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Israel’s Latest International Diplomatic Scandal? Shoegate.

Why did Benjamin Netanyahu serve dessert to Japan’s prime minister inside a pair of brogues?

Liel Leibovitz
May 07, 2018
Via Instagram
Segev Moshe's controversial dessertVia Instagram
Via Instagram
Segev Moshe's controversial dessertVia Instagram

Last week, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and his wife, Akie, stopped by for dinner chez Sarah and Benjamin Netanyahu while on an official visit to Israel. Segev Moshe, a celebrated Israeli chef and a Netanyahu favorite, was entrusted with the duty of cooking for the evening, and his meal delighted both couples. That is, until dessert was served. Inside a shoe.

When the chef posted a snapshot of the dish on his Instagram account—appetizing-looking chocolate concoctions inside a not-so-appetizing-looking gentleman’s brogue—Israel’s latest diplomatic scandal erupted, with many accusing Netanyahu and his chef of having badly insulted their guests, whose culture is famous for removing shoes prior to entering the home.

A former Israeli diplomat who had been posted in Japan spoke on condition of anonymity to the Israeli news site Ynet, undiplomatically referring to the decision to serve sweets inside shoes as “stupid and insensitive. There’s nothing lowlier in Japanese culture than shoes. Not only do they not wear shoes in their homes, you will not find shoes in their offices, either. Even the prime minister, members of the cabinet, and other parliamentarians will host you in their office without shoes on. This is a major screw-up and diplomatic disrespect, disdain of the first order. It’s like serving a Jewish guest chocolate inside a dish shaped like a pig.”

Speaking with the same publication, a Japanese diplomat, also remaining anonymous, agreed. “There is no culture on earth that puts shoes on the table,” he said. “What, precisely, was the celebrated chef Segev thinking? We fail to understand what he was trying to say. If it’s humor, we do not find it funny. I can tell you that we felt offended for our prime minister.”

Fake news, cried the chef. In a statement issued by his representatives, Moshe argued that the shoe wasn’t an actual dress shoe but a cast-iron sculpture of a shoe by the artist Tom Dixon, a “high-quality artistic object.” Both the Netanyahus and the Abes, the statement concluded, “were very enthusiastic about the meal in general and the dessert in particular, and applauded and complimented the chef. The Japanese prime minister even invited the chef to cook in Japan.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the shoes in question as wingtips, whereas, as any educated gentleman could plainly see, they are captoe medallions. We at Tablet take men’s footwear very seriously, and apologize for this insensitive error.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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