In his latest film role, this Philadelphia-born WASP Buddhist plays a Jewish character (not for the first time), who is personally connected to an Israeli prime minister reminiscent of Ehud Olmert. “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” is directed by Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar; Gere has just visited Israel on a promotional tour. A Haaretz article (excerpted below) reports on his clear and sharply articulated views at a press conference, including his mention of J Street, Women Wage Peace and Breaking the Silence:
. . . Gere has been meeting with a variety of organizations working toward Palestinian-Israeli coexistence and reconciliation. In the past, he tended to focus on the positive and hold back when it came to criticizing the Israeli government’s policies. Not this time.
“Obviously this occupation is destroying everyone,” he says. “There’s no defense of this occupation. Settlements are such an absurd provocation … and they are certainly not part of the program of someone who wants a genuine peace process.” He pauses before adding, “Just to be clear about this: I denounce violence on all sides of this. And, of course, Israelis should feel secure. But Palestinians should not feel desperate.”
. .. . [H]e said he was “taken” with two groups he visited on the day of the premiere: Women Wage Peace, which rallies Israeli and Palestinian women together in political action; and YaLa, which trains youth for leadership, harnessing social media to learn communication, peacemaking and leadership skills and promoting ongoing dialogue.
“What I liked about both these groups that I met – it wasn’t that fatalistic, depressing energy … it was visionary, hopeful, filled with joy, love and commitment. And it wasn’t about one-off events expressing frustration. It was about, ‘We’re here until it’s over. We’re going to keep doing this.’”
Gere also met with representatives of the nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence in New York before his trip, and said he planned to meet with them in Israel as well.
The demonization of the group by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others on the right appalled him, he said, as have the condemnations of J Street by the Trump administration’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
“It is all so counter to what I know of Jewish culture,” Gere says. “Questioning authority makes you a kapo? To question authority makes you a traitor? If you question bad policies you are a self-hating Jew? That is insane. And, of course it’s the last resort of tyrants.” . . .
“Norman” explores the intersection of two worlds: New York Jews and Israeli politics. In the film, future Israeli Prime Minister Eshel (played by Lior Ashkenazi), . . . is befriended by struggling, opportunistic “fixer” Norman Oppenheimer (Gere). They begin their bromance when Oppenheimer buys Eshel a pair of expensive shoes, and he giddily rides the Israeli politician’s career success until, as the full title of the film suggests, the relationship has a sad denouement.
. . . Gere’s character bears similarities to Morris Talansky, who was the key witness in the corruption case that landed former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in prison.
Both Cedar and Gere stress that while the film was clearly influenced by the tale of Olmert and Talansky (to whom Cedar is related), Norman is very much his own character. The character of Eshel is also distinct from the disgraced ex-premier Olmert, whose downfall Gere views with sadness.
“I knew Olmert,” he says. “And I had been involved with him in various layers of a peace process. … I certainly liked him as a human being and actually felt there was enormous hope and promise with him as prime minister. I’d seen him in action and interaction with Palestinians. It worked. It wasn’t a loving embrace, but it was a respect. And I really did feel like there was a way that this can move forward. He didn’t seem to be owned by settlers, he didn’t seem to be owned by the dark forces, he understood compromise.”
While he can’t pass judgment on Olmert’s corruption case because “I don’t know anything about what the problems were, I don’t know the details of it,” Gere says he wonders – and has discussed with Cedar – whether the value of the peace deal that Olmert might have been able to make would have outweighed the immorality of the corruption that brought him down.
. . . “Frankly, if someone creates a lasting peace in the Middle East, a pair of shoes is not a big deal,” says Gere. . . . Read more at: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/culture/1.776584
A veteran editor, freelance writer and blogger, I edited the print magazine, "Israel Horizons," from 2003 until 2011; and I've blogged for and edited the Meretz USA and now Partners for Progressive Israel Blog since its inception in 2006. I've been an active supporter of the Zionist peace camp since 1982. Other print and online platforms where I've been published include: The Forward, Tikkun, The Daily Beast, In These Times, Jewish Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Jewish Currents, Huffington Post, Dissent.
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