Who's Leading Whom?

Forty-year-old Shas MK Ariel Atias, Minister of Housing and Construction, is adjusting, or pulling on, the red tie of 52-year-old Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beitenu. Atias's party colleague, 50-year-old Amnon Cohen, who has been serving in the Knesset for 11 years, looks on.

Ariel Atias, Avigdor Lieberman,Amnon Cohen
Emil Salman

This photograph, taken on July 19 by Emil Salman, captures an informal moment of male contact that is something other than a casual pat on the shoulder. The three are apparently unaware that they are being photographed: When one person grooms another, it's always a charged moment. Someone who corrects another's appearance is assuming a supervisory, parental role, taking it upon himself to represent the norm and be the arbiter of decorum. The one whose appearance is being fixed must surrender to the other's ministrations, allow himself to be led.

Atias and Cohen are wearing suit jackets; Atias' slightly pulled-back sleeves reveal a sleek black watch on his right wrist and pale, delicate, graceful hands. The obvious delight of Cohen, standing a little behind Atias, also has a role to play: His laughter soothes the "patient," makes it possible to categorize the whole thing as humorous, less threatening. They are two versus one. Atias and Cohen are in command of the situation. Lieberman, jacketless, appears momentarily unfocused, looking at someone or something outside the frame.

On the day this photograph was taken, Shas gave its support to Lieberman in his demand that Netanyahu regularize the conversion law (this crisis between the foreign minister and the prime minister would be temporarily resolved two days later for pragmatic reasons ), so there is a political backdrop to the scene captured here, and perhaps the closeness witnessed in this image was the result of waging a common effort. But who is leading whom in this photograph? Is the ultra-Orthodox man leading the right-winger? Or vice-versa?

When the prophet Samuel reproaches the wretched King Saul, the king tries to touch him. Saul had sinned in Samuel's eyes by not killing the Amalekite king Agag and by sparing the sheep and cattle that belonged to the Amalekite people, who had been wiped out. " ... Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king" (I Samuel, 15:23 ) Samuel tells him. And then it happens: "As Samuel turned to go away, Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his robe, and it tore." (I Samuel, 15:27 ).

A review of photographs of Lieberman later that day shows that his tie remained flawlessly in place. Neither the tie nor the man wearing it had budged from his position. But perhaps the two Shas MKs should also be given a further look. Atias made the adjustments here, but did Lieberman really surrender? They straightened his tie, tugged on it, tightened the knot, but still Lieberman is not one to be reined in and controlled. On the contrary: They are hanging onto his tie. In his next conflicts with Netanyahu, Shas will not necessarily have a role to play. So the smile the viewer should be focusing on in this picture is not Cohen's broad grin, but the small, amused smirk that is a regular fixture on the foreign minister's face.