this situation you’re dealing with now,” said Gere.
Asked whether he was being naive, Gere said: “I’m extremely naive. I’d rather be naive than cynical.”
Gere, who met with activists from the organizations Breaking the Silence, Women Wage Peace and YaLa Young Leaders during his Israel visit — also compared Netanyahu to US President Donald Trump.
“Trump, Bibi, these people who don’t really get it in the fullness of things. It’s all deals to them. It’s a kind of mentality. It’s not looking for the ultimate good for the largest amount of people,” he said.
Adding that he “probably shouldn’t be saying this — this is not my place,” he said Trump, “doesn’t seem to have any moral center to him. He’s a carnival barker. He’s completely damaging the office of the presidency.”
The current wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the US was “absolutely connected” with Trump’s ascension to power, he charged.
“The crudity of his language and ideas opened the Pandora’s box. I’m not saying he created the Pandora’s box, but he made it okay to say and do horrible things,” Gere said.
“In America, we’re in a very dark moment with a very dark leader. There’s a sense of acceptance, that the terrible status quo is the way it’s going to be, ” Gere said. “I keep looking for hope and possibility and light.”
The star of blockbusters such as “American Gigolo,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and “Pretty Woman,” currently plays the title role in “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” — the tale of a New York Jew who does exorbitant favors for an Israeli prime minister, who is played by Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi.
The film appears to echo the story of Morris Talansky, Cedar’s uncle by marriage and the man at the center of one of the high profile bribery cases which landed Olmert in jail.
But at a press conference on Thursday, Cedar insisted that the character of Norman was not based on Talansky.
Talansky and Olmert were longtime acquaintances, and the US businessman famously gave the prime minister “cash-stuffed envelopes” on various occasions. Eight months of Olmert’s prison sentence were due to a conviction in that affair.