Conflicting reports about traffic stoppages and road blocks in connection with the visit of US President Donald Trump created confusion and in several instances proved to be false.
The only problem this reporter – who lives on the same street as the prime minister – had, was in trying to walk between the metal barriers on the pavement in order to reach the main street of Keren Hayesod, where to her surprise, buses were running. Some five minutes later, while waiting to cross Jabotinsky Street that at a certain point becomes Hanassi Street on which the President resides, she saw another regular bus passing by. So much for no buses.
There were plenty of security people in the street, but no one stopped pedestrians walking in the direction of the President’s Residence.
That was a departure from previous visits by past US presidents. At those times, pedestrians were not permitted to walk on the same side of the street as the President’s Residence without proving that they had a right to be there.
Security was much tighter in Smolenskin Street, where the prime minister lives.
A small byway on the seam of the capital’s Rehavia-Talbiya neighborhoods, Smolenskin Street, had been turned into a virtual fortress.
Approximately half of the street is permanently sealed off by a metal enclosure. But for the Trump visit, that was fortified by yet another enclosure within that enclosure, plus metal barriers along both sides of the street, including one at the entrance to apartment buildings that made entry and exit for residents extremely uncomfortable.
More than a dozen security personnel, including the Border Police, patrol the street that has a total of five buildings, one of which is the Prime Minister’s Residence and one of which, next door, is unoccupied and used by security personnel for various needs.
The high fence across the road surrounds Terra Sancta, a large complex owned by the Franciscan Catholic Order. Part of the complex serves security needs and part contains a spacious church. The buildings in Terra Sancta are set well back from the fence. Car owners who live on the street were forced to park their vehicles elsewhere.
Reporters, photographers and video teams were asked to begin arriving at the President’s Residence at 10:30 a.m. They were also asked to dress “business casual” and some who usually wear jeans and t-shirts looked very smart in their spiffy suits and ties. Those who came in their usual rumpled attire were not turned away.
Trump was due to arrive at 1:15 p.m. but did not make an entrance until 2:07 p.m., by which time the media contingent numbered some 50 representatives and took up half the main hall in the residence. An insufficient number of chairs had been set out, but plenty of tuna sandwiches along with hot and cold beverages, cake and cookies had been supplied.
Frustrated journalists interviewed each other but learned very little. They were also restricted in what they could actually cover.
Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama had been much more accessible. For those journalists who had paid their own way to come to Israel it seemed as if they had wasted their money.
Security notwithstanding, Channel 2 reporter Sivan Rahav Meir, who more or less has carte blanche in the President’s Residence, brought one of her children.
The table that once belonged to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and which was gifted many years ago to the President’s Residence, is used for the visitor’s book which is signed by visiting dignitaries. This time it was placed on stage with the book and a bouquet of wilted flowers. If the flowers had been intended for America’s first lady, they were, thankfully, not presented to her. To give her such flowers would have been an insult.
The staff at the President’s Residence have a fetish about the red carpet, which is constantly being swept. This time, to protect it from dust and footprints, a long strip of gray plastic sheeting was placed on top, but to no avail. People kept walking over the plastic, which shifted under their feet and the carpet got dirty anyway.
It was swept at least four times prior to Trump’s arrival and also vacuumed. Even after Rivlin and Trump and their respective aides retired to a smaller reception area, the sweeper came out again.
But it wasn’t just the carpet. The upholstered chairs were also given a wipe-over. Meanwhile, the media twiddled its collective thumbs, and at least one person pondered the collective economic loss in productivity. Finally the aides emerged, followed by the two presidents, who made their respective statements which had been prepared long before they got together.
But Trump, who has a better sense of drama than Rivlin, was able when saying that Israel is an amazing country, to put sufficient stress on the first syllable and sound genuine in his admiration.
Rivlin, who is a great admirer of America, sounded the part when he voiced his pleasure at America being “back in the area.”
Following their statements, the two presidents and their wives and aides went to the garden for a photo shoot by an almond tree – specially planted for the occasion – then rushed back through the hall to waiting vehicles outside.
When Rivlin returned, he said Trump had been surprised by the huge media turnout and asked if he had ever seen so many in his life. Rivlin was less forthcoming when asked to assess his private meeting with Trump. “I’d rather have the Americans assess the meeting,” he said. “A host doesn’t talk about his guests.”