That time Hillary Clinton emailed about gefilte fish

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·Chief Washington Correspondent
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(Photo illustration: US Dept. of State; AP)

The latest batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails, released by the State Department after dark on Monday, includes discussions of presidential politics as well as sensitive and high-risk diplomatic dealings. In one grim message, Chelsea Clinton warns her parents that relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti are riddled with “incompetence” and declares herself “profoundly disturbed” by what she saw during a trip to that Caribbean country.

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(US Dept. of State)

The email trove also includes some lighter, more personal notes, like a request from the former secretary of state for help in figuring out what time “The Good Wife” airs.

And then there’s the gefilte fish. Four hundred thousand pounds of it, to be precise.

In a March 5, 2010, email to top aides Jake Sullivan and Richard Verma, subject line “Gefilte fish,” Hillary asked: “Where are we on this?”

It’s inherently funny: The secretary of state asking two senior officials a cryptic question about a Jewish dish generally served at Passover. This would normally hardly be the stuff that typically requires the attention of America’s top diplomat. On Twitter, more than a few people joked (I hope) that this was clearly a code word.

There’s a backstory. Of course.

Another email, from February 26, 2010, with the subject line “Gifilte Fish,” fleshed out the diplomatic conundrum. Israel was holding up an American shipment of carp, one of several white fishes that can be used as the main ingredient in gefilte fish.

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(US Dept. Of State)

How did the trade dispute escalate to Hillary’s level?

The day before the “Gifilte Fish” email, Clinton appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee for a hearing titled “Promoting Security Through Diplomacy and Development.”

Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Ill., explained that Israel had “locked up” nine containers containing carp from a facility in his district that he proudly declared is “the world’s only fish processor of gefilte fish.”

“I just want to make this public and see if there’s anything that you can do to get the gefilte fish to Israel by Passover,” Manzullo asked Clinton.

The transcript records that the secretary of state’s first reaction was “(laughs).”

“Congressman, I will take that mission on,” she said.

“Thank you. Thank you,” he responded.

“I don’t know if I can promise that we can get it done, but I’ll give you my best efforts,” she added.

“Thank you. Thank you, Madame Secretary,” the lawmaker said.

“And if not, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with nine containers of it,” she added with a laugh.

“It’s 55 percent of their product, and they could lose a couple hundred jobs if they don’t get the gefilte fish there,” Manzullo fretted.

“This sounds to me like, you know, one of those issues that should rise to the highest levels of our government,” she concluded.

As Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg was quick to point out late Monday, the story has a happy ending. The dispute appears in the memoirs of Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Oren noted that the 1985 trade agreement between the United States and Israel protected some vulnerable Israeli sectors — including Galilean carp farmers.

Oren says Manzullo called him incessantly, and that the dispute even escalated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (“I urged him to focus on Israel’s critical issues and leave the fish to me,” Oren wrote).

Finally, a compromise. The containers were unloaded in Israel “on a one-time, nonprecedent basis,” Oren wrote.

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