‘The Prime Ministers’ Is an Uncritical View of Israel’s past

There’s something unsettling about “The Prime Ministers.” Based on Yehuda Avner’s memoir “The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership,” the documentary  looks at the Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir through the eyes of their personal secretary and speech writer but the tone feels indulgent. “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers” opened on Wednesday at the Laemmle Royal and Town Center. It opens on 9 Nov. 2013 at the Playhouse 7.

If, as the trailer suggests, the question is about the existence of Israel and a real and lasting peace, then we’re still looking for answers.

Avner is still alive. Born in Manchester, England, Avner arrived in Jerusalem in 1956 and was with the Israeli Foreign Service before moving to the Prime Minster’s office where he was for 25 years. Avner was the speechwriter and secretary for Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. For Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres, he was an advisor.  Avner served as the Israeli ambassador to Britain and later the ambassador to Australia.

“The Prime Ministers” is the first part of this two-part documentary and was produced by Moriah Films of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Director (and writer) Richard Trank mixes archival footage and recordings with narration by Avner and added readings by Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy and Christoph Waltz as the prime minsters, The contrast between the real voices and the voices of these actors reading letters and speeches intrudes into our imaginary journey back in time.

At 84, Avner gives a guided tour through history deeply steeped in nostalgia, but that seems to exist in on an intellectually isolated island, far away from Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers” or   from director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s “The Law in These Parts.” The documentary, “The Prime Ministers” begins in Jerusalem, where Alexandrowicz was born. That brings the Six-Day War into focus.

The Six-Day War began with Israel attacking the Egypt and raiding the West Bank which was controlled by Jordan at the time. Israeli air flights over Syria resulted in military involvement with Syria. At the end of six days, Jordan lost control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Egypt lost the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula and Syria lost the Syria lost the Golan Heights. This was a clear victory for Israel, but displaced many Palestinians. From 1917 to 1948 the areas in question had been under British Mandate. Illegal immigration by Jews to the British held territory eventually resulted in the departure of British forces and the establishment of Israel in 1948.

As Avner takes us down memory lane, he takes us behind the closed doors, giving us sometimes amusing anecdotes about these high-powered politicians including some insights into President Lyndon B. Johnson. The United States is a young country, but Israel is even younger. Much of what we see is about the struggle to establish Israel and from a decidedly pro-Israel viewpoint. Yet since this is only the first half of the story, one doesn’t know the full vision of Trank and how the story ends. “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers” may just be the introduction. We’ll have to wait for the conclusion to decide just how well this documentary examines its topic.

Trank will participate in a Q&A at the Royal after the 7 p.m. shows on Friday, and Saturday, November  8 and 9. Rabbi Hier will join him for the Saturday 7 p.m. show. Mr. Trank will do Q&A’s after the 7:10 p.m. screenings at the Town Center on Saturday and Sunday the 9th and 10th as well as after the Sunday 11 a.m. screening at the Playhouse 7. Nimrod Erez will do a Q&A after the Sunday 11 a.m screening at the Claremont 5.

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