Netanyahu's Crutch: Why Has the PM Been Avoiding Photo Ops?

After ripping his tendon in a soccer game with teenagers two months ago, PM avoided appearing in public with his crutches. Now, some people believe that hiding his limp was a missed opportunity.

Tal Schneider
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Tal Schneider

President Clinton didn't hide them, Senator and former White House contender John Kerry didn't run away from the camera, and even John F. Kennedy was photographed leaning on his crutches. George W. Bush didn't blur the bruise on his face while meeting with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (the strange accident occurred while trimming trees in his free time), Vice President Dick Cheney sat proudly on his wheelchair, and the First Lady of the European Union, Angela Merkel, was not worried about people seeing her disability. Even in Israel, Prime Minister Menachem Begin used a wheelchair after undergoing surgery on his thigh in order to pass a law to annex the Golan Heights, and did not worry about being seen in public.

None of these leaders worried about a blow to their image, or the possibility that the opposition would exploit their temporary disability for a political attack. So how is that the current Prime Minister of Israel has been using crutches for the past two months in order to move from place to place, and we haven't even seen one photo? On Monday, Netanyahu arrived at the Knesset for the first time since he tore a tendon during a soccer match with teenagers during the filming for an international tourism TV show. Netanyahu had a slight limp, yet didn't make a special effort to avoid the cameras.

So how has Netanyahu been moving around in his home for the past two months? What about on his way to the office or when he's getting out of his car? Every Israeli recognizes the photograph of the Prime Minister climbing the stairs at the entrance to his office. In the past two months, Netanyahu has been using the elevator, exclusively. In order to get from place to place, he uses crutches, although public has never seen him do so. Netanyahu shared a video on his YouTube channel which shows him sitting with his leg in a cast, so why has he hid his crutches this whole time?

"I'm not diving into the depths of his soul. Maybe he felt uneasy about the situation? The fact that he continued to work and function, despite the situation, is praiseworthy," said Yisrael Beiteinu's Moshe Matalon, who is a disabled IDF veteran. "I could never hide my disability, but I respect anyone who acts according to their personal feelings," he added.

But MK Ilan Galon (Meretz), whose legs have been paralyzed ever since he fell ill to polio at age 7, sees things in a more critical light: "Whoever told him to hide his limp and crutches gave him bad advice. I've been limping for 57 years and am not ashamed. You ought to be weak enough to feel the people around you, and strong enough to be the one to improve reality. Limping is so human, and whoever gave him such image-related advice to hide it has no understanding of the media. A man must be ashamed only of his actions, not of a situation that happened to him for which he is blameless. I believe that all disabilities need to come out of the closet, as it is a much more humane and truthful to be disabled than to display a fake perfection as prime minister."

Disability organizations complained that hiding the limp and the use of crutches was a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to deal with the visibility of disabilities, which they say is not a state of weakness or something unusual. "I asked the prime minister: what happened? Why are you ashamed to limo? Come to me and I will teach you how to limp. It's a strategy. If there is something Netanyahu needs to be ashamed of, it is his government, not his limp," said Galon.

Following advice from his doctors, Netanyahu skipped official events, including the inauguration of a memorial to the Red Army alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a Fourth of July party in the home of U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro.

But yesterday, during a conversation with someone in Netanyahu's inner circle gave another, not less important reason. "It is obvious that the photographs of the prime minister would be used to ridicule him. Not only online, not only through memes and status, but in specific forums that would make use of such photographs in order to ridicule him. We have to be realistic. Let's assume that a year from now, someone pulls out photographs of the prime minister hobbling on crutches, and then uses that to give him a negative image. This would not be in the interests of disability organizations."

But often when someone ridicules weakness, or a situation of illness or crutches, it says much more about the one participating in the ridicule.

"The public would not see the ridicule as something negative that media outlets do. They would laugh at the prime minister."

So it is all out of worry that this might be used as some kind of political campaign?

"Ridiculing a prime minister in a cast would not do a thing to help the disabled public – in fact, it would hurt them. We need to think ahead and understand how this might be seen."

By the way, the prime minister's foot no longer hurts. He is currently undergoing physiotherapy and is attempting to return to being active, including light sports activity. The episode is behind him, erased. And he took care to ensure that there will be not one trace of his crutches left in the public memory. In the Israel of 2012, despite the increase in mass documentation in social networks, some things can still be hidden.

Tal Schneider is a political blogger for Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing soccer on Monday.Credit: GPO

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