Diplomatic dressing down, part II
The tense meeting between Netanyahu and the American ambassador was meant to prove to the American public, ahead of the elections, that the rift between Israel and the United States is deeper than we thought.
Hollywood always recycles successful movies. Thus we had the privilege of seeing “The Godfather 2” and “Superman 2,” as well as many others that were not always such wonderful productions. In our region, too, they have learned to recycle successes, and sometimes also failures. So we got the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War.
But now we seem to have done even better: Someone in the Israeli government has decided to recycle the “Low Stool” and we have now witnessed the horrifying turn of events in “Low Stool 2.”
Some two years ago, the deputy foreign minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, decided to humiliate Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol. Not only did Ayalon seat him on a low chair in his office at the Knesset, he also took pains to direct the show himself with exact instructions to the photographers to ensure that the ambassador would be snubbed to the last bone in his body. Now apparently the Israeli government has taken a decision to repeat this “success” but with a more seasoned, illustrious cast.
The role of the deputy foreign minister was played by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while the American ambassador, Dan Shapiro, was chosen to play the part of the Turkish ambassador. And in order to raise the level of the performance even more, a senior American director and PR expert, the chairman of the United States House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, was brought in. The following is the script as reported by Rogers, who incidentally is also a Republican and apparently aware of the fact that there will be presidential elections in the United States in another few weeks.
The prime minister hosts the congressman in Jerusalem. Rogers is accompanied, as is usually the practice, by the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Netanyahu (according to the director) lost his temper and verbally attacked the ambassador. “The meeting was very tense,” the ambassador responded harshly. “People were clearly agitated and worked up.” The atmosphere was so electric that the director (who says he has seen a few sharp exchanges in his day) remarked: “But nothing at that level, in all my days.”
Ambassador Shapiro, a true pro, was interviewed by Channel 2 during prime time and did his best to calm the atmosphere and save the dignity of Netanyahu and that of U.S. President Barack Obama, whom he was merely representing, as is accepted practice, during that performance. But this was to no avail. The producers and spokesmen of that “horror show” pumped the Israeli media with an interview given by the director/PR expert to a Michigan radio station, which stressed that despite Shapiro’s all-clear signal, he had nevertheless been severely reprimanded by Netanyahu, whose patience had run out.
The performance of “Low Stool 2” is no less grave, perhaps even more so, than that of “Low Stool.” First and foremost because the cast was of such high rank, but also because it appears to be an attempt to help the Republicans in the upcoming election. The entire show, under the patronage of Rogers, is meant to prove to the American public, and in particular to the Jewish community, that the rift between Israel and the United States is more significant and deeper than we thought.
The diplomatic disgrace here is twofold. First, Israeli diplomatic policy relates to a visiting ambassador as if he was a punching bag − behavior which deviates from any reasonable diplomatic protocol. And if that were not sufficient, the prime minister and his bureau lend a hand to an election maneuver against Obama on one of the most sensitive and explosive of issues in the election campaign.
Ambassador Celikkol is no longer here and has meanwhile become one of Israel’s most bitter enemies, together with his government. Have we not yet learned a lesson? Do we wish to turn Ambassador Shapiro and his government also into our bitter enemies? Have we gone completely crazy?
The writer was director-general of the Foreign Ministry and Israel’s consul in Atlanta and Chicago.