Snapshot: Tzipi Livni Is Only Human

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1.This photograph of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni shows her at the 10th Annual Saban Forum in Washington, shortly before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the keynote address. It’s a shot of a trifling moment, its angle of vision − from behind the subject’s back − conflating with the theme of “behind-the-scenes” photography. At the same time, it captures something fundamental about Livni, who promised her voters she would be active in the peace process; she is keeping that promise with the aid of her party’s six seats. This is a photo that MK Isaac Herzog, the newly elected leader of the Labor Party, needs to ponder carefully. If a U.S.-mediated agreement with the Palestinians is indeed in the works, driving Naftali Bennett and his party out of the government, there will be room for Herzog’s battered party, and for him to fulfill his ambition to wield political influence, like his father and uncle in their time.

All of this, of course, is unknown to the AFP photographer, Nicholas Kamm, who seems to be interested not only in Livni’s white-cased smartphone (we can’t read what’s on the screen), but in the aesthetic relationship between the texture of the serrated cut of her hair and the black of her turtleneck. Above all, he is looking at the white stripe seen on her right upper back. This white stripe is the flaw, the “dirt” (it’s not a chance hair that fell out, but a chalk mark from a wall) as a result of which this photograph helps enrich Livni’s image. In being unaware of the flaw in her appearance, she is like every person who flies many hours and works many hours, serious and businesslike, resembling Hillary Clinton more than ever before, despite the blatant disparities between them in terms of power and achievement.

Female politicians are supposed to glaze their appearance, so it does not become a subject of discussion and open them to being judged and diminished; but, on the other hand, to polish their appearance so that it stands out, is immediately recognizable, identifiable as personal and appreciated as acceptable. Livni’s choice of a black turtleneck is the right one, because it covers the skin itself, preserves her privacy and suits her status, while at the same time is sufficiently clinging to show the body of someone who has nothing to hide. That’s a good message, reflecting her effective and stately use of clichés, as seen in the statement she released a few days after her photograph was taken in Washington: “We in Hatnuah [her party] congratulate [Finance Minister Yair] Lapid for joining the sane Zionist voice that wants a Jewish and democratic Israel. We will continue, together with [Lapid’s party] Yesh Atid, to advance the peace process, because it is in Israel’s national, security and economic interest. I am pleased that a strong coalition for peace has been forged, which will weaken the extremist messianic right.” Herzog might do well to consider wearing the black turtleneck sweater in which he was photographed in the past. He shouldn’t waste time, because Yair Lapid already has one like it.

2. What a charming, modest article Tamar Manor-Friedman wrote for the exhibition she curated, now on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem: “Collecting Dust in Contemporary Israeli Art.” Everyone who lives here knows immediately that dust and haze are part of the life cycle, part of the landscape, part of the personality. Yosef Haim Brenner wrote about the dust, Dahlia Ravikovitch said that the dust was her only companion, Meir Shalev found dust in Nahalal. It’s a marvelous theme, one that gets into the windpipe, material on the one hand, spiritual on the other. Who doesn’t know dust? In the catalog, Manor-Friedman arrives, by way of Bartolomeo Bettera’s dusty lute from the 17th century (a painting from the museum’s collection, of course) and “Shulamit Hotel, Haifa” − a 2012 work made of “dust on Formica board” by Irit Hemmo − at the rising dust in Shai Kremer’s 2004 photograph, “Shvil Tishtush [smoothed-over path] alongside the Separation Fence, Etz Efrayim Settlement.”

We can understand that dust is good material, and an image as well. But on Saturday morning, in an exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum, I look at a lovely watercolor and charcoal drawing of clouds by David Cox . On the wall, I read an amusing comment by the Victorian art critic John Ruskin − that a cloud was never painted in medieval times without an angel on it − and I know that my heart is inclined toward clouds. They are better loved than dust.

Livni in Washington, December 7, 2013.Credit: Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images