Yehuda Avner , THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 26, 2007
The impending arrival of President George W. Bush calls to mind the first occasion when an American president visited Israel: Richard Nixon, in 1974. I was then on the staff of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin - it was his first term - and insiders conjectured that the president's Middle East jaunt was a desperate ploy to distract the American people's attention away from the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Nixon, so pundits avowed, sought credit for secretary of state Henry Kissinger's brilliant handling of the post-Yom Kippur War disengagement accords so as to project himself as a world class statesman and indispensable peacemaker.
Comments of this sort reverberated among the crush of correspondents, photographers, and radio and television reporters in the main dining hall of the King David Hotel, waiting for Kissinger to arrive for a wrap-up news conference, while Nixon concluded his talks with Rabin. What brought me there was not simply the press conference, but also an old friend by the name of Willie Fort (a pseudonym), whom I knew from my Washington days at our embassy.
Willie was about my age, in his mid-forties, but you would not have thought so by his looks. Short and chubby, he had a kind of durably boyish face topped by jet black hair that flowed from a center part and glistened like shining glass, a bit like Bob Hope. There was mirth in his brilliantly clever eyes, and his entire apparel - he habitually sported extravagantly patterned suits over flashy shirts and flamboyant ties - exuded an irrepressible bonhomie.
OUR CHIT-CHAT in the coffee shop was interrupted by a newspaperman standing close by with a fat belly that strained against the buttons of a shabby jacket, and who suddenly called out in a most rascally fashion, "Here he comes - it's King K himself." Television lights from the mezzanine balcony overlooking the lobby draped in Stars and Stripes, bathed the place in a luminescent glow as a glistening armored limousine with a gold-tassled American flag drew up. Out of it emerged the secretary of state surrounded by a phalanx of security. He blew in like a tornado, radiating great power, and the guests in the lobby, which had been roped off to allow him clear passage from the front door to the dining hall, applauded, while cameramen and photographers filmed and clicked as he, half-smiling, in a dark suit, stocky, with thick black short hair and deep-set eyes encased in owlish spectacles, waved back over the heads of his bodyguards.
For the next hour or so he caused pens to scribble furiously as he deftly fielded questions in his famous Bavarian accent, and then stepped down from the tribune to make his way back to the lobby. There, Willie Fort, standing amid the crush, pressed forward against the velvet rope barrier and called out to him as he passed, "Heinz! Heinz!" Caught off guard, Kissinger halted mid-stride, and momentarily stared at Willie.
Singularly excited, Willie shouted with a beaming smile and an outstretched hand, "Heinz - recognize me? Wilhelm Furtwangler from Furth. Remember?"
The secretary of state flushed, threw Willie a contemptuous look, and strode on. His bodyguards, too, eyed Willie as if he was diseased, and shouldered him out of the way."What on earth was that about?" I asked him, flabbergasted.
White as a shroud, Willie seemed about to answer but didn't. Instead, he shook his head, smiled glumly, and skulked off toward the coffee shop.
"WHAT DID you tell Kissinger your name was?" I asked, pulling up a chair.
Stoutly, as if testifying before a court of law, he replied, "My name is Wilhelm Furtwangler from Furth, Bavaria, the same place Heinz Kissinger comes from. We were at school together. My family escaped Germany to America in 1937, his in 1938. We were both 15. We settled in Washington Heights on Manhattan's Upper West Side where there were so many German Jewish refugees they called it the Fourth Reich. We went to the same school - George Washington High - and prayed at the same shule - Rabbi Breuer's - very Orthodox."
I swallowed. "But there's absolutely nothing German about you. You're as Yankee as baseball."
His mouth spread into a thin-lipped smile. "Me, a Yankee? I'm a German refugee kid in disguise, you jerk. I've been working at it all my life."
"Then how come Kissinger has such a heavy accent and you've got none?"
"Because as a kid Heinz was shy and a bit withdrawn, and any speech therapist will tell you that shyness inhibits the ability to mimic, and you have to be a mimic like me to acquire an accent-free fluency. Our indefatigable English teacher at George Washington High, Miss Bachman, tried with endless patience to rid Heinz of his Bavarian accent. "Henry, you have a chronic English-language speech disability," mimicked Willie impersonating Miss Bachman's school ma'am's wheedling voice. "You must try harder to Americanize it.'"
As he spoke I tried to rethink his life story, and he, as if reading my mind, said with amused contempt, "And now Heinz is the American secretary of state. When Nixon appointed him in '73, I sent him a congratulatory note with an old photo of him holding up the football I'd given him for his Bar Mitzva. He was crazy about football as a kid. But do you think he acknowledged it? Not a chance!"
"Were you that close as boys?"
A glint of fond reminiscence entered his eyes and he snickered at the thought of it: "There was no one closer. Even though he was a bit of a bookworm and I wasn't we had great times together. We sometimes even got our ears boxed for fooling around."
"And what happened when the Nazis came?"
Like unstoppable water through the cracks of a dam Willie let the reminiscences cascade: "When the Nazis came our neighbors told our parents not to worry: Hitler was just another anti-Semitic street brawler disseminating mad propaganda, best ignored. But gradually they changed their tune and said, look at the good things Hitler was doing for Germany. And soon after that we weren't allowed to play with their children any more, and Heinz's father lost his prestigious job as a state school teacher, and we were expelled from the state-run high school and had to go to a special Jewish school, and we weren't allowed to go to football matches so we set up our own soccer team, and we weren't allowed to go to the municipal swimming pool, and we weren't allowed to go anywhere where it said 'Juden Verboten!' And the Gestapo came banging on our doors, and the Hitler Youth beat us up. And so we ran away until we reached America."
GRIPPED WITH such dark memories, Willie's usually bright demeanor slumped into melancholy. He rose and heaved, "I need fresh air," and off he walked as if hoping the breeze and the sun would wash away the brooding hurt, but since I had nothing worthy to say he had only his pain for company.
He took a seat on a bench overlooking the Old City walls, and said contemplatively, "It's so complicated, so very complicated."
"Kissinger. He's trying so hard to repress his feelings, he's obsessed by them. The years of persecution are bottled up inside him." There was an expression of sympathy in Willie Fort's voice intermingled with a sort of frustration, which explained itself when he added, "I'm speaking professionally, as a psychiatrist. I believe he needs help."
"What sort of help?"
"Psychiatric help. There are basic tensions in that man's psyche which influence how he perceives the world and, consequently, how he arrives at his decisions. There's no separating his personality from his policies."
This was an intriguing and unsettling thought, so I asked Willie to elaborate. "By all means," he said. "I shall offer you an off-the-peg, extemporaneous, psychoanalysis of Henry-Heinz Kissinger, based on reliable hearsay and anecdotal observations, and shared by many of my professional colleagues. You might wish to write some of this down. It could be of interest to your prime minister."
I took out my pen, and did.
Henry Kissinger, he said, habitually insisted he had no lasting memories of his childhood persecutions in Germany. This was nonsense! In 1938, when Jews were being beaten and murdered in the streets, and his family had to flee for their lives he was at the most impressionable age of 15. At that age he would have remembered everything: his feelings of insecurity, the trauma of being expelled, of not being accepted; what it meant to lose control of one's life, to be powerless, to see one's beloved heroes suddenly helpless, overtaken by the brutal events, most notably his father whom he greatly admired. Those demons would never leave Henry Kissinger however hard he tried to drown them in self-delusion.
Outwardly, the secretary of state presented an image of self-assurance, strong will, and arrogance, Willie went on. Inwardly, however, because of his suppressed emotions and state of denial, he was possessed of a deeply depressive disposition, an apocalyptic view of life, a tendency to paranoia, and an excessive sense of failure when things didn't go his way. Typically, such inner doubts triggered displays of petulance, tantrums, and temper. Persons of such a nature were invariably over-solicitous of their superiors and overly harsh toward their subordinates. They had an excessive need to be loved and admired, and an extreme ambition to excel.
HENRY KISSINGER'S Jewishness was equally a source of neurosis, according to Willie Fort. Reared as a deeply observant Jew, Kissinger slipped away from beneath the Orthodox shadow of his parental home when he was drafted into the army in 1943. His rebellion was so absolute and his assimilation so total that when he was sworn in as secretary of state he took his oath of office on a Christian Bible on a Sabbath day with his gentile second wife at his side. Yet, try as he might, Henry Kissinger would never succeed in shedding his thin, Jewish refugee skin.
Willie emitted a cynical laugh at this, and observed, "I learn through the White House grapevine that whenever Nixon feels Kissinger is getting too big for his boots he is not averse to resorting to nasty anti-Semitic barbs to cut him down to size. He has even been known to call him 'my Jew boy' to his face. It is said that he is careful not to bring too many Jewish staff members to meetings with the president for fear of arousing his anti-Semitic streak. And when it is aroused he pretends to shrug it off, concealing his humiliation. But then, back in the privacy of his room, he invariably goes into a tantrum and takes it out on his subordinates."
"So how does this impact on his role as mediator between us and the Arabs?" I asked.
"People like him invariably over-compensate. They go to great lengths to subdue whatever emotional bias they might feel, and lean over backwards in favor of the other side to prove they are being even-handed and objective."
WILLIE NOW sprang to his feet, his old buoyant self again, and strolling back to the hotel rounded off his extemporaneous diagnosis thus: "What happened in the King David lobby suggests that our brilliant American secretary of state - forty-fourth in line since Thomas Jefferson - behaved in a neurotic fashion. One minute he was glorying in the world's spotlight at his press conference, and the next, when he saw me, was hurtled back into Jewish memories he'd spent a lifetime trying to suppress. He certainly recognized me. You noted how he bridled at my mention of his name, Heinz. He utterly despised me for that. So yes, I have to conclude the man is disturbed. Tell the prime minister he should be most wary in dealing with our secretary of state. Tell him that deep inside him is an insecure and paranoid Jew."
The writer served on the staff of five prime ministers, including Yitzhak Rabin. firstname.lastname@example.org