Not much has been revealed about the potentially fateful three-hour meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yamina head Naftali Bennett at the Prime Minister’s Residence last Thursday.
Spokesmen for both Netanyahu and Bennett have made a point of not revealing details in an effort to build trust between their bosses.
A statement put out by Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich following an earlier meeting with Netanyahu that the Prime Minister’s Office called inaccurate and manipulative gave even more reason to keep the press and the public in the dark about the Netanyahu-Bennett meeting.
But one small detail from the meeting that was revealed exclusively to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night speaks louder than words: It was conducted in English.
There were those who downplayed the significance of the meeting taking place in a language both Netanyahu and Bennett feel comfortable in. Both spent a large portion of their life in the United States, and Bennett was raised by American parents in Israel, speaking English at home.
Netanyahu spoke English to Bennett when Bennett was his chief of staff, as he has with many native English-speaking advisers over the years. He has even held staff meetings in English, and his advisers have requested that security information be delivered to the prime minister in English.
Nevertheless, the tweet about the fateful meeting being held in English spread like wildfire on social media. Twitter reported nearly 200,000 impressions of the tweet in half a day, even though it was published at 10:25 p.m. in Israel, during Shabbat in the US, which is far from prime time. Most of the responses to the English tweet were in Hebrew.
So why did it matter so much that the meeting was conducted in English?
There was a difference between Netanyahu speaking to his aides and holding coalition talks with the head of another political party, said Channel 13 and Yediot Aharonot commentator Nadav Eyal, author of Revolt: The Worldwide Uprising Against Globalization. Netanyahu and Bennett should have followed in the footsteps of Israel’s founding fathers, who knew many languages but insisted on running the country in Hebrew, he said.
“It’s bad taste to conduct a conversation on the formation of an Israeli government in a foreign language,” Eyal said. “There’s a significance in statesmanship: You cherish Hebrew and conduct your business in Hebrew. They should have made a point of speaking Hebrew.”
Some on Twitter recalled angrily that it was Netanyahu’s government that passed the Nation-State Law, which formally declared Hebrew as Israel’s only official state language.
While the British-born Eyal called the decision of Netanyahu and Bennett to speak English “provincial,” others on Twitter accused them of snobbery and posturing, suggesting that it was proof of them being disconnected from the non-English-speaking masses in their constituencies.
“Sounds like an Alpha contest,” wrote Sara K. Eisen, a brand and communications manager who was once a top Jewish Agency official.
Then there were those on Twitter who praised them for being able to conduct high-level talks in English and said it fit with Netanyahu’s campaign slogan from last year’s election about him being in “another league.”
With Netanyahu’s premiership and his career in jeopardy as his mandate to form a government progresses, it is his worldliness that Israelis will sooner or later be seeking to replace. Polls taken by Likud during the election said Israelis like having a leader the world listens to and who can call the head of Pfizer at 3 a.m.
That is why it is unsurprising that Likudniks who speak perfect English, such as MK Nir Barkat and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, are doing well in surveys among party members about who should succeed Netanyahu.
Leaking that the conversation was in English also helps Bennett look like he is prime-ministerial material to his doubters, as his chance to form a government may be approaching.
For those who wan tNetanyahu to remain in office, the leak about the language of the meeting gives a reason for optimism. If repairing his relationship with Bennett is essential for him to be able to form a government, hearing that they have their own way of communicating can be a sign of hope.
Then again, it could be the opposite. For two men who truly despise each other, perhaps it takes the language of Shakespeare to sit together while plotting how to stab the other in the back.