New film examines Israel’s first leaders
Yehuda Avner, the best-selling author of personal memoirs that detail his service to four former Israeli prime ministers, was in Toronto last week for the Canadian premier of the documentary based on his book.
The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers, the latest production of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Academy Award-winning film division Moriah Films, provides viewers with a behind-the-scenes look into how Israel’s pioneers shaped the Jewish State into the country it is today.
Written and produced by Richard Trank and Simon Wiesenthal Center founder and Academy Award-winning film producer Rabbi Marvin Hier, part one of the two-part documentary features interviews with Avner, who moved from Britain to Israel in 1947 and served for decades as a key adviser, ambassador and English speechwriter to Israeli prime ministers Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin.
A seemingly bottomless pit of compelling, detailed anecdotes about some of Israel’s greatest leaders, Avner, who spoke briefly before the screening at the Eglinton Grande in Toronto, said, “I can tell you that all of them, all the prime ministers… as Jews, they loved peace, but they loved freedom more.”
After joining the Israeli Foreign Ministry in 1958, “he was privy to the most crucial decision-making moments, such as Operation Entebbe and the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty,” said David Cynamon, co-chair and sponsor of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal for Holocaust Studies event.
“It is fortunate for us that he kept meticulous notes to share a remarkable ac-count of pivotal moments in Israel’s history,” Cynamon added.
In addition to providing insight into the ways Israel’s leaders navigated through crisis after crisis, Avner also shed light on the relationships they developed with American leaders, including U.S. presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, and former U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.
His 731-page book was a product of short-hand notes made during secret government meetings involving the four prime ministers that he stashed away in a drawer until he began writing his memoir in 2005, at the age of 76. It wasn’t until 2010 that he completed his manuscript.
Avner said the purpose of writing the memoir “was not simply to write the history, but to bring history back to life. To bring [to life] the episodes and the personalities and how they behaved in cer-tain situations… in Israel’s first testing, challenging days, days fraught with peril.”
Although the film didn’t offer a lot of new information about Israel’s history, it did give viewers a glimpse into the personalities and the strengths and weaknesses of each of the prime ministers he served. Avner described Eshkol, voiced by actor Leonard Nimoy, as the “most affable man, utterly accessible,” and as a man who “loved Yiddishisms.”
Voiced by Michael Douglas, Rabin, who served as ambassador to the United States from 1968 to 1974, was described by Avner as “painfully shy,” with a “mind so analytical, so structured.”
Avner described Meir, voiced by San-dra Bullock, as a woman who “exuded warmth” and was a “classic Jewish grandmother who kept an eye on you,” but also as an orator who would become “the face of Israel.”
“She proved herself time and again as a person who could bite the bullet… She would not negotiate with terrorists… She believed that if you negotiated with terrorists, there would be no end to it,” Avner recalled.
The film also chronicled some of the most pivotal moments in the young country’s history, including the Six Day War and the capture of the Old City; Eshkol’s sudden death and Meir’s succession as prime minister, and the military intelligence blunder that resulted in the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria on Israel in 1973.
The film ends with Meir’s resignation in 1974, but Avner insists that for a wom-an with no war experience who suddenly found herself as a war commander, “if you look at the way the war began and the way it ended… Golda looms large in the pantheon of Israel’s great prime ministers.”
Part two of the documentary, The Soldiers and Peacemakers, which will high-light the years during which Rabin and Begin were in power, is scheduled to be released next spring.