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Israel: The reviews are in

Ehud and Aliza Olmert.

Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his wife Aliza.

The New York Times reviewed, "The Unexpected Candidate," our lead story on our March 28th FRONTLINE/World broadcast. Television critic Ned Martel calls producer/reporter Ofra Bikel "a deft documentarian" whose profile of Ehud Olmert and his family "successfully balances the interests of the viewer and the viewed, and both sides should feel grateful for her measured reading of delicate matters."

For those of you who may not have seen it, here are key excerpts from the review....

"Ms. Bikel is most adept at showing how the family balances emotional support and political opposition. The couple have long disagreed, and the arguments have spread to their children. Several Olmert offspring are active in groups that have opposed their father on one issue or another. The patriarch keeps his political enemies from using his own children as weapons against him, albeit in a crafty way. "What's the big deal?" he says, the magnanimous papa. "They're entitled to have their own opinions." Then he follows with, "I never questioned their right to be wrong..."

"Now that Hamas will rule the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert's patterns of aggression and concession might again come into play. He insists that his flexibility is a virtue. "I have changed my opinions about some fundamental issues, and I'm proud of it," he says.

"Usually, I take seven to eight months to make a documentary, but in this case I had only six weeks," Bikel said in an hour-long phone call from Tel Aviv.

"As Ms. Bikel pans for an overhead shot in the Olmert dining room, there's a reassuring sense that the candidate knows how to keep opponents at the table. There's a baby gate guarding the staircase, his daughter has brought her female partner to the gathering, and the onetime hard-liner is feeding a toddler, sipping wine, demonstrating a mutual respect that has led, we are meant to believe, to a workable, if hard-won domestic peace. If he can manage that, this cozy scene suggests, there's hope for a few nonviolent years under an Olmert-led Israel."

There was also a lively interview with Ofra Bikel in the March 24th Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles by contributing editor Tom Tugend.

Here's a taste...

"Usually, I take seven to eight months to make a documentary, but in this case I had only six weeks," Bikel said in an hour-long phone call from Tel Aviv, her speech a medley of Israeli, French and American accents...

Bikel is a long-time personal friend of Olmert's wife, Aliza, knows the family well and had been assured of full cooperation. In addition, Bikel was born in Tel Aviv as a sixth-generation sabra and knows the country like the back of her hand.

"I thought it would be easy," she said. "But nothing is ever easy in Israel. You learn that over and over again."

Bikel focused on Olmert both as an individual and as the personification of profound political and ideological shifts in Israel...

"Most of his personal friends are politically center to left," Bikel said. "His four children went to progressive schools and are left-wingers."

One criticism of Olmert is that he acts too fast and makes decisions too quickly. "He counts to two, rather than to 10," Bikel said.

..."He [Olmert] is a lawyer with degrees in philosophy and psychology, very intelligent, a warm person, he thinks very fast, a loyal friend and an astute politician," she summarized.

One criticism of Olmert is that he acts too fast and makes decisions too quickly. "He counts to two, rather than to 10," Bikel said.

Will Olmert make a good prime minister, if he is elected?

"I think he is up to the job," Bikel replied. "But being prime minister of Israel is a mad job for normal people."

...Despite her decades of experience and success, Bikel is still terrified before every new project.

"I love my job, but I suffer for it," she said. "I take pressure very badly and I am sure that each new film is going to be my Waterloo."


Richard Winefield - San Francisco, CA
As usual, FRONTLINE/World hits a home run. The Olmert segment deserves the good reviews. The entire show was good, and the Rough Cut on French rap was gritty, in your face, and very enlightening. I love this show, and the website, but who is this Stephen Talbot fellow? His writing's o.k.; I'm assuming he's a Cal intern?

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
No, Talbot is a grey-haired, 57-year-old FRONTLINE/World series editor and senior producer, but he often plays the role of a Cal Berkeley intern on this site.

(Full disclosure: Rich Winefield is VP of Interactive and Educational Services at KQED-TV in San Francisco and helped us launch this site and guide us through our early years.)

I hope you will have the Olmert show was so 'busy' as well as interesting that I would like to be able to view it again.

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Yes, we post the video online of every story we broadcast. Look for the video about Ehud Olmert and his family starting April 4.