Grapevine: Bibi at his best – and Sara, too

The Shin Bet notified the hotel’s management as to who should stay where, depending on the degree of security that they required.

By
October 6, 2016 20:48
Prince Charles at Shimon Peres' funeral.

Prince Charles at Shimon Peres' funeral. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Even his fiercest opponents cannot deny that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of Israel’s best orators. He has a pleasant, deep voice, a natural sense of drama and an enviable eloquence.

He has given many impressive addresses over the years, but few which were as wide-ranging and emotional as the eulogy he delivered for Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres. Some of Netanyahu’s critics were dismissive of his sincerity, but they may think otherwise if they look at some of the candid video material of the funeral.

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Sara bashers – some of whom could not resist, even when she, too, was at her best – must surely have noticed her diplomatic skill when she chatted with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, when the prime minister turned away to speak to Saeb Erekat, and continued her conversational abilities with US President Barack Obama, former US president Bill Clinton and King Felipe of Spain. Her demeanor, her dress and the manner in which she stood in for her husband when he was speaking to other people were entirely appropriate for the occasion. After years of being the media’s punching bag, it’s time that her good points were acknowledged.

Netanyahu mentioned not for the first time that Peres wept on learning of the death of Netanyahu’s older brother Yoni, who led Operation Entebbe in July 1976. On a more personal level, Peres had a much more difficult task in 1992 when, as foreign minister, he had to inform his brother Gigi and sister-in-law Carmela that their son Uziel, a writer, film director and producer had been killed when the Thai Airways International Airbus in which he had been traveling crashed in Nepal while attempting to land in bad weather in Kathmandu.

The Peres family, together with the Israel Film and Television Directors Association, later established an annual prize in the name of Uzi Peres, awarded in conjunction with the Tel Aviv Cinematheque to the director of an outstanding short film. The new Cinematheque auditorium was named for Uzi Peres.

ISRAELIS FUNCTION best in an atmosphere of chaos or what in Hebrew and several Slav languages is referred to as balagan. Proof of this is in the ever-changing arrangements related to dignitaries from abroad who came to Israel last week for the Peres funeral.

Initially, there were reports that US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was taking time out from her campaign in order to attend.

Then it was reported that the only Clinton flying in from the US was Bill Clinton. Likewise, there were reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel was coming, but the key German representatives in the final analysis were President Joachim Gauck and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The pope had also voiced a desire to attend, but did not follow through.

Preparations for the accommodation of an unprecedented number of high-level dignitaries from 70 countries began even before Peres was diagnosed with his final illness. Obituaries had already been published two weeks before he died. Few people, if anyone, expected him to survive, though thousands prayed that he would.

Cooperation between the Ministerial Committee on State Symbols and Ceremonies headed by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) with the managements of Jerusalem’s luxury hotels was an organizational nightmare.

In years gone by, the highest-ranking dignitaries would have automatically been assigned to the King David Hotel. But in recent years, some heads of state and government, along with foreign and defense ministers, have discovered that within easy walking distance of the King David, there are other luxury hotels such as the David Citadel, the Waldorf, the Mamilla and the Inbal.

Sheldon Ritz, director of operations at the King David, is usually a poster boy for the unruffled executive who is simultaneously a servant to many masters. But Ritz did not know till almost the last minute who exactly was going to be a guest of the hotel, and whether the King David was getting the large contingent of Americans arriving with Obama or whether they would be going to the David Citadel, which is often frequented by American dignitaries and high-flying business executives.

Ritz and his team worked a 35-hour shift without a break as delegations began arriving from 10 on Wednesday night till 7 on Friday morning.

All had to be catered to as if they were the only guests in the hotel. The team had worked for hours in advance evacuating guests from 150 rooms and placing most of them in the nearby Dan Panorama, which fortunately, like the King David, is part of the Dan chain. The guests were brought back before Shabbat. Most, according to Ritz, were very understanding of the security precautions that had to be undertaken at the King David, but some were quite resentful at being inconvenienced.

It was difficult to decide which head of state should receive which suite. The Shin Bet notified the hotel’s management as to who should stay where, depending on the degree of security that they required. It was the Shin Bet, not the hotel management, which decided who should receive the rocket-proof suites.

The Canadians had to be relocated at the last minute, as they had a much larger delegation than initially expected, and the hotel did not have 50 available rooms. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo canceled at last minute because he thought it best to remain in his home state following a massive train crash.

The guest list at the King David looked like a preparatory list for a United Nations General Assembly. It included Gauck; Romanian President Klaus Iohannis; Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos; Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades; Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis; Slovenian President Borut Pahor; Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic; Charles, Prince of Wales; Governor-General of Australia, Gen. Sir Peter Cosgrove; President of the Russian Senate Vyacheslav Volodin; Russia’s Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko; Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban; Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte; Czech Republic Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka; Prime Minister of Macedonia Nikola Gruevski; Norwegian Foreign Minister Berge Brende; Steinmeier; Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek; Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry; French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault; British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson; Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkey Feridun Sinirlioglu; King Mohammed VI of Morocco’s representative and senior adviser André Azoulay; former British prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair; former French president Nicolas Sarkozy; and secretary-general of UNESCO Irina Bokova.

Unfortunately the staff at the David Citadel worked their butts off in vain. The Americans canceled in the last minute because they were all returning with Obama, who offered Clinton a ride home. In fact, he was losing patience with the gregarious Clinton, who tarried to say last good-byes, and called for him to hurry up.

FOR THE immediate future, there’s a little letup in Ritz’s life. Next on the list is Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who is due at the end of October, and after him Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who will be in Israel from November 9 to 11.

PRIOR TO his arrival in Jerusalem, there was speculation as to whether Charles would visit his paternal grandmother’s grave above the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

ITV News reported that he had made a poignant first-time visit to see Princess Alice’s final resting place. Charles did indeed pay his respects after leaving Mount Herzl. He went to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, where he was welcomed by Archimandrite Roman Krassovsky.

The ITV News report stated that the prince, who had long wanted to make the journey, placed flowers which he picked himself from his Scottish retreat Birkhall. He had also brought flowers to place on the adjacent grave of his great aunt Elizabeth, the grand duchess of Russia, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks and declared a Russian Orthodox saint.

Alice was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations for having sheltered Rachel Cohen and her five children from the Nazis during the Second World War. She hid them in her brother-in-law’s palace in Athens.

It was her wish to be buried in Jerusalem. Her grave was visited by the prince’s father, the duke of Edinburgh, in 1994.

FRENCH MEDIA reported that President François Hollande graciously invited Sarkozy to accompany him to the funeral. The two sat side by side, faced by two other guests: Meyer Habib, a member of the French parliament and reputedly a close friend of Netanyahu, and Bokova. The two presidents exchanged personal anecdotes of their many encounters with Peres.

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