It’s not easy to top Rabbi Yakov Litzman, a Knesset member representing the United Torah Judaism party and now the de facto head of Israel’s health ministry, in the silliness department. He is the one who objected to the term “swine flu,” not, mind you, on grounds that swine do not seem to be particularly involved at this point in the transmission of the virus, but because the word “swine” is offensive to Jews and Muslims alike. We should, he went on to say, call it “Mexican flu.”
It took Mexico exactly one day to register a formal complaint with Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Litzman is thought by some to be a brilliant scholar, an admirable attainment that apparently does not correlate with smarts or sensitivity. But in the race to the bottom, he has some stiff competition from his Knesset colleague, National Union chairman Yaakov Katz, who last month sent — and whose aide released to The Jerusalem Post — a rather embarrassing letter to Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.
According to Katz, Emanuel had told an unnamed American Jewish leader — and we don’t know whether this is anything more than hearsay — that “in the next four years, there will be a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it does not matter to us who is the prime minister.”
Katz, who is adamantly opposed to a two-state solution, responded as follows: “For many Israelis, this report is a cause for worry because it reveals a condescending attitude toward our prime minister and Israeli public opinion. This is an attitude that Israel does not expect from a real friend such as the U.S., and all the more so from an Israeli Jew who has succeeded in being appointed White House chief of staff.”
In his letter, Katz urged Emanuel to follow the example of the biblical Queen Esther, who used her place in Persia’s royal court to benefit her people. Quoting from the Book of Esther, Katz instructed Emanuel, “if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
I cannot suppress the desire to imagine Emanuel’s response. Herewith, several possibilities:
Dear Mr. Katz: Your interesting letter took me completely off-guard. For years, I have been trying to keep my deep identification with Queen Esther a secret. No one knows — or, at least, until your letter arrived I believed that there was no one who knew — about the storage facility in a suburb of Chicago where I keep my collection of Persian garments, many of them from 2,500 years ago: gowns, bathing suits (from the famous beauty contest that sealed Vashti’s fate), unmentionables and so forth. Given the constraints of my current job, it is almost impossible for me to spend a leisurely afternoon, as I used to, trying on these splendid silks. I may add that the principal reason for the new American policy toward Iran is my fervent hope that I will be privileged one day to visit the Shrine of Esther and Mordecai in Hamedan, where I would very much like to retire and there enjoy peace and quiet, which some might consider a drag. So? In short, you can count on me.
Dear Mr. Katz: Oh, shut up. I am not, as you would have it, “an Israeli Jew who has succeeded in being appointed White House chief of staff.” I am an American Jew who accepted the role of President Obama’s chief of staff reluctantly. One reason for that reluctance? People like you, who cannot see beyond the tip of your nose. I, sir, am sworn to uphold America’s interests, and, to be blunt about it, you and your party, with your determined opposition to an independent Palestinian state, are at odds with those interests. I might add that you are also out of step with most Israeli Jews, to say nothing of Israel’s Arabs. It is, therefore, with great and uncharacteristic restraint that I limit myself to saying to you, urgently: “Shut up.”
Dear Mr. Katz: Your recent letter to me, obviously intended as a joke, was in fact not funny at all. Indeed, because of the threat against my father’s family, I have turned the letter over to our Secret Service. I urge you to cancel any plans you may have to visit the United States; our detention facilities are crowded, but there is always room for one more.
Dear Mr. Katz: Thank you for your letter. I have marked it “top secret,” and I urge you to denounce it as a forgery, lest it show up in an updated version of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Dear Mr. Katz: They tell me that your nickname is “ketsele,” which translates into “little cat” or “pussy cat.” But you are neither a pussy nor a cat. Permit me to cite Y.Ch. Rawnitski’s “Yidishe Vitsn” (Jewish Jokes). Rawnitski there refers to the best known of Haman’s sons, Vayizoso, as der geviser tipesh, the certifiable fool. May I call you Vayizoso? Harumpf. Rahm Emanuel