Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bibi's Choice

Will he make war? Can he make peace?

On the final night of passover, Benjamin Netanyahu is carrying a tray piled high with the sweet marzipan cookies Moroccan Jews eat to celebrate the end of the holiday. He offers me one and says in a stage whisper, "You can get sugar shock from these things." He then pats his belly in the universal gesture of I can't afford to have one myself and grins. We are in Or Akiva, a working-class town south of Haifa where chickens roam the dusty streets and where Bibi--everybody but everybody calls him Bibi--has arrived to mark the end of the fast in a traditional Jewish celebration known as Mimouna. The owner of the dirt-floored house, who has rough hands, nine children and 23 grandchildren, toasts the Israeli Prime Minister. These are the people who worship Bibi and believe he is the only man who can lead Israel.

Ten minutes later we are in the ancient port city of Caesarea at a party at the regal home of a movie-theater magnate, where young people wear the latest fashions and do not clamor around Bibi. It is well after midnight, the party has thinned out, and we are eating shawarma prepared by an Israeli Arab from Nazareth. The Arab caterer comes over to say hello, and Bibi tousles the hair of the caterer's young son. Caesarea, Bibi tells me between mouthfuls, was built by Herod around 25 B.C. "Herod," he says with a smile, "was a much better builder than a general."

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