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James Bond and Bibi, Men Past Their Prime

The Israeli prime minister’s office, like the 007 franchise, could use a reboot

Liel Leibovitz
December 04, 2015
Photocollage: Tablet Magazine; main image: Twitter
Photocollage: Tablet Magazine; main image: Twitter
Photocollage: Tablet Magazine; main image: Twitter
Photocollage: Tablet Magazine; main image: Twitter

Call it the 007 Syndrome: A man starts out his career as a chiseled and ideologically motivated killer, the sort of guy who goes on outlandish missions for God and Country, the kind of man who is particular about his drink and liberal about his bedmates. Then he grows older, and the world changes around him. His theme songs, previously roared by Shirley Bassey, are now whined by Sam Smith. Instead of fighting villains with mechanical hands in underground tropical-island lairs as atomic weapons launch sequences count down in the background, he struggles with bureaucracy, political intrigue, and other micro-aggressions so popular these days.

This is why Spectre, the latest Bond film, was one of the most coldly received in recent memory. It’s why Daniel Craig is abandoning his post as the world’s most famous spy. And it’s also probably why Bibi Netanyahu should soon step down as Israel’s prime minister.

Like Bond, Bibi is an aging former commando, a high-foreheaded relic in a world moved more by rants on social media networks than by raids on hijacked airplanes. Like Bond, he draws the ire of progressive goose-steppers who see him as the embodiment of all of the West’s colonialist, oppressive evils. Like Bond, Bibi’s a franchise in dire straits.

Don’t get me wrong: Although I was never a fan of Netanyahu—a critical piece I’d written a while back was even deemed insightful enough by no less a connoisseur of truth and beauty than Sidney Blumenthal to pass along to his mistress, Hillary Clinton—he’d done more or less the best he could given a very tough situation. Faced with a murderous Palestinian regime that rejected any and all peaceful overtures and instead dialed up the anti-Semitic incitement until waves of knife-wielding maniacs took to the streets looking for Jews to stab, he kept negotiations going, released Palestinian prisoners, avoided drastic measures, and hoped for the best. Faced with a murderous Iranian regime that armed and financed attacks on Israelis and Jews everywhere from the Galilee to Buenos Aires, he pressed the American president, sounded the alarm bell, avoided unilateral strikes, and prayed for a reasonable outcome. Could he have acted differently? Sure. Could he have come up with more daring approaches, more creative solutions, more strategic initiatives? You know it. But none of it matters: If Bibi is ousted, it would be less for what he did or failed to do than for who he was and what he represented to so many. Like decades-long film franchises, decades-long political careers need to constantly reinvent themselves or wither and die.

If you’ve been watching Marvel’s superb Jessica Jones, you already know that Bond will likely soon be replaced by a badass woman who macks on beefy airheads while delivering perfect drop-kicks to bad guys. And if you’ve been watching Israeli politics, you know that Bibi will likely soon be replaced by a badass woman who delivers captivating speeches while proposing radical bits of legislation.

It may be minister of justice Ayelet Shaked, a secular woman in a religious party, a high-ranking politician who still comes across as a passionate grassroots activist, a hard-liner blessed with the unperturbed cool of the true believer. It may be Miri Regev, the former spokeswoman of the Israel Defense Forces who rode her brand of warm-blooded populism into the ministry of culture. It may be Gila Gamliel, minister for social equality, who sees no contradiction between her right-wing ideology and her commitment to women’s and gay rights. It may be Sharren Haskel—at 31, Likud’s youngest member of Knesset—who moved from Toronto to Paris to Australia to Israel and from political left to right. It might even, if voters’ moods change considerably, be Stav Shaffir, the fiery former leader of the 2011 social justice protests that brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets, and a rising star of the Labor Party. Each one of these competent women is likely to outshine Bibi, giving Israel something it hasn’t had in a while: a leader who not only acts the part but looks it, too.

Imagine the plot lines a good screenwriter could develop for any of these heroines! Shaked, for example, could easily become the George Lazenby of Israeli politics—he was the Australian model and actor who played Bond only once, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a performance that continues to grow more acclaimed with time—bringing an injection of emotional honesty to a role long defined by a façade of steely resolve. Imagine her speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, delivering not cartoons of Spy vs. Spy-style bombs but a searing, candid speech that would make a lot of people who’ve been ignoring this tired franchise perk up and listen. Or think of Gamliel as a Timothy Dalton-like Bond, intense and dedicated and focused on her own agenda, sometimes to the chagrin of her colleagues; watch her come to power and become the first Israeli prime minister to give equal footing to all streams of Judaism, ushering in an era of true religious pluralism. These are the sort of reboots that bring a franchise much-needed new fans.

And a reboot is just what Israeli politics needs. The Jewish state’s neighbors and adversaries, after all, have produced a whole slew of perfectly cast strongmen, from the eagle-ish Hosni Mubarak to the jovially mad Saddam Hussein to the flamboyant Qaddafi and his cadres of attractive female bodyguards. These men weren’t exactly capable helmsmen of their respective states, but they stayed in power for as long as they did in part because they had—to paraphrase Roland Barthes’ observation about Garbo—the sort of face that was really a grand, abstract idea. You didn’t need to read a book to know what Saddam was really about; all you needed to do was take one look at his face. Like every good Bond villain, he spoke volumes without even opening his mouth.

This directness, this clarity served the Arabs well. The narrative they advanced was as nuanced as Saddam’s mustache: Israel occupation, Israel colonialization, Israel bad. And Israel, haplessly, responded by promoting arguments that were as dispiriting as the men who championed them. What is it, again, that Ehud Olmert wanted to do? Never mind: Just take one look at his elongated punim and you’ll be moved to change the channel.

Which, for a people that gave the world Freud and Marx and Groucho and Menachem Begin and other masterful storytellers capable of capturing complex emotions pithily, is really a shame. Let’s not wait for the box-office slump. Let’s do what the Broccoli family, custodians of the Bond franchise, has been doing for years and start casting for fresh talent.


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Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.