The American ambassador wearily removed a cleaning cloth from the black case he’d placed on the prime minister’s desk. He shook it open, gazed sadly at the dust that danced in the beam of the ceiling light, puffed on his lenses, and rubbed the cloth over them. Holding his glasses up to the light, considered the flexible frames that had cost him an arm and a leg, and saw that they were still smudged. But at this point he no longer cared. Perhaps, he thought, Israel’s leader was better viewed blurrily. The prime minister seemed to be shouting in a deep, throaty voice.
illustration by Avi Katz
“Come on everybody, clap your hands!” the blurry premier seemed to be saying. “Are you lookin’ good?”
The ambassador tried to collect his thoughts. He knew he did not look good at all, and this did not seem to be the prime minister’s voice.
He felt two strong hands grab his and pull him out of his chair. “We’re gonna do the twist and it goes like this!” the voice explained.
“Weren’t we talking about American aid?” he mumbled as the body before him gyrated like a dervish with an inner ear infection.
Then he saw that the voice was coming not from the prime minister but from the large plasma screen on which the pm generally monitored the BBC for anti-Semitic news coverage. A black man in a suit was singing: “Yeah, let’s twist again, twistin’ time is here!”
The same strong hands pushed him back into his seat and the fuzzy prime minister plopped into his own chair.
“Rock and roll!” he exclaimed. “I grew up on it! What could be more American?”
“Twist again, like we did last summer!” the man on the screen intoned.
“Could you perhaps turn the volume down?” the ambassador wondered.
The prime minister looked disappointed, but picked up the remote control and ratcheted the sound down from 63 to 17.
“Now,” the ambassador said. “You were saying …”
“I was saying that you know what a great admirer of the United States I am,” the prime minister effused. “Living there when I was young, I absorbed American grit, the can-do spirit of the founders and pioneers. I learned how to take responsibility for myself and my family instead of relying on a nanny state to provide my every need. I learned to tug at my bootstraps without falling backward and knocking down other people. It’s American gumption that Israel needs.”
“Those are very kind words,” the ambassador acknowledged. “Still …”
“American democracy,” the prime minister beamed, “is the beacon of freedom throughout the world. I’m embarrassed when I look at the coalition crises of our parliamentary system, the power it gives to small parties representing fanatical constituencies to subvert the true will of the people. We need a strong executive of the type enshrined in the great Constitution of the United States.”
“If I’m not mistaken,” the ambassador said, “you began this conversation by informing me that Israel would cease making payments on its considerable debt to the United States of America.
“Here’s my favorite part!” the prime minister crowed as he zapped the volume up to 75.
“Who’s that flyin’ up there?” the black man shouted. “Is it a bird?”
“No!” shouted the prime minister.
“Is it a plane?”
“Is it the twister?”
“Yeah!” the prime minister cheered, jumping out of his chair. He looked at his guest, sighed, and put the volume down again.
“You can’t just decide not to pay your debts,” the ambassador pointed out.
“But it’s the American way!” the prime minister objected.
“Not,” said the ambassador. But the prime minister was preoccupied with the big screen.
“Not,” he repeated.
“Not what?” the prime minister said absent-mindedly. “Oh, the debt. Well, I’m just taking my example from the majority party in the House of Representatives, the tribunes of the American people.”
Being a trained diplomat, the ambassador did not say the first thing that came to his head. He carefully reviewed the second, third, and fourth things that came to his head, and then proceeded down the list until he reached number fifteen and ran out. None of them could be used.
“It’s all about trimming government,” the prime minister explained. “It’s a behemoth that is depriving the Israeli people of their freedoms.”
“What freedoms would those be?” the ambassador wondered.
“The freedom to a deservingly poor old age because one did not invest wisely in one’s youth,” the prime minister replied. “The freedom not to be treated for illness, major and minor, because one was not foresighted enough to buy health insurance instead of taking your family to Eilat for a summer vacation. The freedom to receive a bad education because one has not had the presence of mind to get good enough a job to be able to move out of the small town with the substandard school. These are freedoms that, by all accounts, the American people value highly.”
The ambassador chose his words carefully. “I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here.”
“God, I love rock and roll,” said the prime minister as he fiddled with the remote and set off a new clip. “It’s America’s gift to the world!”
“If you don’t pay your debts, you’ll be in default!” the ambassador shouted over the saxophone solo.
“I’m like a one-eyed cat, peepin’ in a sea-food store!” the prime minister sang. “I’m like a one-eyed cat, peepin’ in a sea-food store.”
“I heard you the first time.”
“It’s the blues,” the prime minister explained patiently. “You have to repeat the first line of the verse. That’s what the slaves did when they were sad.”
The ambassador tried a different approach. “The Republicans are, of course, loyal Americans. However, I don’t think they meant their example to be copied by America’s debtor countries.”
The prime minister looked wounded.
“Are you saying that liberty means one thing for Americans and another thing,” he paused meaningfully, “for the Jews?”
The ambassador’s eyes were crossing. He tried cleaning his glasses again.
“I believe you’re doin’ me wrong and now I know, I believe you’re doin’ me wrong and now I know,” the prime minister sang. “The more I work, the faster my money goes.”
“Come,” the ambassador said. “Let us reason together.”
“Shake, rattle and roll!” crowed the prime minister.
“And you call yourself a real American?” the prime minister muttered. “You sound like one of those Democrats who want to let Iran nuke us.” He pressed a couple buttons on the remote and began singing with a white guy in a shiny vest and greasy hair.
“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time! You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time! Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine!”
“YouTube,” the prime minister declared, “is another great American contribution to civilization. For that, we are indebted to the American people.”
“The American people insists on its right to get its money back,” the ambassador said, not quite diplomatically. “The consequence of default could be quite serious.”
“Like what are you going to do, bomb our chemical weapon factory?” the prime minister jeered.
“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation,” the ambassador said to himself.
“Ya know they said you was high-classed, well, that was just a lie,” the prime minister sang.
“I think I really preferred when Israeli prime ministers illustrated their policies with Russian folk songs and Yiddish comedy routines,” the ambassador said.
“So you like Russians?” the prime minister asked. “I bet your boss would be interested to know that.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
The prime minister leaned over his desk, slapped the ambassador on the shoulder, and whispered in his ear.
“You guys are such an example to Israel. We’ve imitated you just like a little brother imitates his big brother. You beat the Nazis, we beat the Arabs. You got an atom bomb, we got—excuse me, maybe I should be creatively ambiguous about this, but you get my drift. The minute you appointed a woman as governor of your central bank, I turned around and appointed one myself, even though I can’t stand her guts. That’s how close we are.”
“Can we get to the point?” the ambassador asked. But the prime minister was fiddling with the remote control again.
“You say you’re gonna leave me, you know it’s a lie!” sang the skinny guy with big glasses who appeared on the screen.
“So you’re not going to pay?”
“We’re not going to pay.”
“And what am I to tell the president?”
“You can tell him,” the prime minister smiled, “that it’s not my default.”
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