At first glance, the mission seemed simple. I was sent (by myself) to find a photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leafing through Haaretz. This month, Haaretz, the oldest newspaper in Israel, will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and what would be more festive than a picture of our leader, the one who is about to break David Ben Gurion’s record for number of days as prime minister, holding the newspaper most hated by him and his family?
I surveyed, with my own eyes, tens of thousands of photos, from the 1980s until today. I did it late at night when I had trouble falling asleep or in the early hours of the morning when I got up to give the baby a bottle. I was permeated with a sense of mission, and I can say with reasonable certainty that I’m now the person who has seen the most photos of Netanyahu.
The first online archive I examined was the National Photo Collection - an official treasure that documents selected moments in the lives of our leaders from the founding of the state to this day. Afterward, I perused all the pictures collected by tthe largest news agencies, and then I went through thousands of pictures by Haaretz photographers.
I found Bibi looking at a hippopotamus in a zoo in Italy, Bibi riding a camel in the Negev, Bibi harnessed to a dog sled in Norway and Bibi even cruising down a river in a kayak. I saw him hanging around with many people who eventually became his greatest enemies: Ehud Barak, Avigdor Lieberman, Yair Lapid - you name them.
I looked at him in his finest hours and his most miserable ones. Among other things, I also found pictures that he would be glad to erase from the database, in which he is seen holding a fat cigar in his jet. I found pictures of him reading newspapers, but no trace of Haaretz. I also saw him immersed in books, including during Knesset votes and on flights. Oh, there were lots of flights in the photos.
And then, suddenly, a breakthrough. A lovely series of photos caught my eye. Tomer Appelbaum documented the prime minister holding an issue of TheMarker during a Knesset discussion in 2010. Emil Salman’s lens also caught him with TheMarker a year earlier. But with all due respect to my colleagues next door, TheMarker still isn’t the original Haaretz.
I continued to search. I enlisted both my friends and the virtual ones on the pages of Facebook. One of them, Anat Kaisar of Givatayim, who is gifted with impressive information technology talents, pulled out a breathtaking photo from the depths of the internet, in which Netanyahu is seen perusing a “suspicious” newspaper. Based on the graphic design, we concluded that it was probably the Haaretz Books supplement.
I enlarged the photo, turned it over again and again, until I focused on a page of the newspaper. I checked the date when the picture was taken and from there I continued to the Haaretz archive in order to check the pages of that week’s Books supplement. Bingo! I found Netanyahu reading an article by Shlomo Avineri on “The First Zionist.”
So we have Bibi with TheMarker and Bibi with Books. Later I also found him displaying Ha’ir — another newspaper belonging to the Schocken chain — on the Knesset dais. But Bibi with Haaretz is nowhere to be found. A continuation of the search yielded photos of Netanyahu at conferences organized by Haaretz and TheMarker in the distant past, in which he is standing and delivering a speech alongside the logos of both publications. That was apparently before the Schocken network turned into a nest of “anti-Semites,” as his son Yair is constantly maintaining on Twitter.
One day, I found a wonderful caricature by Amos Biderman, in which he drew pictures of Bibi and Sara reading Haaretz. I saved them too. It can’t hurt, it’s cute, its heartwarming. But it’s still not “it.” Did I give up? Not yet. I’m convinced that the photo I yearn for is hidden somewhere.
Netanyahu has been in our lives for almost 25 years in senior leadership positions. He has been documented from every possible angle almost every day since 1996. I’m convinced that if I had the full database of Netanyahu photos at my disposal - including those that were taken and shelved by his advisers, an MK in a corridor, security guards and others who came in contact with him - I would have a picture of him reading Haaretz.
Meanwhile, I’ll make do with a picture of Menahem Begin, who is no less respected than Netanyau, and the photo of Jewish-American film actor Kirk Douglas, who will celebrate his 103rd birthday this year. Both of them, on different occasions, were documented reading the newspaper. Because what began as an attempt to find Netanyahu with Haaretz ended with a lovely collection of other, equally interesting readers, from the newspaper’s 100 years.
Most of the readers are anonymous, but they are connected to fascinating historical events from the past 100 years. In order to see the entire collection you’ll have to wait for our birthday, on June 18.