The Arty Semite

Up Close and Personal With Israeli Prime Ministers

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

Moriah Films is a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and is responsible for a dozen documentaries of Jewish interest. Filmmaker Richard Trank has been with Moriah from the beginning, a journey that included an Academy Award in 1997 for “The Long Way Home,” about Holocaust Survivors rebuilding their lives and the State of Israel.

Of all his productions, his latest, “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers,” was probably the easiest. It seems all he had to do was point a couple of cameras and say “Action.”

Courtesy Moriah Films

Those cameras were pointed at Yehuda Avner, author of the book on which the film is based and a long-time Israeli government official. He is also a heck of a raconteur.

Avner was born in Manchester, England, immigrated to Israel in 1947, and eventually took on a number of public relations and English speech writing roles for five Prime Ministers. He also served as an ambassador to England, Ireland and Australia.

“The Prime Ministers” is the first of two films based on his 715-page book of the same name. “Pioneers” covers Avner’s work with Levi Eshkol and Gold Meir, and with Yitzhak Rabin when Rabin was Israel’s U.S. Ambassador.

The second, “Soldiers and Peacemakers,” is scheduled for release in the spring; it covers Avner’s work with Rabin as prime minister as well as with Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.

The documentary is less biographical than anecdotal. The average viewer will learn a lot; students of Israeli history, already familiar with much of what “The Pioneers” contains, will still pick up a nugget or two and find the documentary a worthwhile and pleasant experience.

Avner is the film’s selling point. Not only is he a great storyteller, but he has wonderful stories to tell. For example: He was there when his friend and fellow pioneer Leopold Mahler, grand nephew of Gustav, took out his violin on Independence Day and at the crowd’s urging played “Hava Nagilah.”

Then there was the time when, after writing a speech for Eshkol, he was called into the PM’s office to discuss a line suggesting Israel’s democracy be a light unto nations. Eshkol told him, “First let’s be a light unto ourselves and then we’ll worry about being a light unto other nations.”

Or how Golda Meir, Israel’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union, attended Shabbat services in Moscow at an empty synagogue. The following week, however, 50,000 Jews were there to greet her.

Avner was in Independence, Missouri, hand delivering a letter from Eshkol to Harry Truman, who in turn wished the messenger “mazel tov” and signed his memoir to Avner’s son, who was about to become bar bitzvah.

He was at the White House when Dean Rusk hectored then Ambassador Rabin about removing troops from territories conquered in the Six Day War, only to have President Johnson essentially (and privately) tell him to cool it. How did Avner know? After the meeting, Rusk left the note the President sent him on the table and Avner grabbed it.

Clearly, there is a lot of great material here. It made a wonderful book, but would it be a good film? With so much of the documentary based on Avner, it could very easily have been visually boring. That it isn’t is a credit to Trank, who rounded up a lot of archival material as well as some great actors to do voice over-recreations. These include Sandra Bullock as Meir; Michael Douglas as Rabin; Leonard Nimoy as Eshkol and Christoph Waltz as Begin.

The film opened in New York October 18 and in Los Angeles November 6, But it deserves a far wider distribution.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Prime Ministers’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers, Films, Richard Trank, Documentaries

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.