It’s hard enough playing peacemaker between Jerusalem and the White House. Try playing straight man on an Israeli satire show.
It was not exactly Richard Nixon on “Laugh-In,” but US Ambassador Dan Shapiro did just that during an appearance on news satire program “Matzav Haumah” (State of the Nation) Saturday night, attempting to keep up with the jibes and gags while maintaining a stature fitting the envoy from Israel’s closest ally.
Shapiro, who is also fluent in Arabic, spoke in Hebrew throughout the broadcast, and said he had mastered the languages’ guttural letters so well that Israeli friends have told him that “you came to us as an American and you’re leaving as a Moroccan.”
The show features a panel of hosts and guest hosts commenting on the hot-button issues of the day, and the joshing on the show, which has hosted high-level politicians in the past, is often shaped by a political razor edge.
When panelist Einav Galili pressed him about American-Israeli relations, Shapiro displayed his own acid wit. She asked if by “warm relations” between the two countries Shapiro is actually referring to the fact that both nations’ flags are burned in demonstrations in Cairo.
Shapiro looked around at the American flags adorning the stage and said “I hope that doesn’t happen here in the studio as well.” Co-host Guri Alfi assured the ambassador that they would never burn flags that the program spent money to purchase.
Still, Alfi teased Shapiro that as the middleman between Obama and Netanyahu, he was like “a child of divorced parents.”
Host Lior Schlein asked Shapiro whether Google’s purchase of Israeli navigation app Waze meant the US would “finally be able to find Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, and move your embassy there?”
Shapiro responded that while there was a law on the books in the United States that recommends moving the American diplomatic mission to Jerusalem, the same law enables the US president to delay such a move. He added that former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both opted to delay the move, as has President Obama.
Schlein quipped that in place of Shapiro coming to Israel to advance the peace process, Obama could have sent Jerry Seinfeld. “He too is Jewish, he too is American, and he has a program about nothing.”
Shapiro smiled and said “but he doesn’t speak Hebrew.”
Shapiro acknowledged that the reality in the Middle East was complex, but said there was no choice but to deal with it as it was and work toward a better future.
Schlein suggested that America make Israel the 51st state. “Think about it,” Schlein said. “If we could be your 51st state, [convicted spy Jonathan] Pollard could remain in an American prison and come back to Israel at the same time!”
Shapiro commended the suggestion as “very creative,” and Schlein told him in response that creativity “is all we have.”
“I’ll pass the suggestion on,” said Shapiro.
“Really?” asked Schlein.