Forgive me for wondering whether the daily dealings between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are taking a page from the Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed playbook — without the Marquees of Queensberry Rules.
Actually, now that the Israeli election is over, this bilateral bickering more resembles a tawdry soap opera — Dallas with a Wild, Wild West Bank plot twist. Here’s the Hollywood pitch: The saga of an American President and an Israeli Prime Minister, world leaders and longtime allies from democratic nations who simply can’t get along despite having far more important things to worry about in a world, and region, that is in complete disarray.
Gentlemen, please do not forget yourselves: you are statesmen from free nations on a planet featuring genocides, sectarian warfare, theocratic madness, the rise of the far right and the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and authoritarian regimes nearly everywhere else. What in the world do you have to fight about?
Iran and ISIS must be thoroughly entertained by this escalating blood feud measured only in bruised feelings and cold shoulders. The Bibi vs. Barack grudge match, always playing on a news outlet near you.
Yes, even with all prior comparisons to Winston Churchill, Netanyahu’s last minute, Hail Mary campaign stunts were not his finest hour. Obama could have come across as more presidential and agreed to meet the Israeli prime minister who came personally to warn America about Iranian duplicity. And, yes, it would have been better had Netanyahu cleared his Congressional screen test with the White House before turning Capital Hill into a campaign stop.
So now the president won’t allow the prime minister to “walk back” what he said on election day; the prime minister bristles at the thought that he had once been referred to as “chicken shit”; the president blames the prime minister for settlement construction; the prime minister is flabbergasted how naïve an American president can be about the intentions of those who openly threaten the annihilation of another country.
And now charges of spying between allies. What next, spousal infidelity?
We have beheadings and stonings all throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf. ISIS and Iran are fighting for control of a caliphate that is beginning to look more and more like a reality each day. Iran is playing poker with centrifuges and masked uranium that might result in flushing the entire region down the toilet. There are ongoing genocides in Sudan, Congo and Nigeria. Vladimir Putin is reclaiming former Soviet satellites as if the Cold War is back in vogue. And global terrorism is more ascendant than the Ebola virus.
Meanwhile, two world leaders who attended Harvard and MIT are behaving like Hatfield and McCoy.
Respectfully: the real action is not at the Israeli ballot box or with breached diplomatic protocols. The drama exists elsewhere, and the stakes are very high and deadly serious. There is no time for all this interpersonal disdain.
President Obama, you will not be beloved in the Middle East and Persian Gulf no matter how many New Year’s kisses you blow toward Tehran or conciliatory speeches you deliver in Cairo. Even your middle name has not earned you any love on the Arab street. And Prime Minister Netanyahu, settlement construction energizes your base but drives everyone else nuts—most especially, liberal democracies.
Seriously, gentlemen: the world is not with you. Globally speaking, you are largely friendless. At the drop of a hat, tens of thousands of Arabs and Persians are prepared to march onto the street and chant: “Death to America! Death to Israel!” (And “Death to the Pope!” “Death to British novelists!” “Death to Danish cartoonists!” and on and on.) You are separated by thousands of miles but your values and democratic ideals are inseparable. In such a cauldron of unmitigated chaos, that’s all that should matter.
You can stew about hurt feelings and bungled diplomacy all you want; meanwhile, the world is burning—and I’m not even speaking about global warming here.
The United States and Israel, Big Satan, and Little Satan, Barack and Bibi — for the love of God, get your acts together and your priorities straight. You have real problems and true enemies out there. And it’s not each other.
Fortunately, fighting among friends — all that teeth gnashing and boiling tensions — naturally simmers down. Like soap operas and professional wrestling matches, the good and bad often trade places, and warring enemies become allies. By the time Rocky III hit theaters, even Apollo and Rocky were fast friends.