Yoni Netanyahu, a ´role model´ to follow (LA TIMES) By Batsheva Sobelman, Special to the Los Angeles JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/15/12)
LOS ANGELES TIMES
LOS ANGELES TIMES Articles-Index-Top
With ´Follow Me,´ Ari Daniel Pinchot aims to introduce the Israeli
hero to a new generation he says is in need of one.
JERUSALEM — Thirty-six years ago this month, a hostage drama played
out in Entebbe, Uganda, that transfixed the world. Militant
supporters of the Palestinian cause hijacked an Air France flight
bound for Paris from Tel Aviv, eventually flying the plane to Africa,
where Israeli commandos carried out a mission that freed more than
Leading the operation was Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu, who became the
sole Israeli soldier to die in the raid; three hostages also lost
their lives. Still, the operation was considered a victory for the
young nation, but it was a tragedy for the Netanyahu family, one that
helped propel Yoni´s younger brother, Benjamin, into politics and
eventually the prime minister´s office.
To Israelis, Yoni Netanyahu is a household name. His life story could
easily be compared to that of Joseph Kennedy Jr.: a first-born,
charismatic, handsome military man and presumed political leader who
died young serving his country. Netanyahu´s letters, published in
1980, only added to that legend.
But to many young American Jews, Entebbe and Netanyahu´s death at age
30 is unfamiliar — which inspired producer-director Ari Daniel
Pinchot to make a film in English about the storied soldier. "Follow
Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story" opened in limited release late last
month and is traveling to film festivals around the country.
"I grew up on Yoni´s letters.... I have Israeli heroes, but my kids
don´t have any Israeli heroes," said Pinchot, 40, a producer on
documentaries and feature films, including "Paper Clips,""Everything
Must Go"and"The Ides of March.""He´s a wonderful role model."
The film is both a time capsule and strikingly contemporary — many of
those involved in the Entebbe raid are top officials in Israel. The
film is told largely through Netanyahu´s letters, read by actor
Marton Csokas, intercut with interviews with Israeli politicians
including President Shimon Peres (defense minister in 1976), Defense
Minister Ehud Barak (who was among the operation´s planners) and the
current prime minister himself, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Also sitting for interviews are Yoni Netanyahu´s ex-wife, his
girlfriend at the time of his death, father Benzion Netanyahu (who
died this past spring at age 102) and commandos who served under
Yoni. The film makes use of Netanyahu home movies and covers personal
topics, including love, miscarriage and divorce.
Benzion Netanyahu was an academic who moved his family to the U.S. in
the 1950s and ´60s while he taught in Philadelphia and New York. Yoni
and his brothers attended high school stateside; Yoni attended
Harvard University but left after a year, in 1968, to return to
Israel and then join the army. Benjamin Netanyahu later went to MIT
(where he learned of his brother´s death in 1976).
Yoni Netanyahu´s letters describe the young man´s nostalgia for his
Jerusalem childhood, his take on the horrors of war, details of his
romances — and his outsider´s view of the "empty, meaningless life"
he found in the States, where he wrote that his high school
classmates wanted only to talk about "cars and girls." ("I think
Freud would have found very fertile soil here," he added.)
In the film, the often rigid, self-assured Benjamin Netanyahu shows a
softer side, speaking in English with a Philadelphia accent,
recalling childhood pillow fights and moments in the States as he
stood by the mailbox with the "little red flag" awaiting his
brother´s letters from Israel.
In an interview with The Times last week in the Israeli capital
immediately after the annual memorial service for his brother, the
prime minister said he thinks of his brother "every day practically."
Asked if talking about Yoni has gotten easier with the passage of
time: "Sometimes it gets harder. It depends. You know, time heals a
wound, but it doesn´t erase the scar. And there´s a force of life, a
river of life, that hurls us forward.
"We face other challenges, other tasks. We have our own children, and
they have their children, and we have the great tasks that face us in
our personal life and our national life. So there are many reasons
why a wound closes, but for some it never heals."
Pinchot said he named his son, now 14, after Yoni Netanyahu and hoped
young American Jews would take something from his example as
portrayed in the film.
Yoni Netanyahu "had every reason to be self-absorbed. He was a
brilliant guy, accepted to one of the greatest universities, good-
looking, had relationships with women, phenomenal athlete, so
incredible but constantly pushing his personal ambitions aside to
serve a greater cause," Pinchot said. "This is really important for
children, young people to see. My children are growing up in a world
that is increasingly self-absorbed."
Some critics have criticized "Follow Me" as an overly laudatory
portrait, one that fails to place Yoni Netanyahu´s life in proper
context or explore the ramifications of his death on Israeli
politics — including his younger brother´s hawkish policies.
"Some see it as an anti-war movie, others as a heroic one about a man
who did what he needed to do," Pinchot said. "But both these sides
are present. This actually personified Yoni, who was a complex
Pinchot´s writer-director partner Jonathan Gruber said he and
Pinchot "worked very hard to keep politics out of it," particularly
when it came to the involvement of Benjamin Netanyahu.
"I don´t mean this as a slight to the prime minister in any way, only
that he spoke as Yoni´s brother, telling the story from his point of
view," Gruber said. "Of course people out there may still say it´s
political and has an agenda, but the fact is we made this film about
a remarkable man. And we kept it about him." Staff writer Julie
Makinen contributed to this report. (Copyright © 2012 Los Angeles
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY