Vladimir Putin Versus Benjamin Netanyahu: The Body Language of Mistrust
Yesterday Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow. The topic of discussion was largely bilateral relations between the two countries, a common bond of past Nazi aggression, somehow seemingly the only common thread between great nations.
I was reading this morning the dialogue in between Putin and Netanyahu, and looking at the images supplied by President Putin’s press office. Knowing it’s no secret Russia-Israel-America futures seem somehow turned back decades to a time when Egypt and the whole Middle East was a Cold War playground for war, looking at these images brought to mind images of Nikita S. Khrushchev, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Moshe Dayan. As the so-called “Cold War” has turned into warm economic conflict, so too these important leaders reflect trying times, times not unlike past critical points. Seeing the simple body language of this meetup, it’s clear mistrust, dislike, and mutually exclusive goals are afoot in the world still. The only major difference now is, Barack Obama is no JFK.
The image at top, if we can use that moment symbolically, shows one side of a room full of important people closed minded, yet somehow anticipatory, interested, maybe even needy. The Israelis you see, leaning forward with crossed legs, show many signs of this sentiment. On the other side of the room, a confident Vladimir Putin, one of his aides, they seem ready to head elsewhere, to get the subterfuge over with. The verbal fencing in between the Russian leader and Netanyahu over “who’s monument” is bigger, this too exhibits a mutual dislike perhaps.
PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (retranslated): Mr President, I am happy to meet with you again. Every time we meet, we understand each other better, and our relations are constantly growing warmer and improving. I hope this meeting will strengthen the good relations between Russia and Israel even more, as they have been continuously gaining momentum under your leadership.
During your last visit to Israel, you saw a monument to Soviet soldiers and their enormous contribution to the victory over Nazism. For my part, I will be visiting the museum you founded, dedicated to the Jewish community, tomorrow.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You haven’t visited it yet?
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: This is my first opportunity to do so.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We’ve done even better than you.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Just give us a chance, and we will also show our strong side.
For those out there forgetful, if not for the millions on millions of Russians laying dead beneath battlefields in Europe, Israel itself could scarcely have existed at all. It’s a strange and ironic dynamic that has pitted Russia against Israel in the sad saga that is now the Middle East.
Back to the whole “language” of gestures that always resides in such meetings, and it’s clear here in this photo that Putin’s authority once again superimposes itself onto any meeting with a Russia visitor. Look at the image at top, how he “takes up space,” one of the clear signs of confidence, even body language training. By comparison, the Israeli delegation is inside a cocoon.
In the image above Putin and Netanyahu part company with what seems an ordinary dignitary handshake, but what else does this image show? See how Netanyaha’s head is bowed just a bit more than Putin’s? Note the 45 degree angle Putin’s body is at, compared to the straight on body position of his Israeli counterpart? Lowering heads means submission, or sometimes that the person has something to hide. No doubt any world leader today has skeletons in the proverbial closet, but it seems clear Israel needs Russia a lot more than the reverse. It could be said too, Netanyahu possibly has more to hide than Putin on this stage.
With a Russia-Egypt alliance in the making now, and Washington seemingly blind to the consequences of such a prospect, it should be clear turning back the clock on detente will retard the whole world’s outlook for peace. At least this is one look at the situation, body language may give the most honest depiction of our leadership reality, even our relative strengths and weaknesses as societies. What’s your take?