Gift Horses

Funny how many sayings have a contradictory counterpart. Along these lines I have always been particularly fascinated by the relationship between the proverbs “Never look a gift horse in the mouth” and “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” These “horses” work well in tandem.

The “gift horse” reference is a metaphor for the gratitude of the gift’s recipient. If someone receives a horse as a gift, it is considered bad form for the recipient to look into the horse’s mouth and inspect its teeth to determine the horse’s age and condition. Checking the teeth is an insulting act of ingratitude.

Greeks and gifts invokes the well-known story of the giant wooden horse constructed by the Greeks as a deceptive “gift” to the city of Troy, with whom they were at war. Hidden within the horse were Greek soldiers who, at night, crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army which entered and destroyed the city of Troy. Today the term “Trojan Horse” is a metaphor for a gift that is really a trick, hence, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”

Due to an initial misunderstanding of the phrase concerning looking at the gift horse’s dentition, I am not just horsing around when I say that I have always felt that the two phrases were best understood together. I always thought that if only the Trojans had looked into the Greeks’ gift horse’s mouth the Trojans would have discovered the true nature of the gift and the city of Troy would have been saved.

And this is where Israel stands today: We are a nation that is compelled to look warily at the gifts offered by statesmen and nations, even if it means being less than gracious in accepting them.

Two potential candidates for president in the 2016 United States presidential election are offering Israel gifts that should be well examined before thank-you notes are sent. Last week, Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper reported that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a closed-door meeting in Washington that Israel’s criticism of the Iran nuclear deal had been good for America. Clinton also suggested that now that the deal’s signed, Israel’s open criticism is keeping Iran honest. Rare has been the word from a world leader, even a semi-retired one, that Israel has a right to voice its suspicion of the deal between the G5+1 and Iran. Clinton’s former boss, President Obama, was so incensed at Israel’s official reaction to the accord that he went on the offensive, attacking Israel’s criticism of the deal. Clinton’s public pro-Israel stance was part of her pro-Israel “charm offensive” that began at the Saban Forum last month where she repeatedly praised — and offered promises of commitment to —Israel. Clinton’s prominence at this year’s forum was viewed as her testing the waters, in possible preparation for another run at the presidency. Media-mogul billionaire Haim Saban has pledged his full commitment to former Secretary of State Clinton, and went so far as to say that he not only would very much like a second Clinton as president but, “The general feeling is that Hillary is Obama’s natural successor,” vowing to back Clinton with “full might,” which, in Saban’s case, is significant. If her health holds, it seems inevitable that she will run.

Clinton positioning herself as tougher on Iran than other potential Democratic nominees by supporting Israel’s position on Iran should be taken as a potential Trojan horse. These statements cannot be considered as demonstrative of her commitment to Israel. Her career has been interspersed with strong and untimely criticism of Israel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular. More troubling still is that Clinton’s other major supporter is billionaire financier and self-denigrating Jew George Soros, who has never failed to take an anti-Israel position both verbally and financially. Clinton’s verbal “gifts” are no more than positioning for a presidential run.

The other touted candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination is present Secretary of State John Kerry. Considering how he has lambasted Israel at every opportunity in the media, any gift he would bear to Israel should cause suspicion. Open its mouth and inspect the horse’s teeth. Twice.

Israeli media reported Friday, citing unnamed Israeli sources, that Kerry had offered to arrange the release of Jonathan Pollard if Israel freed Israeli Arab terrorists, which it has resisted doing, in the fourth and final phase of the prisoner releases. The report added, however, that Kerry clarified in his contacts with Israel’s leaders on the issue that Pollard’s release had not been approved by President Barack Obama. So before the gift was delivered, Israel checked, and determined that it was unlikely that Kerry could actually secure Obama’s approval; the same Obama who recently stated unequivocally that he has not reconsidered pardoning Pollard. Like any American politician, Kerry is well aware of the symbolic significance of Pollard in U.S.-Israeli political discourse. To dangle Jonathan Pollard as a carrot is a vulgar and cynical abuse of the already abused, whether its ultimate purpose is to induce Israel to make concessions during these failing peace talks or for Kerry to burnish his reputation for a run for the White House.

It is good horse sense for Israel not to concern itself with offending the Greeks bearing gifts and to carefully examine what’s inside the gift horse’s mouth, especially when the gifts are coming from the Democrats.


Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at