The Prime Ministers 2: The Warriors and Peacemakers

We did not see the first in these documentaries based on Yehuda Avner’s book The Prime Ministers, and I am to blame for that. I am always on the lookout for critical bias, so I can spot when a movie is given a low ratings because of its overt Christianity, patriotism, and insufficiently leftist bias. And on the audience side, I can spot when a movie is given high ratings because, well, people like giant robots, superheroes and car chases more than I do, to say nothing of familiarity and predictability.

What I don’t always adjust for is anti-semitism.

I’m not sure when anti-semitism became such a factor in the critical world. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that Jews enjoyed a protected status on the basis of a collective guilt over the Holocaust, but upon reflection, that was perhaps all bullshit, too. For the entirety of its existence, Israelis have had to justify Israel, when any objective analysis shows a strong interest in peace, a tolerance unparalleled in the Middle East, and a general productivity—one not based on having foreigners come and pay you billions to take your oil.

Nonetheless, the critics aren’t crazy about these films, where they couldn’t get enough of the morally ambiguous Shin Bet documentary The Gatekeepers. Sure enough, you’ll see criticisms of “one-sidedness”, “imbalance”, and generally not enough deference to the murderous regimes that have Israel’s destruction on the top of their to-do list, even if they’re too feckless to pull it off.

But also, because documentaries aren’t seen by a lot of people, and these documentaries in particular are not, it’s easy for a dozen people to come and drag a movie score down.

Ironically, perhaps, The Boy expressed enthusiasm because it wasn’t a very political movie. And this is true, at least as far as US politics go. The time covered is about from the Nixon resignation to the Clinton peace accords, or from the first term of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in ’74 to his assassination in ’95.

Yitzhak and Menachem in happier times.

“Muslims hate you? Muslims hate ME! We should hang out!”

Rabin was a solid leftist, tempered (as most Israeli PMs must be) with the understanding that a full embrace of that philosophy would result in their immediate destruction. But the Labor party loses big in ’77 to Menachem Begin’s more right-leaning Likud, which (even back then) the press liked to label as terrorists. (There’s really only one playbook, the world over, for communists.) But Begin kept Avner on, since Avner had the experience dealing with the United States and there was a common goal: Peace.

Avner doesn’t talk about political differences, then, but of the common goal and desire for peace.

Anyway, like most Israeli documentaries that are focused on particular moments in history, it’s pretty gripping. We get the Israeli-eye view of Nixon, the hapless Ford, the well-meaning but largely irrelevant Carter, and Reagan’s hand in the resolving Lebanese war and tempered support of Israel over their bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facility. (Clinton gets a mention with his Arafat talks but I don’t think GHW Bush came up at all.)

The Carter portion was interesting to me, because I remember the narrative at the time. Carter, hot off of brokering peace in the Middle East, was going to get the Beatles back together. But what seems to have actually happened is that Rabin seriously distrusted Carter, and when Begin went to negotiate peace, Carter wanted to roll back the Israeli borders to their pre-1967 locations. What this would mean is that Israel would be 12 miles wide at one point (from the border to the sea) and could be cut in half by an enemy in a matter of hours. Begin, a survivor of concentration camp and gulag both, would have none of it.

Where this gets interesting is that Sadat was genuinely interested in peace, though clearly beholden to the more belligerent aspects of his constituency, and the two of them (Begin and Sadat) met all over the surrounding areas (including Romania and Iran!) to try to work something out.

Wait till he finds out ribs are pork.

“What say we ditch the Jew and go get some ribs?”

The White House finally gets wind of the slow-moving talks and invites them up to Camp David, where Carter clearly favors Sadat over Begin, on a personal level if nothing else, and most of the famed accords amounted to nothing. Most, but not all. And just when it looked like they might reach an agreement Sadat was assassinated.

Another interesting moment is the war with Lebanon, in which Begin aimed for a 40km buffer zone—the Lebanese were letting the PLO shell their border towns—and ended up in Beirut.

I don’t know: it’s really all interesting. But for some reason our culture isn’t too interested in existential struggles of a small group of people who share many of our values, whether Israeli, Kurd, or whatever.

Rabin disbelieves Kissinger.

“There can never be trust between us as long as you insist I believe you’re hittin’ Jill St. John.”

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