Cheap Labor

Does a thousand dollars, or any amount of money, buy every minute, every second of another person's time? His personality? His whole being?

This is so far the only photograph in which Sara Netanyahu and Tara Kumari are seen together. It is a photograph whose subject changes in the course of viewing from "Sara Netanyahu and her father, Shmuel Ben-Artzi," to "Tara Kumari working with Sara Netanyahu." It is a photograph in which, as it is viewed, Tara Kumari is transformed from being a non-present, marginal object into a subject. Into a person with a story. Olivier Fitoussi shot Netanyahu and her father getting into a taxi after Ben-Artzi was discharged from Hadassah Medical Center in December 2010. The ceremony is being conducted by Netanyahu, her face ashen, her father in a fedora and checked shirt, his head inclined and his hand on the door of the taxi. From behind they are being observed by a man who stands in front of a large vehicle with a sign stating "Negev Taxis." And why should he not observe the group? This is the prime minister's wife.

Kumari stands to the side, her left arm pressed against her body, her right arm resting on Ben-Artzi's back. Now, after the national information service declared war on her, our gaze is drawn to her face, and it is possible to make out the left wing of the brown butterfly stain on her cheek, which is so blatant in the close-ups published recently in the newspapers. After they went from the hospital to the official residence, Kumari went back to sleeping in the same room as Ben-Artzi.

netanyahu - Olivier Fitoussi - September 9 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

Anyone who has ever looked after an elderly, sick person who must be accompanied to the bathroom, bathed, combed and fed; who has stayed with him for hours on end, giving medicines and counting his breaths, knows how much strength and devotion is needed to persist in the work. It is a job whose definition is deceptive. It cannot be measured by the size of a salary. It requires mutual recognition. It is complex. It entails an appropriate temperament on both sides. And, in any event, does a thousand dollars, or any amount of money, buy every minute, every second of another person's time? His personality? His whole being?

Eight months have gone by since this photograph was taken. Is Netanyahu, who is seen here fulfilling her obligation as a daughter, so limited in her possibilities to the point of not having nursing insurance, or a pension, or support from the National Insurance Institute, or from the family circle, that she allotted only a thousand dollars to cover the entire lives of two people? It is possible that, for reasons of her own, she wanted her father to be looked after by only one person, without an assistant or a replacement, for this amount of money. Is Netanyahu - who a few weeks ago had her picture taken with a sweet girl of four, the daughter of Filipino parents, just before she was deported, without actually helping her - so lacking in resourcefulness that she is incapable of hiring someone else who is more suitable emotionally and professionally, as she sees it?

Tara Kumari is about 40, mother of a son and a daughter. Her husband serves in the Nepalese army and she has worked in Israel for five years. She is not only "the foreign worker" on the right side of this photograph, but a specific person with a specific personality. She is a person who is equal to Sara Netanyahu. That much is clear. Nevertheless, Netanyahu's power can crush her. Maybe this matter of equality and responsibility, of respect for others even when you pay them, is something beyond Sara Netanyahu's power to cope with.