Let’s be honest, America. This is not a fun time in our nation’s history. The political rise of Donald Trump has no doubt pleased his supporters, but it has stressed out many Americans. Economic anxieties, tensions with Russia, turmoil in the Middle East, concerns about China — they all add up to a constant hum of anxiety to anyone paying attention in the world.
In this kind of situation, the need for some kind of diversion is powerful. Human beings need release valves when constantly inundated with stress. Whether it’s sports or movies or hobbies or, most importantly, humor, Americans need a temporary distraction to be able to cope with stress during the rest of their day. And for Americans paying attention to foreign policy or this election cycle, real honest-to-goodness humor — as opposed to the “I’m laughing because otherwise I would be crying” kind of humor — has been hard to find.
Which brings me to the funniest man in world politics today: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is not known for his mirth so much as his not getting along well at all with President Obama. So you will be shocked to hear that there was a low-level contretemps between Netanyahu’s office and the White House over a possible face-to-face meeting next month when he was scheduled to address AIPAC. Netanyahu canceled the trip, and initial press reports had sources from his office suggesting that the reason was that Obama had refused to meet with him.
All parties now agree that this claim was not true. Also, the White House only found out about it through the press, so you can imagine how it reacted.
Which brings us to Molly O’Toole’s report in Foreign Policy about how Netanyahu’s team was going to explain itself out of this scrape:
By Monday evening, Netanyahu appeared to be in damage control mode, with unnamed aides saying that he had decided to cancel his trip to Washington due to concerns over appearing to influence the U.S. presidential election, rather than because of a snub from the White House.
“The prime minister decided not to travel to Washington at the current time at the height of the US election season,” officials told Haaretz. “The prime minister appreciates that President [Barack] Obama would have met with him in advance of the conference and his planned trip to Cuba.”
Well, I for one think it’s entirely appropriate for Netanyahu and his team to demonstrate such heightened sensitivity to America’s domestic politic — I’m sorry, excuse me for just a second:
Look, by now it would take an archaeologist to unearth the layers of contempt that the Obama White House and Netanyahu’s Office of the Prime Minister feel toward each other. And reasonable people can disagree over which leader fired the first diplomatic shot, which leader fired the worst shot, or which side should shoulder the majority of the blame.
But come on. The claim that Netanyahu is super-concerned about influencing American domestic politics is absurd on its face. Four years ago, any such concerns did not stop Netanyahu from meeting with Obama and addressing AIPAC in person. Oh, and just a quick FYI: That speech happened on March 5, 2012, which just happened to be the day before Super Tuesday, so it’s not like the GOP nomination was completely settled at that point. Now, I could also mention that in the summer of 2012 Netanyahu hosted GOP nominee Mitt Romney — or that it was now-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer who broke that news in the New York Times — but that would just be dogpiling on at this point.
This really doesn’t matter much at all. The next president will have better relations with Israel regardless, and all of the bad blood between Obama and Netanyahu hasn’t fundamentally affected the security relationship between the two countries.
But that’s what makes it so funny. It’s just a God-awful, laughable-on-its-face explanation of a minor diplomatic kerfuffle. And yet, we all needed the laugh.