Grumpy Old Man: Hear, O Israel

Sometimes, you’ve just go to close those eyes and raise that microphone high.

Netanyhau amd Tzvi Hauser 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyhau amd Tzvi Hauser 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In mid-January, during a reelection fund-raiser at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater, US President Barack Obama stood at the podium, leaned into the microphone and sang, a cappella, the opening lyrics to soul crooner Al Green’s classic “Let’s Stay Together.”
“I, I’m so in love with you, whatever you want to do is all right with me.”
He put away the snippet quite admirably. He was on key, in falsetto, with a very passable vibrato and eyelids lowered dreamily in the right place. The crowd lapped it up and the president clearly seemed to be at ease and enjoying himself.
A quarter of the way around the globe, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had his own rendezvous with a microphone when Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, sitting next to him last week at the end of the pre-cabinet meeting photo-op (and before the last camera crew had been ushered out), called to an aide.
“Etti, if you please,” Hauser said politely. “Close the door, and when the prime minister is talking…” A clearly annoyed Netanyahu cut him off with a lowered, though clearly audible, voice.
“No. Close the door, not if you please… Close the door! Just lock the door. Lock it!” After a short pause, the exchange continues.
Netanyahu: You didn’t hear me?
Hauser: No, no. Okay.
Netanyahu: No, because they’re opening the door. Just say, “Put a person there who will stop people from entering.”
Hauser (to someone outside): Don’t let people come in. (To Netanyahu): Etti will stand outside and will not let people come in.
Netanyahu: Now, make sure there’s a lock. Make sure you have a lock. [And] lock it. I asked for this last time. Just do it. Everything [I say] is… [treated as if it’s just] suggestions!
For the sake of fairness, Netanyahu, unlike Obama, was not at ease. According to Channel 2, which broadcast the exchange, it took place just minutes after he was informed that his trusted chief of staff, Natan Eshel, had resigned over allegations that he harassed a female employee and even surreptitiously photographed her from under a table.
Yet a casual read of some of the country’s best-informed political columnists indicates that the prime minister was more upset with Hauser, who played a role in the affair when, aghast, he had turned to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein for counsel together with Yohanan Locker, the prime minister’s military attaché, and Yoaz Hendel, the prime ministerial spokesman.
Ostensibly, Netanyahu’s displeasure was over the fact that the three had not come to him first. But over the years we’ve figured out that with this prime minister, whose every word and action seems painstakingly choreographed, altruism is not necessarily part of the script. In fact, it seems the macho former Sayeret Matkal officer saw his cabinet secretary – who, let’s face it, with his slight frame, quiet, scholarly demeanor and dorky horn-rimmed glasses comes across as something less than a commando who kicks in airplane doors and drops hijackers – as a tattletale.
What is most surprising about the entire thing, though, is that someone as media-savvy as Netanyahu forgot the possibility of an open mike.
I AM not a great fan of Barack Obama. While his desires for America and its people strike me as sincere, his views of reality appear to be somewhat naïve. But I am not a great fan of Binyamin Netanyahu, either. While he doesn’t appear to be the least bit naïve, his desires for Israel and its people… well, I can’t really say what they are. He tells us what they are with great regularity, but somehow I don’t entirely believe him.
It’s not that I think he’s lying.
Maybe it’s the way he uses his microphones.
Like with those speeches. He’s a paper-shuffler, so you know he’s got something in front of him. And he turns pages with almost uniform timing, so it’s pretty clear he’s reading from a prepared text and not from notes.
So what’s with all the pregnant pauses and searches for the right word? Isn’t it there in front of him? Were his speech writers goofing off? I doubt it. (He’s got a lot of speech writers, I’ve heard, one even at a major newspaper.) Actually, it comes off being so phony that often I think the text includes phrases in the margins, such as “make a pregnant pause here” or “look up, take off your glasses and search for the right word. The word is […]. Now continue.”
And away from the mike, Netanyahu almost always seems so wooden. Not ill at ease, necessarily. More like entirely predictable.
Like his posture and facial expressions.
Lots of masculine hands-on-the-hips and tough-guy narrowing of the eyes. And those handshakes! In between the up-and-down is a whole lot of horizontal locomotive pumping. No one else does it this way, so when he’s shaking hands you know he’s the one in charge. Pump, hiss, pump, hiss. A real alpha-male shake.
Okay, it’s the image. But can’t we get some variety, some spontaneity? I’d like to be surprised for once. Somehow, excellent communicator that he is, I just don’t think Netanyahu can wing it – and in a fast-paced, ever-changing and dangerous world, I want to know my leader can improvise (or at least fake it).
It seems Obama can. Maybe it’s because he’s not afraid to get up to the mike and risk making a fool of himself. By singing, for example.
So I have a suggestion I’d like to address to our prime minister: Get with it. Get smooth.
Get down. Ever hear of Al Green? Make that microphone work for you, just like you did at the UN. But with rhythm.
Let’s take it up where Obama left off.
Together with me: “Cause you make me feel so brand new, and I want to spend my life with you.”
Now close those eyes and raise that microphone high. And take it home to Sara. She’ll love it. And when Sara’s happy, we’re all happy.
So say it after me: The microphone is my friend.