Ben and Barry: Just a few New Flavors

By David Solway on July 22, 2010

Benjamin Netanyahu can count himself lucky. The press has made much of the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Barry (aka Barack) Obama who, during their recent encounter, left him to stew for an hour in the White House reception room while the president enjoyed a leisurely dinner “with Michelle and the girls.” This was plainly no way to treat a visiting head of government, but let’s face it, it could have been much worse.

For example, Obama might have wheeled in a blackboard and had Netanyahu write one hundred times, “I will not build apartments in Jerusalem.” Or he might have sat poor Ben in a corner facing the wall and wearing one of those  dunce caps he keeps specially for his allies, refusing to allow him to rejoin his entourage until he had recanted his obduracy and promised a building freeze in all of Israel, including Tel Aviv. Or he might have dictated a letter to his captive guest beginning “Dear Mahmoud Abbas,” proceeding to an abject apology (which is something the president handles brilliantly), and concluding with the valediction, “Your humble partner in peace, Benjamin Netanyahu,” instructing him to deliver it by hand.

Even more humiliating, Obama might have taken a page out of LBJ’s playbook. During a 1965 meeting with Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson, the American president, in a fit of choler after Pearson had criticized his Vietnam policy in a speech at Temple University, raised the diminutive Canadian PM by the lapels and gave him a good pedagogical shake, instructing him not “to come into my home and piss on the carpet.” No Canadian pipsqueak was going to get away with pissing off the president of the mighty U.S. As the media reported, “Lyndon Johnson and Lester Pearson took the special relationship [i.e., between the U.S. and Canada] to a new low.” During a subsequent encounter at the LBJ ranch, Johnson addressed Pearson as “Prime Minister Wilson.”

Now, it’s true that Netanyahu is no 99 pound weakling, but Obama is in excellent shape, works out regularly, bowls, swims, throws a baseball occasionally and plays a lot of golf, so there’s no question he could have slammed Netanyahu to the floor in no time flat and had him begging for mercy, like a shrunken Israel reduced to a posture of indefensibility. Moreover, when Obama returned from his repast, he surely did not refer to Netanyahu as “Prime Minister Harper” or “President Ahmadinejad,” but no doubt addressed him by his proper name, an act of noblesse oblige and diplomatic subtlety for which the president is justly celebrated. All in all, Netanyahu got off lightly and Israel was fortunate to welcome its prime minister home intact, who had merely cooled his heels for an hour while the president dined en famille. 

So one may reasonably wonder what all the fuss was about. The relation between the two men and the two countries is obviously as “rock solid” as ever, and a minor issue like some apartments in the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem will not lead to another Masada. Israel can relax. It has nothing to fear from the United States of Obamerica, except for a couple of parenthetical issues like the occasional dressing down, a partial arms embargo, the dispatch of imperious commands that must be obeyed or else, abstentions at anti-Israeli UN votes and the making common cause with its enemies.

Ben and Barry, like Ben and Jerry, merely come up with a few new flavors from time to time, such as Jerusalem Mudslide or Humus Crunch. But beneath it all, they are still the best of pals. What’s a little friction between good friends? And it’s not as if Ben spat in Barry’s face—as a typically befuddled David Forman seems to think—by, say, emulating his Palestinian counterpart and dedicating a public square in Jerusalem to John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.

Clearly, the “special relationship” remains strong.


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