Way back in time, before the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066, English kings were known by nicknames rather than numbers. My favorite, as a kid, was Ethelred the Unready, whose name seemed to sum up how I felt then and have for most of my life. It’s disappointing to read in Wikipedia decades later that his cognomen was in fact a bad translation of “ill-advised,” which just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
There was also Alfred the Great (boring,) Edgar the Peaceful (who was anything but, apparently,) Edward the Confessor, Eadwig the All-fair and Edmund the Deed-Doer, though the nature of his deeds went unspecified.
Inaccurate translations aside, kingly nicknames are a sadly forgotten art. Think of how poorer history would be if, instead of the Unready, we would have to refer to Ethelred III. Or to Harold I, instead of Harold the Harefoot.
I am delighted to note, therefore, that members of the Obama administration have resurrected this fine, old tradition by anointing the current monarch of Israel Bibi the Chickenshit, or so we are told by Jeffrey Goldberg in a recent article in The Atlantic. Bibi the Chickenshit. It’s not quite Basarab the Little Impaler (of Romania) or Edgar the Outlaw (of England,) but it sure beats Benjamin Netanyahu.
The reason for the nickname, according to Goldberg’s unnamed source, is that Netanyahu is basically a coward, more interested in his own political survival than making peace with the Palestinians. Or that’s what the Obamaites apparently think.
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars. The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states.” Thus Goldberg’s source.
Much as I welcome the return to descriptive nicknames, I’m not sure that Chickenshit captures the essence of the man who is leading Israel down the plughole. I know of many people, myself included, who might reasonably be described as chickenshit when it comes to confrontations involving violence and people bigger than ourselves.
Nor does it even allude to Bibi’s many other gifts. He may well be chickenshit, for all I know, but that’s not the sort of shit that is threatening to do us in. Levi Eshkol was known as being a bit chickenshit in his day, but he didn’t pick fights with the president of America, glare down at the leaders of Europe from a lofty height or send his Bible-dazzled emissaries to live in Silwan.
Chickenshit is not exactly a compliment, of course, but nor does it denote the pigheaded, Holocaust-obsessed, chauvinistic delusions of Israel’s current prime minister. When you’re up against historical competition of the likes of “the Be-shitten” (James II of England,) you’ve got to try harder.
Which is typical of the wishy-washy Obama administration, if you don’t mind my saying so. Always sitting on the fence and trying to be the nice guys. Never wanting to give offence, even when the other guy – Bibi the Chickenshit, for argument’s sake – has just spat them in the eye and gone over their heads to the dinosaur-shits in Congress who are always guaranteed to give him a warm reception.
Given the insipid effort of the Obama crowd – and the extreme likelihood that they’ll deny everything when the chickenshit starts hitting the fan – those of us who take our historical obligations seriously are going to have to work it out for ourselves.
So here’s the challenge: What is the one-word moniker (OK, two hyphenated words are also acceptable) that will go down in history as an accurate characterization of the man whose words and actions encapsulate the stupefied unreality that passes for policy in Israel today?
It’s clear that words like “anti-democratic,” “colonialist” – “fascist,” even – simply don’t do the job. They’re far too tame, far tooreal. They’re ‘sticks and stones’ sort of words, whereas there’s something deranged – something that is simultaneously fantastical, delirious and petty – about Netanyahu and his minions.
I’m not going to say that they resemble the lunatics of the Islamic State in that sense, because I don’t want to lose my VIP pass and public beheadings are still a step or two too far, even for Bennett. But Israel’s settler-driven right, in its suicidal mission to hold onto the occupied territories and deny the Palestinians nationhood at any price, represent the same atavistic poison that kills Rohingya in Burma, Tamils in Sri Lanka and other religious or ethnic minorities around the world.
The best I can come up with is Bibi the Unhinged, Bibi the Rash (OK, I stole that from James III of Majorca) or Bibi the Grim-Reaper – none of which, I acknowledge, have the simple impact of Chickenshit.
Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv and an editor at Haaretz English.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now