Arnon Milchan: Hero or Anti-Hero?
Israeli author Meir Doron, who co-wrote an unauthorized biography on Arnon Milchan, was surprised to hear that the renowned Hollywood producer had been implicated in a bribery scandal involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Feb. 13, Israeli police recommended bribery charges be brought against Netanyahu and Milchan. The allegation? That Milchan gave Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, almost a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of expensive gifts, including pink Champagne, cigars and jewelry in exchange for billions of dollars in tax breaks.
Doron, who moved to the United States in 1989, co-wrote a biography on Milchan published in 2011 titled “Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan.” The book delves into Milchan’s double life as an arms dealer and a covert agent while producing movies starring the likes of Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman”) and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”).
Speaking with the Journal at his Encino home, Doron said he felt the allegations against Milchan were incongruous because it was the State of Israel that taught Milchan the art of bribery.
“Milchan was one of Israel’s most assertive and effective secret agents,” Doron said. “For years, he had given bribes in the millions to people in power, agents and state officials in order to advance Israel’s interests.”
“Arnon Milchan was one of Israel’s most assertive and effective secret agents.” — Meir Doron
Jewish Journal: Given your high opinion of Milchan and everything he did for the State of Israel, what was your immediate reaction to the bribery allegations?
Meir Doron: When I heard that they were talking about cigars and Champagne, I [thought those were ridiculous charges]. Really? Those are bribes? I wouldn’t have been surprised if he sent Netanyahu and his wife on a private yacht around the world, though. That’s how Milchan operates. It’s also how most producers operate in Hollywood. Milchan was always the wealthiest one in the group, the one who paid for everybody around the dinner table. It’s natural that when a wealthy friend comes to visit, he brings an expensive gift. Milchan did the same with other leaders he met throughout the years.
JJ: Do you think other Israeli leaders like the late President Shimon Peres, whom Milchan was also close to, received bribes?
MD: I have no doubt Peres, Yair Lapid and anyone else who was at the top of the government received benefits and gifts from Milchan.
JJ: But it’s only the gifts that Netanyahu received that are under scrutiny.
MD: These are things that are connected to inside politics in Israel. It started in the 1960s, when Milchan inherited a bankrupt company from his father. He learned pretty quickly how to navigate the Israeli bureaucracy in order to get special licenses, import and export credentials, and exceptional tax preferences. It was the key to his financial success.
JJ: So you think Israel should turn a blind eye to the allegations against Milchan because of everything he did for the country?
MD: I think Israel owes it to him. He did more for Israel than any other Israeli politician. He also did more than any security personnel that serves today in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) or in Israel’s Security Agency.