Will and Grace

Deciphering the art of body language.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz Tomer Appelbaum
Tomer Appelbaum

The annual Knesset session last month marking the anniversary of the Rabin assassination produced many photo-worthy moments, but none surpasses this moment between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Stooped and bowed, slack and subjugated, Steinitz stands next to one of the rows of MK tables, his cyclamen-blossom head dropped forward.

Like a Pina Bausch dancer, the finance minister's body language is very basic; he is nothing but a receptacle for Netanyahu's will. His head is bent and lowered, his shoulders slumped, like someone about to receive the Eucharist. His forehead is practically touching the tip of the prime minister's nose, and his monk-like pate is bent over and unobscured - while Netanyahu's is neatly covered by a comb-over, and the rounded outline of his suit makes him look like the abbot of the monastery. Steinitz's hands rest limply on his thighs, in plain sight. Netanyahu's hand is clutching a piece of paper.

For nearly two decades Steinitz has supported Netanyahu, been considered his loyal associate, defended him to his critics and worked with him. Perhaps he is also fond of him. Unlike the ambitious Avigdor Lieberman, who can deliver a speech at the United Nations mocking Netanyahu just when the latter is striving to come to an agreement with Washington, Steinitz is a true friend, insofar as one can tell from his public statements and behavior.

Should Eli Yishai bother Netanyahu and the public by posing conditions to the Americans and opposing the voice of reason - for the future of all Israelis does not interest Yishai quite as much as the present of Shas - Steinitz will pitch in with a display of cooperation. He will hastily convene a press conference, as he did last week, and sit beside the prime minister, and announce a joint, wide-ranging scheme to lower the prices of apartments, or a real estate revolution, or a comprehensive tax reform, or anything else that creates the appearance of positive momentum and action.

And while his other ministers' Lilliputian psychosis is causing more and more disruption to the functioning of the government, which couldn't be much more right wing than it already is, Steinitz remains Netanyahu's unqualified, consistent and devoted supporter. He is his friend. He will not abandon him on the battlefield or challenge him in public.

So this photograph by Tomer Appelbaum does not depict only obedience or self-abnegation. It is a photo of people seeking to maintain the confidentiality of their conversation, during which one of them can permit himself to gaze at the tips of his shoes while talking, because a finely attuned ear is much more important in such communication than eye contact or physical contact. This is the kind of cooperation that begets reciprocity, even if it originates in one's total acceptance of the other's authority. In this photograph Steinitz is not the one listening. He is the one talking.