Haim Saban on Israel: "All I Can Do Is Share the Facts"
"Most of Hollywood is informed in a very superficial way" about the Middle East, the media mogul says
Haim Saban, the unshakably pro-Israel media billionaire, says that Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, who have taken stridently anti-Israel positions, probably did so because they lack "facts." Bardem and Cruz recently signed a widely circulated open letter that condemned Israel for its actions in Gaza.
"I think Bardem and Cruz are simply misinformed," Saban tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. "I think that once somebody bothers informing them and educating them on the facts, on what is happening on both sides, I don't they would call [the Israeli campaign in Gaza] 'genocide.' They would better understand that this not even remotely close to a genocide. Maybe their English is not good enough to understand the meaning of ‘genocide.'"
Egyptian-born Saban, who immigrated to Israel with his family in 1956, was among the 18 leading Hollywood executives who this week broke high-level silence on the Gaza crisis and lent their names to an Anti-Defamation League ad calling on world leaders to force Hamas to disarm. The somber black-and-white ad, which ran in THR, Variety and The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, was built around the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's famous remark that, while Israelis could forgive Palestinians for killing Jewish children, they never could forgive them for forcing Israelis to kill Arab children, and that there could be no peace until Palestinians love their own young more than they hate Jews.
Saban tells THR that when he was approached by the ADL about signing the ad, he replied "with pleasure" and revealed that Meir's famous quote adorns the wall of his office lobby. "That statement really reflects reality," he says. "If the Arabs start loving their children more than they hate the Jews, then maybe we will have an opportunity for some sort of dialogue, some sort of peace."
As far as non-Israelis go, Saban argues, "In order to be able to participate in a dialogue concerning a controversial issue, you've got to be really familiar with the facts, which [in the case of Gaza] are pretty complex."
When it comes to Israel and the Middle East, Saban says: "Most of Hollywood is informed in a very superficial way, only based on what they see on this television channel or the other, or in this newspaper or the other. They're not deeply familiar with the facts. And the issue is controversial. People are saying to themselves, 'I don't know what's going on over there. It sounds terrible for both sides, and it sounds controversial. I'm going to stay out of it.' "
"What one needs to do," he explained, "is to educate the people who might have an interest on what the facts are." While he had hoped for an enduring ceasefire in Gaza, Saban says, he now fears that, "If all hell continues breaking lose, we're going to see some bad pictures on both sides, if the media reports the conflict in a balanced way. This will be the time I reconnect with my friends in Hollywood and do my best to share the facts with them, to see if I can enlist them to be supportive of those I call 'the good guys.'"
Those facts, Saban continued, are "not only about what Hamas does and doesn't do. They're also about what Israel does or doesn't do. It's about explaining both sides and hoping that the facts speak for themselves. I always like to quote John Adams, who said, 'Facts are a stubborn thing.' All I can do is share the facts with the people and they will make up their own mind what they want to do."
Part of a realistic understanding of the Middle Eastern facts, Saban tells THR, must include a realization that, "Extreme Islam is not just an Iraqi or Syrian problem. It is a problem for the Western and industrialized world, too. Once they take care of those they call infidels, meaning Muslims who don't share their views of the world, we're next. Make no mistake about it. These people yearn for death and they would have no problem coming in here, and when I say here, I mean Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, California. They would have no problem coming in here and blowing themselves up, because they yearn for death. I don't want to sound like an alarmist but that's the reality."
Does Saban think President Barack Obama, whose reelection he so strongly supported, is doing an adequate job in the Mideast? "It's above my pay grade to suggest to leaders of the world how to deal with this, but they have to deal with it. The president was dealt a hand of cards that is impossible to play. I don't know if anybody has the ability to strike with a magic wand and find a solution here, whether it's ISIS or Hamas. And America doesn't have the capacity to influence every crisis around the world. It isn't realistic to expect that."
Saban explained that he was happy to sign ADL's appeal to disarm Hamas because, "Every couple of years, they start shooting rockets again. They claim that what they are trying to achieve is freedom of movement and open borders. All they have to do to achieve that is simply stop shooting rockets," and Israel will lift its blockade.
"Since Hamas took over, nothing has happened that is good for Gaza," Saban says. "They keep doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result. The problem is they have an ideological movement that considers Tel Aviv a settlement. This is not about settlements in the sense most people think of them, because to Hamas Tel Aviv and Haifa are settlements. If they get off of that and focus on developing their own country they are going to have all the freedom over time to prove that they're peaceful. They need to take all that money they are getting from Qatar and Iran and instead of investing it in tunnels, start investing it in infrastructure to create jobs."
"But if they continue to yearn to eliminate the Jewish state, then they will continue shooting rockets. They need to conclude once and for all they cannot eliminate the Jewish state," Saban says. "They need to take Gaza and the West Bank and build themselves a peaceful country by investing their money in infrastructure. One day they will come to that realization, at least that's my hope for them."