Whenever a head of state sings, it’s a risky endeavor.
How does one look fun without sacrificing the dignity of the office? Or, on the flip side, austere and on-pitch enough to honor a serious occasion? President Obama is the leader who’s pulled it off most successfully in recent memory: At various points in his presidency, he riffed on Al Green and, more movingly, lead a chorus of “Amazing Grace.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, famously not Obama’s biggest fan, could stand to learn a few things.
The question of Bibi’s musical stylings came into play on the first night of Hanukkah, when he appeared in a new music video of the Arik Einstein classic “Yesh Bi Ahava” soliciting support for Ken Lazaken, an NGO which works to improve conditions for Israel’s elderly population.
It was, in a word, strange.
Following images of senior citizens being joined in their homes by young people wearing face masks and bearing sufganiyot and flowers, the video pivots to a recording booth, where 26-year-old pop star and former “X-Factor Israel” contestant Eden Ben Zakan finishes a verse and gestures out of frame to an unseen second singer whose partial features have been teased throughout.
Who could it be? David Broza? Neta Barzalai? Harry Styles surprising us with some Hebrew? Nah — it’s Netanyahu.
So, what does Bibi sound like? If you’ve heard him speak, you have a good idea. He has a perfectly serviceable baritone and a remarkably stiff delivery, even if Ben Zakan, good sport that she is, smiles and sways as he labors his way through. The camera seems to be uncomfortable lingering too long on the prime minister dwarfing him at one point with a mound of sufganiyot and cutting away to a scene of young people playing oversized cards with an old woman. At one point, painfully, Netanyahu attempts some TikTok choreography. Yes, Bibi: Sing to the youth! Dance with them!
As to this duet pair’s chemistry, it feels a bit like the vibe from those Lady Gaga-Tony Bennet albums, if Tony Bennet were an indicted world leader facing his fourth election in two years. By the way, this collaboration dropped just a day after the Knesset announced a tentative poll date of mid-March — a rather convenient time to be promoting something as popular as support for the isolated elderly.
“I am excited to see the younger generation showing up, in accordance with health guidelines, for the sake of grandparents, for the sake of populations grappling with loneliness,” Netanyahu wrote in a Tweet linking to the video. “There are vaccines for the coronavirus, but there is no vaccine for loneliness.”
Naturally, the video has its critics, like Avigdor Liberman, party chairman for Yisrael Beytenu, the right-wing secular nationalist party.
“Maybe instead of singing, the government will pursue a policy that supports the elderly and will not force Holocaust survivors and the elderly to live on donations and food parcels,” Liberman said in a statement to the Times of Israel.
It’s a valid criticism, but part of me hopes this trend of political duets picks up stateside. With President Trump busy booking studio time with Lil Wayne or Kid Rock, he may lose sight of this whole “overturn the election” thing.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Benjamin Netanyahu joins pop star in bizarre duet