Diplomacy By Other Means–“Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

To: His Excellency President Rufus T. Firefly
From: His Notsogoodency Haim Watzman, Freedonian Ambassador to Israel

As you will recall from my earlier report, this morning I was summoned urgently to the foreign ministry in The Capital That Must Not Be Named. (As you know, the ministry is actually located in Jerusalem, but in accordance with international diplomatic custom we do not acknowledge this.) I knew from news reports that the summons was with regard to the screening, in Freedonian movie theaters, of a film portraying four members of the Jewish race as bumbling idiots who foment world war. We understood through diplomatic channels that Deputy Foreign Minister Canny Babylon’s superior, Foreign Minister Avigor Tuberman, was especially incensed by the fact that one of the said Jews was portrayed as speaking with an Italian accent rather than a realistic Russian one.

illustration by Avi Katz

You may have heard that Mr. Babylon has, in his brief tenure, developed his own unique and sophisticated diplomatic tactics that have brought many ambassadors to their knees. But, President Firefly, you need not fear — as a seasoned and senior member of our country’s foreign service, I was prepared. I was determined to stand up to this baboon-faced flunky and defend the honor of Freedonia.

I would not allow him to besmirch the four freedoms on which our great national tradition is based: the freedom to walk like a chicken, the freedom to insult rich dowagers, the freedom to make awful puns, and the freedom to speak one’s mind with a bicycle horn. Indeed, during my long years of service in my country’s diplomatic corps, I have held my head high through a number of such dressings-down. You will recall, no doubt, the incident in San Marcos where I refused Gen. Vargas’s order to wear my underwear over my pinstripe suit. And I am especially proud of how I stood up to U.S. President Merkin Muffley when he threatened to nuke our capital. That crisis ensued, I may remind you, after you declared that the theme of our annual Mardi Gross spring festival would be “The Women in the Closet: The Life and Loves of Warren G. Harding.”

So, accompanied by my faithful attaché Bob Roland, I walked into Mr. Babylon’s office in a fighting mood. My first inkling that this assignment would be even more difficult than I had anticipated came when his secretary handed me a box. She smiled sweetly and said:

“Hi, I’m Cindy. Deputy Minister Babylon asked me to tell you that in accordance with a longstanding Israeli tradition that dates back to 8 a.m. this morning, all official visitors are required to wear this quaint local costume.”

Thinking that this might be something akin to our own custom of asking honored dinner guests to wear horseshoes and snout rings, I opened the box with great curiosity.

“I’m afraid there must be some mistake,” I said to the secretary. “This is a Bozo outfit.”

“The deputy minister will not receive you until you have it on,” she said firmly.

Well, President Firefly, what was I to do? I had no time to waste — I was scheduled to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport an hour hence to welcome Freedonia’s champion elliptic machine team for the regional championships to be held here later this week — so I excused myself, walked into the bathroom, and changed my clothes. Bob helped me apply the greasepaint and get the nose on right. I told him to wait for me outside as Cindy ushered me into Mr. Babylon’s office.

The members of the press were already assembled for the photo op. Mr. Babylon held out his hand, but when I put my hand in his I received an electric jolt and jumped a good three meters into the air. The reporters snickered and my host said, “I’m so sorry. Some static electricity, no doubt. Tell me, what do you think of my boutonniere?”

In his lapel was a fine purple anemone, one of my favorite local flowers, but when I bent down to inspect it I received a spurt of water in my face. The reporters guffawed. As I wiped my face with my handkerchief, Cindy brought in a chair for me. I gratefully sat down, only to hear a very loud fart resound through the room.

By now the reporters were in hysterics and Leslie Kisser of The Jerusalem Retort was actually rolling on the floor having a conniption fit that required his evacuation by the team of medics that stood at hand.

“I’d like to welcome the distinguished ambassador of Freedonia to the foreign ministry of the Jewish state,” said Mr. Babylon. “E’s-hay a eal-ray uck-schmay. And make sure you get the frizzy wig in your photos.”

Babylon foolishly thought that I did not understand. But if he had done his homework he would have known that this particular ambassador holds an advanced degree in the language of which he thought I was ignorant. Perhaps, if I may be so bold, Mr. President, I will send you a copy of my prizewinning PhD dissertation: “Say ‘Ay’: The Problem of Rhyme in Pig-Latin Poetry.”

Nevertheless, despite the clown costume, the hand buzzer, the squirt flower, and the whoopee cushion, I did not lose my diplomatic poise, and acted as if I expected Mr. Babylon to conduct a formal diplomatic dialogue with me. Indeed, as the reporters filed out, he welcomed me graciously.

“Mr. Watzman, it’s always a pleasure to host you here in the Foreign Ministry.”

“The pleasure is entirely yours,” I said politely.

“I’m a busy man, so I’m afraid this will have to be brief.”

“That’s an even greater pleasure,” I said.

“I have called you in to protest your nation’s vile dissemination of anti-Semitic stereotypes on the silver screen,” Babylon glowered.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “We’ll paint the screen.”

“Don’t mock me,” he shot back. “My government will give no quarter in defending the Jewish people.”

“That’s okay, a dime will be plenty,” I said. “But you must understand that my country’s filmmakers are accustomed not to portray the world as it is, but as it ought to be.”

“Are you insinuating that in an ideal world Jews should be forced to wear fake mustaches?”

“Not at all,” I said. “Just that it might be nice if some of you were mute.”

“This is outrageous! I must refer this incident immediately to the foreign minister!” He lunged for his phone and barked into it: “Cindy, tell Igor to come immediately.”

From somewhere there was a trumpet blast and the door burst open to reveal Avigor Tuberman. I might mention, as an aside, that if you ignore the shag-carpet beard, the paunch that inevitably makes any diplomatic tête-à-tête into a nombril-a-nombril, and the fact that you can’t look him in the eye unless you pick him up, he rather resembles your typical mid-20th century Italian dictator.

“Vat is matter?” he said. “Fery buzy day. At ten I yem scheduled not participate in negotiations with Palestinians. At yeleven I yem made non-person by conference of non-aligned nations. At twelf ze French foreign minister come to snub me, and at vwun I make nasty remarks about Israeli Arabs. Vwhoo is dis idiot?”

Babylon made the introductions. “It’s the tapeworm from Freedonia. The country with the movie that libels the Jewish people.”

Tuberman puffed out his chest and slapped me in the face.

“Take zat!” he crowed.

“Nonsense,” I said. “People often compliment me on my clear complexion.”

“I ave-hay ublicly-pay umiliated-hay im-hay,” Babylon informed his boss.

“Fery good. Fery good.” He turned to me. “Your country’s histoory wis-a-wis ze Jews well-known to me.”

“I’m afraid that you are quite mistaken,” I corrected him. “Freedonia has a large and contented Jewish population, living happily under the administration of our august President, Rufus T. Firefly. And they didn’t do badly in July, either.”

“You can’t fool me,” Tuberman hissed. “Don’t forget zat I know exactly what is like to grow up in Marxist country.”

I kept my cool. “That covers a lot of ground, Mr. Tuberman. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. In fact, I hear they’re going to tear you down and build a settlement.”

“Just last week I speak wiz Bibi and we plan special operation to rescue Jews of Freedonia. We send in our special forces.”

“Are the special horses the ones you’re made up to look like?”

Tuberman turned as red as a bowl of borscht and screamed “Zis means var! Cindy!”

Cindy scurried in carrying a large white bakery box, which she opened before Babylon. Babylon carefully lifted up a large cream pie and, holding it in his right hand he, with considerable agility — he had certainly done this many times before — smashed it into my face.

But, President Firefly, I had come prepared. “Bob!” I shouted. He ran in with two bakery boxes. I aimed a coconut pie at Babylon, hitting him squarely in the mug, and a banana cream — my favorite — at Tuberman. By then Cindy was back with four more boxes and Bob fetched our stash from the limousine. It wasn’t long before everyone in the room was dripping whipped cream and meringue.

President Firefly, as you read this you may perhaps be concerned that I have ruined our country’s relationship with the state of Israel and brought us to the brink of war with a country known for its large and powerful army. This is not in fact the case. In the peculiar Israeli system of government, the foreign ministry does not actually set policy. Tuberman and Babylon are charged rather with sullying Israel’s reputation at home and abroad and acting irresponsibly in ways that make Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sound like the voice of reason.

So I was not at all ruffled by Tuberman’s threat.

“I really must be going,” I told my two hosts. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful morning. But this wasn’t it.”

And I turned and walked slowly out of the room, my and Freedonia’s dignity intact. In the outer office I thanked Cindy and headed out to my waiting limousine, wiping my face clean of diplomatic invective.

It was only afterwards, when I saw the rather surprised looks on the faces of the strapping young athletes of our elliptical machine team, that I realized that I had forgotten to take off the Bozo costume. But no matter. I demonstrated once again that no man may disgrace Freedonia without bringing greater disgrace on himself. Babylon and Tuberman didn’t realize this morning that they were meeting their match. This time it was cream pies, but if they ever again dare to tangle with our great nation, it’ll be duck soup. Hail Freedonia, land of the brave and free!

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