Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took advantage of his recent visit to Washington to apologize once again, as he has in the past, for his remark on Election Day about Arabs going in droves to the polls. The apology should be rejected. He is not allowed to take it back.
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Let’s refresh our memories. In a clip on Netanyahu’s Facebook page on March 17, the prime minister is seen sitting in a space that looks quite small and suffocating, a kind of Raskolnikovian diminution that suggests poverty and bad times experienced by the person in that space, who has been subjected to a certain wretchedness.
He is wearing a white shirt and a blue tie, like the flag placed behind his right shoulder. The flag is completely limp. It has no wind in it. He is in mourning. The angle of photography catches his face from below. It looks gaunt, somewhat pinched, as a result of his existential distress. His forehead looks quite broad and high.
Make no mistake, there is stage direction here. He is shown as a wise and tormented man. Behind him is a map of the Middle East. The generalissimo’s face is pale, as if he had not seen the sun for a long time, or as though the blood has drained from it.
The cinematographic language is very clear. Anyone would recognize this scene. This is the last dispatch from the bunker of a besieged leader in time of war.
“Right-wing rule is in danger,” Netanyahu says. There is no introduction, a clear indication of a state of emergency. “The Arab voters are moving in droves to the polls.” The clip lasts for less than half a minute. The average viewer obviously devoted no more than a few seconds of thought to it, if at all. The viewer is prodded to respond automatically, predictably.
An Israeli citizen sees his prime minister speaking as if he is hiding in a basement. He hears “danger.” He hears “Arabs moving in droves.” He hears the term “order 8,” the emergency call-up order of the reserves. He hears “with God’s help.” He hears “protect the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu did not say “war.” But that is what Israelis hear. It is a Pavlovian response. Netanyahu said “leftist NGOs.” He did not say “enemies.” But that is what Israelis heard. It is Election Day, but the Israeli goes into apocalyptic mode now.
Nothing in the clip was coincidental (the prime minister’s election consultant, Didi Harari, admitted that about a month ago). It was intended to seem coincidental, improvised, cobbled together at the last minute, but it was planned.
“We have only you,” Netanyahu said. He makes the viewers feel important. He tells them that they are the state’s last chance to protect itself from the danger inherent in huge numbers of Arabs.
Netanyahu wears no makeup. The Israelis look straight at the wrinkles under his eyes. He does not ask for their help. He does not beg for his life. He beseeches them to act to save the homeland.
Look closely. He doesn’t look weak, nor does he look afraid. He looks and sounds leader-like; Churchillian, even. He is telling the Israelis the truth about their situation. He is not hysterical. On the contrary, he shows supreme control. It is actually the apologies that show panic. But the film? It is his finest hour.