Snapshot: Friends, Romans and Yair Lapid

Ofer Shelach, from Yair Lapid's inner circle, kneels down in the Knesset chamber ahead of Naftali Bennett's maiden speech.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

This is not a shot of a subject kneeling before his monarch. This is a photograph that can be contemplated in other terms: Ofer Shelah, one of Yair Lapid’s partners in the Yesh Atid project, has approached the party leader to consult with him. Because he is lithe and light of frame and supple of movement, and because he does not want to bend over Lapid and does not want his words to be overheard or deduced, and because their conversation is taking time, he kneels.

What we see, then, is not so much reverence as partnership. In any case, how is it possible to say what their relations are, at the deepest level, based on one photograph that catches them at a moment when Shelah is kneeling and Lapid is seen from an angle at which he is rarely, if ever, photographed, and shows, surprisingly, the crop circle that has formed on his scalp?

But this photograph, which is unquestionably flattering to the lightness of Shelah’s movement, like an arrow released, also captures an instant of substance. It captures the way in which power is shaped, in the form of a clear division between the one who leads and the one who advises the leader; between those who approach him in order to transmit information and the person who is his close and loyal friend, whom he trusts above all others, who will protect his interests and tell him the truth without mincing words to curry favor, who has no ambition as such, but only what is consistent with the leader’s plans. Manifestly, then, Lapid’s having, not so surprisingly, become enamored of Naftali Bennett, who has ambitions of his own, can be measured, compared and read against the background of the demonstrative friendship seen in this shot, which was taken on February 12, during an afternoon speech by the outgoing justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, and ahead of Bennett’s maiden speech in the House.

Michal Fattal, who regularly takes photographs in the chamber as though she is an observer in an amphitheater, from her perch directly above the costumed actors, here captures the essence of loyalty, and not only the fold along the sleeve of the shirt Shelah wears in honor of the occasion, and not only his surprisingly young and totally new fashionable ankle boots, and his well-known Roman profile.

But is Shelah, kneeling here with lissome grace to speak with Lapid, his Marcus Agrippa, his commander on land and sea, who shared with him the victory in the Battle of Actium, shaped the empire and built the Pantheon and the aqueducts? Or is he perhaps given his literary occupation and on the basis of his television appearances during the prolonged coalition negotiations, whose gist was to brandish the alliance with Bennett as a means to exert pressure is he his Gaius Cilnius Maecenas? Is he Maecenas, the wise political adviser who was faithful to Gaius Octavius Caesar Augustus over many decades, and became a great patron of the arts, even as he dismantled almost every alliance and scheme aimed at sabotaging the rule of his friend from youth, including Lepidus’ plot to assassinate him.

In the amphitheater pictured here, everything is so far under control; these are the people before the start of the battle. The man who is to be subdued is Netanyahu. He is their Antony, Augustus’ bitter and mighty foe, talented but not talented enough, the aggressive ruler who made the mistake of underestimating his rival, who did not understand that moderation, not fear and threats, is stability, and who was defeated with his queen, Cleopatra, at the Battle of Actium, though the glory of his defeats is no less riveting than the victories of his adversary.

But at this stage it is still impossible to know how the government will be structured, whether it will be a triumvirate (in which Bennett actually becomes Lepidus, the father of the conspirator whose plot was foiled). All that is visible is the basis on which rests Lapid’s potential survival, dependent in part on his relations with the lean man who is whispering something intended only for his ear. We can only hope he will be his Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, who will encourage the arts and not promote invasions. Because, even if Agrippa is perhaps better known than he is, his importance is second to none, and without him there is no Horace and no Virgil.

Ofer Shelah and Yair Lapid in the Knesset chamber ahead of Naftali Bennett’s maiden speech, February 12, 2013. Credit: Michal Fattal

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