A film about Golda Meir puts Israel in front of the mirror in another moment of crisis

Another year it would have premiered again. But with Israel immersed in one of its greatest political and social crisesopening the Jerusalem Film Festival on July 13 with Golda Where Helen Mirren played Prime Minister Golda Meir as she makes important decisions against the clock during the Yom Kippur War (1973) – it made Israelis look back, either nostalgically or anxiously.

Although the two moments cannot be compared, today, as then, there is a widespread feeling that Israel is risking its future. In 1973, a surprise attack by Arab countries on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar brought him close to defeat until the United States came to his aid. In 2023, due to the reform to weaken the Supreme Court that promotes The most right-wing government in its 75-year history – A coalition of Netanyahu’s party (Likud) with ultra-nationalists and ultra-Orthodox unleashed 30 weeks of mass protests, The most prominent social gaps And it raised broader questions about what the Jewish state wants as it grows.

The parallel is so inescapable that when the president, Isaac Herzog, at the official screening of the film festival, which ended July 23, mentioned the “threat” to the State of Israel in 1973, the audience echoed the slogan most popular among critics of reform: “democracy.” This Sunday, at a protest in front of parliament, veterans of that war donned T-shirts emphasizing that they fought then and now for their country.

The press conference to present the film in Jerusalem itself degenerated into a series of questions about current national politics. British actress, 77 years old, He did not hesitate to connect the past and the present, both in Jerusalem in support of mass demonstrations (“I think it may be a defining moment in the history of Israel”) and in February, when presenting the film in Berlinale. There, he noted, the prime minister whom he gives life (with many layers of makeup) “would have been utterly horrified” if she had lived through Netanyahu’s initiative in 2023. Israeli director Guy Nativ (Oscar for Best Short Film 2019 for leather), He recounted that at one of the protests he met a veteran of the Yom Kippur War and compared the two moments. Nativ summed up: “In a way, we’re struggling to shape the future of our country.”

Golda Meir visits Sinai during the Yom Kippur War (1973), with then General and later Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.Universal History Archive (Universal Images Group/Getty)

Criticism of the digital portal in Hebrew Otherwise Imagine the advantages of the feature film, which opens August 24, of being a summer blockbuster in Israel, despite its questionable quality. “If it is seen, it will be talked about, too. It will help us refocus the conversation on the things that really matter, to remind us of the enormous sacrifice we had to make to remain a democracy, and to prove that this country is not immune: it almost collapsed once, and it was because of internal mistakes.” […] ¿He will save Israel from itself? I hope so, but the mistakes of the intelligence services before the Yom Kippur War teach us that it is always better to be pessimistic.

The feature film also highlighted the differences in personality and forms of leadership between Meir, who ruled between 1969 and 1974, and Netanyahu (1996-1999; 2009-2021; 2022-). Born in Kiev in 1898, he represented the pioneers of the workers’ Zionist movement, who built and ruled the state in the first three decades (1948-1977). He dressed soberly and made coffee for his ministers (the term “kitchenette” is still used in Israel today to describe small political gatherings). In Israel half a century ago, the Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, complimented her with such a sexist phrase that he was the “only man” in his government.

Meir He resigned after criticism from an investigative committee About poor preparation for war. “He understood that, as the country’s leader, he had to take responsibility, and he did, unlike many others, when things go wrong, they start pointing fingers at other people,” Mirren said in Jerusalem of his character.

Netanyahu, by contrast, is Prime Minister who remained in power for the longest (16) years He represents the other major political family in the country: revisionism. He’s also more into luxuries (accused of splurging for pink champagne, cigars, and jewelry allegedly given to him by billionaires) than he is into singing. Middle East and Africa neglect.

Keep the man

The film tells of how Meir, unlike his Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, keeps his cool while receiving negative reports from the battlefield, restricting cigarettes, and battling cancer and mental illness. By focusing on the three weeks of the war and adopting an Israeli point of view, it does not touch on other controversial aspects, such as its harshness towards the Palestinians or its view of Mizrahi and Jews from North Africa and the Middle East. When a group of such people complained personally of being discriminated against by those who — like her — were from Central and Eastern Europe (Ashkenazim), Meir uttered the now-famous phrase: “They’re not nice.”

Although the film portrays her with sympathy and understanding, she is a leader of little value in the country, precisely because of her role before the war. In the hours before the Arab attack, he refused a request from the Chief of the General Staff, David Elazar, to bomb first, as his predecessor, Levi Eshkol, had done six years earlier, starting with the six days, during which Israel tripled its territory. He replied to Elazar, as he recounted in his 1975 memoirs: “I know all the arguments for a pre-emptive attack, but I am against it.” “None of us knows what the future holds, but there’s always the possibility that we need help, and if we hit first, no one will give us anything.”

The alliance with the United States is another major link to the present. The film explores the combination of collusion and negotiation with the famous Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who facilitated then-president and a reluctant Richard Nixon in approving the crucial shipment of 93 fighter jets and 26,000 tons of equipment. Two days ago, Meir described the situation on the battlefield as “absolutely terrible.”

Golda Meir with US President Richard Nixon (center) and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 in Washington.
Golda Meir with US President Richard Nixon (center) and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 in Washington.Image 12 (Universal Images Group/Getty)

In one of the film’s best scenes, Kissinger prepares the ground before forcing Meir to sign a cease-fire as Israeli forces regain the initiative, closing in on Damascus and surrounded by thousands of Egyptian soldiers: “I tell you this first as an American. Second, as a foreign minister; and third, as a Jew.” Meir replied, “You know that in this country we read from right to left.”

The cinematic tale contrasts with the coldness of the current US President, Joe Biden, who took six months to invite Netanyahu into the country (Something unprecedented with its predecessorsHe called his CEO “the most radical” he had seen since he met Golda Meir as a senator, just weeks before the Yom Kippur War. Some anti-judicial reform protesters carry American flags.

Giora Eiland, Commander-in-Chief of the IDF Reserves, asked recently in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth If Washington were to send this airlift today. It is no longer the cold diplomatic language used by the President of the United States. We have to realize that in the situation […] When Israel needs supplies of essential items during the fighting, as it did in 1973, it is not entirely certain that the current US administration will do all it can to help us, as Nixon did.

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