Comedian Jay Leno joked about the Obama administration’s Middle East policy Thursday night while hosting an awards ceremony in Israel honoring former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the audience.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Leno drew his “biggest laughs and applause” when he said, “President Obama has declared the month of May Jewish American Heritage Month. He is calling it an opportunity to renew our ‘unbreakable bond with the nation of Israel.’ And he knows it’s unbreakable because he’s been trying to break it for the last five years.”
Shortly after, he turned his sights on Secretary of State John Kerry, saying, “I’ve been doing my research. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, here in Israel the most popular boys name is Noam. The least popular boys name? John Kerry.”
American comedian Jay Leno reacts during an interview with the Associated Press in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Leno made his first trip to Israel, where he will host an award ceremony honoring former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Relations between Netanyahu’s government and Obama administration have been strained over failed peace talks with the Palestinians, exacerbated by suggestions by Kerry that Israel could become an “apartheid” state.
Leno said this was his first trip to Israel, though he has always felt a strong affinity for the Jewish state, telling the Associated Press earlier this month, "It's a great honor. It's a great country. It's a great people."
He said that while he sees both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he considers himself to be "very pro-Jewish, very pro-Israeli."
"At some point in your life, you have to sort of take sides. I tend to side with the Jewish point of view on many things, especially issues like this one. I realize how important Israel is," Leno, who is of Italian heritage, told the AP.
“It is a democracy in the Middle East and I don't like to see the little guy getting picked on by the big guy,” Leno told the AP in Jerusalem.
“It’s the only democracy in the Middle East. I look around the Middle East and I see people being stoned to death because they’re gay and women being not allowed to drive or not allowed to vote. And here’s this one little paradise in the Middle East where freedom reigns and there’s a democracy, you vote people in you vote people out,” he told an interviewer for Israel’s Ynet before the awards ceremony (the full interview can be viewed at this link.)
Jay Leno earlier this month joined protesters outside the Beverly Hills Hotel that is owned by the oil-rich Southeast Asian nation of Brunei which recently instituted a criminal code based on Islamic sharia law which includes death by stoning for homosexuals.
Leno told the protesters, “Evil flourishes when good people do nothing, and that is pretty much what this is. This is not complicated. These are not crazy left-wing wacko people.”
At his Thursday performance, Leno also joked about local Israeli political scandals.
Leno said he tried to get tickets for a friend. “When I first tried to get him tickets, they were sold out. But luckily, two tickets became available when former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he wouldn’t be using his. You guys are tough. You sentenced your former Prime Minister to six years in prison! Did you hear Olmert’s defense? Not the best strategy. He blamed the whole thing on the Jews.”
Olmert received a sentence of six years imprisonment in early May after being convicted of bribery.
Leno went through a list of past Israeli prime ministers, saying “Israel had some great leaders, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin. People were really touched by them. Well, of course, not as many people as were touched by former President Katsav.”
Former President Moshe Katzav is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for rape, sexual harassment and other charges.
“I was stunned by how many Israeli politicians are going to prison. When you ask an Israeli politician what his cell number is, it has a whole other meaning,” Leno said.
Leno was hosting the first ever granting of the $1 million Genesis Prize in Jerusalem which was given to Bloomberg for his public service and philanthropy.
Bloomberg said he would use the prize money to set up a new fellowship via the Genesis Philanthropy Group, according to the Hollywood Reporter.