Three atonement-worthy diplomatic gaffes

Here are three diplomatic faux pas which – on this day – those who committed them might want to bear in mind.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife met with the President of Ukraine (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife met with the President of Ukraine
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Yom Kippur is upon us, and all across the Jewish world people will not only be apologizing and asking for forgiveness for their own sins, but some will take it upon themselves to tell others what it is exactly that they should be asking forgiveness for.
In that spirit, here are three diplomatic faux pas that those who committed them might – on this day – want to bear in mind.
Israel Katz and the Poles
It has to be a record of some kind.
Within hours of being appointed the acting Foreign Minister on February 17, Israel Katz triggered a diplomatic crisis with Poland by quoting Yitzhak Shamir, saying in a televised interview that Poles imbibe antisemitism with their mother’s milk.
The Poles, deeply offended by the remarks they considered racist, demanded an apology. But that apology still tarries, and as a result, Israel’s relationship with Poland – already strained by Poland’s efforts to minimize its culpability in the Holocaust – has suffered.
The biggest casualty has been Israel’s involvement in what it hoped would a strong sub-alliance within the EU: the Visegrad Group, consisting of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Israel was set to host a summit of leaders from those four countries with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February – until Katz made his comment and the Poles canceled their participation.
Since then Israel has been much less active in the group. This is no small thing since until then Netanyahu had succeeded in creating a network of sub-alliances – with the Visegrád countries, the Baltic states, four Balkan countries, Greece and Cyprus – to counterbalance a strong pro-Palestinian bent coming out of Brussels.
The Poles made clear that they expected an apology, but it was clear to everyone that in the midst of an election campaign, Katz would not apologize for calling the Poles antisemites. Maybe after the election and the formation of a government, the reasoning went, an apology would be forthcoming.
But the election never ended. Or, more precisely, it ended, but was followed closely by another one. And just as Katz could not – because of political considerations – apologize during the first election campaign, he couldn’t apologize before the second.
But now it is Yom Kippur. In order to get the relations with Poland – and, by extension, the Visegrád countries – back on track, Jerusalem is going to have to apologize somehow for his ill-considered comment.
When Katz gets to the confessional part of the Yom Kippur service, the Vidui, he might want to keep this in mind when he utters regret for sins having been committed due to “foolish speech.”
Sara Netanyahu and the Ukrainians
It was the drop of a morsel of bread heard ‘round the world – or at least all over the media in Israel and Ukraine.
Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife, Sara, traveled to Kiev in August. On the tarmac the couple was greeted by women in traditional, embroidered dresses who presented them with bread and salt as a traditional sign of welcome.
The prime minister took a piece, ate it, and then broke off more which he then gave to his wife. Apparently neither hungry nor aware of the intricacies of this ceremony, she let the piece drop to the ground. She didn’t provocatively throw it, or say “Yich, who wants this?” She just let it drop.
The Israeli media – always eager to highlight one of Mrs. Netanyahu’s missteps – jumped all over the incident, attacking her for a lack of respect and saying she offended the Ukrainians. Then parts of the Ukrainian media jumped on the bandwagon – some of them saying that, yes, they were offended – and it seemed the two countries were on the brink of a diplomatic incident.
The prime minister defused this by making clear in public that no offense was intended, and the Ukrainian president’s office made clear that no offense was taken. Still, this would be the time for Sara Netanyahu to keep this incident in mind when she confesses to sins having to do with “food and drink.”
Benjamin Netanyahu and the Indians
It’s no secret that Netanyahu has forged a close relationship with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
The two men have chemistry. Well, if not exactly chemistry – it’s not like Netanyahu calls Modi to talk about cricket scores – they both see the world through a similar conservative, nationalistic prism, and that has brought them close. They share similar world views, and realize that each of their countries can benefit handsomely through relations with the other.
And each man calls the other his “good friend.”
So it’s no surprise that Netanyahu wanted to visit India in 2019, even though he visited there in 2018, and Modi came to Israel in 2017. People naturally want to visit their good friends.
But Netanyahu apparently had another reason for wanting to visit in 2019: to boost his standing before the election. Therefore he pushed hard to arrange for a visit to India in February, just a few weeks before the April voting. A visit at that time – just like his visit days before the election to Washington and Moscow – would further highlight his diplomatic stature.
Netanyahu pushed hard for the meeting, and Modi, in the throes of his own campaign, agreed, and it was all set up. Inexplicably, however, Netanyahu canceled at the last minute.
Fast forward a few months to August, just a few weeks before the September election. Again Netanyahu pushes for a meeting with Modi. Again Modi agrees, and a one-day trip to New Delhi is planned. And again, Netanyahu cancels at the last minute, opting to go to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin instead.
Where might this fall in with the traditional Yom Kippur confession? Perhaps in the one having to do with sins caused by “confusion of heart.”