The Prime Ministers Adapts Yehuda Avner’s Book for the Screen

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with Yehuda Avner at a press conference at Blair House, Washington D.C., January 1976. [YA Personal Collection]

The Prime Ministers is a two-part documentary that brought Yehuda Avner’s book to the screen over the course of a few years.

Nowadays, this two-part documentary–Pioneers and Soldiers and Peacemakers–would probably be released as a documentary series. Instead, both parts–running close to four hours combined–were released in 2013 and 2015. It covers some events featured in other Moriah Films documentaries but that’s just the nature of Israeli documentaries at this point. For instance, In Search of Peace discusses Esther Cailingold’s death. She just happens to have been Avner’s late sister-in-law. I want to stress that I have not read Avner’s book. The films are my first experience with him telling his story. Avner also wrote a posthumously published novel, The Ambassador, with Matt Rees. Following my viewing, I immediately requested the book through the local library as it imagines a world where Israel was founded a decade earlier in 1938.

Richard Trank’s script for the film is based on Avner’s book with new material written by Trank and Rabbi Marvin Hier. Yehuda Avner is the only person appearing on camera for contemporary interviews. Everything else comes by way of archival images and clips. An all-star cast of Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, and Christoph Waltz provide the voices of Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Levi Eshkol, and Menachem Begin, respectively.

Avner certainly makes for a compelling figure because of his insight into numerous Israeli PMs and while it might work better as a 731-page book, The Prime Ministers adds visuals by way of the archives. He worked as a chief aide, English language note-taker and speechwriter for a few of them. When he was not working in the Prime Minister’s Office, he was working overseas in consulates or embassies. Avner would also serve as Israel’s Ambassador to Britain, Ireland, and Australia. He shares some fascinating anecdotes and stories throughout it all.

Six-Day War PM Levy Eshkol (2nd L) with Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin (2nd R) and Aluf Tal in the Negev.
Six-Day War PM Levy Eshkol (2nd L) with Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin (2nd R) and Aluf Tal in the Negev. 05/25/1967. [Israel Government Press Office]
Pioneers covers Avner’s work with Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir and then-US Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin. Because of this, we get Avner’s insight into the Six-Day War, the US-Israel relationship, fighting terrorism, and the Yom Kippur War, which would also end Meir’s career in the government.

Soldiers and Peacemakers transitions to Avner’s work with Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres along with his time serving as Israel’s Ambassador to England. This was a time that saw Israel negotiating a historic peace treaty with Egypt with the Camp David Accords. It was preceded by a bilateral treaty negotiated by Rabin. There’s also Entebbe, Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, bombing the nuclear facility in Iraq, and the first war in Lebanon. The final part of the film is when we get to the Oslo Accords. It’s a historic moment that seems like peace could be right around the corner and that’s when tragedy strikes. While serving as Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, Rabin called Avner back to work for him in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin conferring at the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin conferring at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tel Aviv. Date: 06/09/1977 [Israel Government Press Office]
Unfortunately, Avner’s work with the government came to an end after the tragic death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Personally, I certainly could not blame him for exiting government service at that time. Rabin’s assassination was traumatic for many people. Honestly, it’s one of the most tragic moments and it’s one of the biggest what-if moments of the past three decades. What if Rabin doesn’t die–would we have peace by now? We’ll honestly never know.

There are many things to take away from watching The Prime Ministers but tension between US and Israeli leaders is not new. It was there with Rabin and Jimmy Carter as well as Begin with both Carter and Ronald Reagan. Begin had to explain to Reagan why Israel went after a nuclear facility in Iraq. Meanwhile, Rabin was dealing with a financial scandal involving his wife. That Rabin was succeeded by Begin is one of the biggest shockers in Israeli history.

Pioneers

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Richard Trank
FEATURING: Yehuda Avner
CAST: Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, Christoph Waltz

Soldiers and Peacemakers

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Richard Trank
FEATURING: Yehuda Avner
CAST: Michael Douglas, Christoph Waltz, Nicola Peltz

Moriah Films released The Prime Ministers: Pioneers in theaters on October 18, 2013. Grade: 3.5/5
Moriah Films released The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers in theaters on October 9, 2015. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.