Grumpy old man: A fish story

How a cousin to the piranha has nothing on some of John Kerry’s Israeli critics.

Tilapia dead fish 390 (photo credit: reuters)
Tilapia dead fish 390
(photo credit: reuters)
Last summer, reputable news outlets were reporting that a fisherman dragging his nets in Øresund Sound between Denmark and Sweden had snagged a pacu, a large cousin to the piranha.
Forget that the fish had turned up in Scandinavian waters, thousands of nautical miles north of its decidedly less chilly Amazonian habitat. What really hooked these news outlets was word of the pacu’s favored dish.
“If they bite, they can bite hard...especially when they bite you where you really don’t want to be bitten,” one Peter Resk Møller, of Denmark’s Museum of Natural History, was quoted as saying.
Another expert from the museum, Henrik Carl, tied up the loose ends.
“There have been incidents in other countries, such as Papua New Guinea, where some men have had their testicles bitten off,” he said. “[The pacu] bite because they’re hungry, and testicles sit nicely in their mouth.”
Immediately, Nordic men were urged to keep their trunks on when swimming in the region’s bracing waters – until, that is, the gentlemen from the Danish museum admitted they had been stretching their fish story a bit, though all in good, clean fun.
“All we said last week (with a smile) was that male swimmers should keep their pants on in case there are more pacus out there in our cold Baltic waters,” Møller eventually told National Geographic in an email.
I’m reminded of this nonsense, which helped sell a bit of newsprint and Internet bandwidth, when confronting all the claims that US Secretary of State John Kerry is an Israel-hating anti-Semite.
He might be, of course – the way a pacu just might chow down on a Scandinavian testicle. We’ve heard stranger things that turned out to be true. But I don’t see anyone on a Baltic beach frantically waving male swimmers out of the water the way I read people in the pages of this newspaper shouting “Gevalt!” to the high heavens about Kerry’s supposed biases against Jews and the Jewish state.
AS EDITOR of The Jerusalem Post’s letters section, I receive a lot of interesting mail. Just this week a reader wrote in about a certain piece on Herod, the Romans’ decidedly controversial puppet king of Judea who ruled a little more than two millennia ago. The reader said the author had made an error. To prove his point, he cited something he said had been pulled from an encyclopedia.
It was a large chunk of text. The problem was, it began with a quotation mark but had none at the end, flowing straight into what might – or might not – have been the reader’s own thoughts before his salutation and signature.
When I pointed this out he replied by saying, “I quoted correctly, didn’t I? Everything I wrote was a direct quote… Please make a suitable letter to [sic] editor and publish it, thanks.”
The guy – a university professor, no less – wanted me to do his work. But then came this gem, absolutely out of nowhere: “I suspect that [the author] (I really don’t know) is a left-wing, secular anti-haredi, and probably thinks to himself, Good, whatever Herod did to those fanatical extremists [sic] evil rabbis of his day.”
I note this particular correspondence because this is what a lot of us have become – people who suspect things, people who deal almost solely in what is no more than probable, and often barely possible. We impart to the personalities and actions of others what can only be suppositions. Of course, before going on to skewer the author of the piece with no small amount of vitriolic certitude, the reader said – to his credit – “I really don’t know.” That is far more than many critics of Kerry are willing to admit.
That’s the process to which we’ve stooped, particularly some of our politicians.
It seems to have started in mid-January, when Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called Kerry “obsessive” and even “messianic” about the peace process.
Frankly, I can’t find much fault with that observation if I take into account the secretary’s sheer doggedness in seeking what can only be called a longshot.
Then again, I’m not a defense minister or someone else who, owing to clear-cut American largesse and support over the years, must at least appear to be grateful.
But then the aspersions of anti-Semitism crept in, most notably a few days after Kerry made his warnings about ramped up boycotts and Palestinian violence against Israel if there is no progress in the negotiations.
Certainly, the secretary of state’s comments were on the money. We say so ourselves. “Just watch,” we often tell each other. “The whole world will blame us if the talks break down.”
Unfortunately, Kerry said these things out loud and very publicly. Not a very smart thing for America’s top diplomat to do. To many here he was issuing not a warning but a threat, telling us not what would happen, but what he’d make sure happened if we didn’t toe his line.
Why, he was sending cues to his good buddy Abu Mazen! This is no honest broker – he supports the head of the Palestinian Authority! It’s more than clear! So, because everything is a zero- sum proposition in this part of the world, he hates Israel. And of course, anyone who hates Israel is, ergo, an anti- Semite.
This was the case more or less made by two people from Bayit Yehudi, party chairman Naftali Bennett and MK Motti Yogev.
Bennett met Kerry’s warnings by retorting: “We expect our friends in the world to stand by our side against anti- Semitic boycott efforts against Israel, and not be their megaphone.”
But Yogev did the Full Monty, telling a radio interviewer in late January that Kerry had “anti-Israel roots,” while his pressure on Israel “may have anti- Semitic undertones.” He later issued something of an apology at the urging of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro. “Maybe the expression ‘anti-Semitic’ was inappropriate,” Yogev wrote, “but since he showed his pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel opinions in the past, John Kerry cannot be a fair broker in the Israeli- Palestinian matter.”
TO MY GREAT surprise, I have found comfort and support for my feelings about the misguided… nay, the stupid attacks against the American secretary of state in none other than his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. (What did I say about strange things turning out to be true?) Liberman has been called a lot of things, but stupid is not on the list.
True, the bad boy of Israeli politics does appear somewhat contrite now that he has dodged myriad charges of fraud and other forms of malfeasance that for more than a decade and a half hung over him like Dionysius’s sword over Damocles.
But now he seems to be fighting back against Bennett, who may have taken away his right-wing throne but will not be allowed to muscle in on the foreign minister’s professional turf, nor on his road to succeeding Bibi Netanyahu.
Who’da thought? Avigdor Liberman and me on the same side! Sounds like a fish story to me. I just want to know if it’s safe to go back in the water.