On most days, Nabih Berri is pretty happy to be Nabih Berri. Sure, his political party is viewed as Hizbullah’s uncouth country cousin, and no, there isn’t really anyone in line to inherit the throne once the Estez adjourns his last parliamentary session. But for the time being, he’s Nabih Berri, and that’s pretty good.
These days, not so much. Many Lebanese politicians have gotten egg on their faces courtesy of Wikileaks, but the cables have made a veritable Quiche Lorraine out of Nabih’s mug. His conversations with US embassy personnel during the 2006 War are full of terribly embarrassing statements about Hizbullah. One day he claims that the resistance will no longer be needed if the Shebaa Farms are liberated; the next day, he promises to lead the Lebanese Army back to the South in lieu of Hizbullah; the following week he says that Israel has the right to defend itself when attacked.
Most scandalous of all was a comment to Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman in which Berri lauded Israel’s bombing campaign as a positive development that would help weaken Hizbullah, describing it as “like honey”:
“I like a little bit of honey, but if you eat the whole jar you get sick!” Berri exclaimed, and then threw his head back in riotous laughter.”
As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Speaker, our tireless cyber-sleuths at the Qnion have managed to get their hands on the transcript of yet another July War meeting between him and Feltman. We’re sure he’ll deny it, and we don’t blame him.
The scene: a formal living room at Nabih Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh.
Feltman: Mr. Speaker, thank you for seeing me on such short notice.
Berri: Ahlan wa-sahlan. Ahlan wa-sahlan. You are most welcome. Most welcome!
Feltman: I know that you must be extremely busy.
Berri: For Ambassador Jeffrey, I always have time. I am at your service. You know, there is an old Arabic proverb that says, “Don’t shed an eyelash for an enemy, but for a friend you must slaughter the sheep.”
Feltman: (has heard it a dozen times) How kind.
Berri: Welcome welcome to the American Ambassador. You know I lived in Detroit when I was a young man?
Feltman: (nodding wearily) Yes, I think you’ve mentioned that.
Berri: (reminiscing fondly) Ha hah…those were the days! The Motor City, Joe Louis, the Detroit Tigers…
Feltman: (stifling a yawn)… Pastrami.
Berri: Yes! Pastrami sandwiches! My God I miss those. You know, there is an old Arabic proverb that says: “Slaughter the sheep for a friend, but for your lover, serve a pastrami sandwich.”
Feltman: (puzzled) Really?
Berri: No. I’m just joking. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Feltman: (smiling weakly) Ha ha ha, yes… very droll.
Berri: Hah! I do love pastrami. And bagels! Oh my God, with cream cheese and lox? Divine. Did you know that I have a special shipment of bagels sent to me from Zabar’s in New York every month? Five dozen bagels. Every month.
Feltman: Oh my.
Berri: (suddenly seized by an idea) Would you like a bagel?
Feltman: No thank you.
Berri: Yes! Yes you must have a bagel. I just received a fresh shipment. (He whistles for an assistant) Abu Talal! Jeeb el-bagels 3as-saree3. Yalla t7arrak!
Feltman: Mr. Speaker.
Berri: So, Mr. Ambassador. What can I do for you?
Feltman: I thought we could discuss the latest developments in the conflict. Last time we met, you said that the bombing campaign was like a jar of honey. Is that still your assessment?
Berri: A jar of honey? No. Today I would say it is like a bowl of soup.
Berri: Yes. A hot soup that is getting hotter by the minute. And in the middle of this soup is a big delicious matzo ball. It’s a slippery matzo ball, you know? One of those big ones that you can’t cut into with a spoon. You try, but it just spins around and around. And it is too big to swallow whole, so you have to find a way to shrink it. So you turn up the heat, hoping that it will dissolve, but it doesn’t. Do you follow me?
Berri: (continuing unawares) Now, Ambassador Jeffrey, I love matzo ball soup, but even I will not eat this soup if it gets much hotter. And what is the point of matzo ball soup if you can’t eat the matzo ball?
Berri: You know, there is an old Arabic proverb that says: “If your matzo ball is too slippery to cut with a spoon, try a fork.”
Feltman: (baffled) Try a fork?
Berri: A fork!
Feltman: (suddenly getting it) Ohhh…
Berri: (arching a sly eyebrow) Right?
Feltman: (pleased with himself) But, Mr. Speaker, where might we find a fork big enough to… (looks at Berri knowingly) … skewer such a big, slippery matzo ball?
Berri: (smiling) The Shebaa Farms.
Feltman: Shebaa? Impossible! The Israelis will never go for it. And you’ve said it yourself: Shebaa is just a pretext! Shebaa is an excuse! Shebaa is nothing!
Berri: Ahh, but Mr Ambassador, Shebaa is both nothing and everything.
Feltman: You’ve lost me again.
Berri: Let me explain. (He holds up a bagel.) What is this?
Berri: What is this? Is it a roll? Is it a piece of bread?
Feltman: It’s, umm… it’s a bagel?
Berri: Correct. And what makes it a bagel?
Feltman: (completely lost) I have no idea.
Berri: The hole! The hole makes it a bagel.
Berri: Now, what is the hole? Is it something or nothing?
Feltman: Is it something or nothing? Hmmm, well… I suppose it’s both something and nothing?
Berri: Precisely. The hole is both something and nothing. In fact, the hole is everything and nothing! The hole is the absence of something, but without that absence, the bagel is not a bagel.
Berri: (leaning forward and whispering) Hizbullah is the bagel.
Feltman: (whispers back) I thought Hizbullah was the matzo ball.
Berri: (ignoring him) Hizbullah is the bagel because of the hole that is Shebaa. Without the hole, Hizbullah ceases to be the bagel, and turns into a common piece of bread. Do you follow?
Feltman: (in a hypnotic trance) Hizbullah is the bagel…
Berri: (pleased) Exactly…
Feltman: …and without the hole, Hizbullah is no longer a bagel.
Feltman: I think I’m beginning to understand.
Feltman: (in a daze) Shebaa is the bagel hole… It is everything and nothing… Hizbullah is the matzo ball. The soup is getting hotter. The bagel is Hizbullah. Israel is the spoon. Shebaa is the fork…