Crowd Pleasers

After almost two decades of embarrassing affairs, they have become the couple of Israeli politics.

Like a pair of parrots on a swing, Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu gaze at one another. He looks at her with his crooked smile; she regards him with a slightly puffy face, with gentle reproof. Although their legs are crossed in opposite directions, their faces are turned toward each other and they are looking each other in the eye. With a look that says, "I told you so"; a look that says "We'll talk about it later."

The Netanyahus were photographed by Daniel Bar-On at the opening ceremony for the newly renovated Israel Museum on July 25. The composition of the photograph is perfect: With their bodies, Sara and Bibi form a heart shape at the center of the frame, creating a bubble of mutual understanding, set apart from the rest of the crowd. All the people around them are looking up, following the rules of the ceremony, and the artistic program, and only Sara and Bibi are looking at each other, ignoring everything and everyone around. The intimacy of the Netanyahu couple is therefore a function of aloofness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and wife, Sara
Daniel Bar-On

The bond between Bibi and Sara is especially notable in relation to the weary, morose and wandering gaze of Shimon Peres, who is sitting to their right. President Peres, a lone individual in his ninth decade, sitting in a sea of couples. He is gazing the other way, with that same look of resignation that he often has in photos taken at large public ceremonies.

This is a beautiful photograph, but what really catches the eye is not its proportions or its harmony, or the contrast between the connected couple and the lonely president. What catches the eye is the moment of truth between Sara and Bibi Netanyahu. It's a moment that no staged photograph or pose for the cameras, no calculated image-building, could produce.

The moment of truth captured here enables the Netanyahus to once and for all gain admission to the popular notion of romance that has eluded them all these years. It's hard to think of them in romantic terms. After all, they were forged as a couple in the public sphere at the lowest starting point imaginable, when Netanyahu appeared on television and voluntarily admitted to the existence of a video of a liaison he had with another woman in 1993.

Now, after almost two decades of other embarrassing affairs, in which he stood by her side and she by his, they have worn out, outlived and surpassed all the other candidates who died, divorced, remarried or simply left the public stage, and have become the couple of Israeli politics. So the scene here between them is not as touching as that image of Menachem Begin bending down to help his wife Aliza tie her shoe in David Rubinger's superb 1980 photograph, but in the case of the Netanyahus, eye contact in the first row of a museum's grand opening festivities is a form of love.