US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in Jerusalem May 22, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Trying to sum up US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel, one is left with a collection of impressions and observations which amount to “much ado about very little, but thank God it went by without any serious mishap.”
Trump was undoubtedly on his best behavior, and didn’t bungle. He seemed to view the visit primarily as a private one with his good friends Benjamin and Sara (who for their part have a special fondness for billionaires – and if they also happen to be the president of the United States, so much the better), refusing national gestures, such as a visit to Masada, devoting only 25 minutes to Yad Vashem (15 minutes according to the itinerary), and insisting on his visit to the Western Wall being private.
He accepted with equanimity all the fadihot (follies) generated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party members, and Sara Netanyahu’s comments about the hostile media (which he can certainly identify with) and the state’s stinginess regarding the upkeep of the official Prime Minister’s Residence (of course she said nothing about the NIS 650 million that will be spent on the construction of a new residence).
Trump made several statements that made our prime minister very happy, such as that he will ensure Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons, and that the US will continue to ensure Israel’s security while recognizing the Jewish ties with Jerusalem. He also abstained from explicitly mentioning the two-state solution, or even the Palestinian right to self-determination.
However, he didn’t move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, didn’t declare that Israel had the right to settle everywhere west of the River Jordan and reportedly pressured Israel into making significant goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians, which it would never have made on its own.
Trump also made it clear that trying to reach a settlement and peace between Israel and the Palestinians is high on his list of priorities, in order to help resolve other Middle East problems – which is good news for some of us (though we are rather skeptical about his ability to deliver), but not necessarily for the longevity of Netanyahu’s fourth government.
And a few additional observations: The Netanyahus were all lovey-dovey throughout the visit, and the prime minister seemed to take Sara’s excessive chattiness in stride. In one rather embarrassing moment, while the Netanyahus were awaiting the Trumps’ arrival to their residence for dinner Monday evening, Sara started arranging her husband’s hair and patting him on the cheek, scolding the photographers present for not recording the show of affection. It was a rare instance of Sara actually resembling physically the ridiculous portrayal of her on Channel 2’s satirical Eretz Nehederet program.
The Trumps, on the other hand, demonstrated almost no public affection, and Melania was actually caught on camera, upon their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, refusing to take President Trump’s extended hand (though they did momentarily walk hand in hand as they departed the following day).
As to Eretz Nehederet, I am no great fan of this program, which is frequently excessively vulgar and embarrassing. Its mocking of the Judaism of Trump’s daughter Ivanka especially repulsive – for example, the suggestion that Ivanka does not know the difference between a mezuza and a meduza (jellyfish). I do not doubt that in her own way Ivanka is an authentic Jew, and her chosen faith is certainly a major factor in her father’s favorable attitude toward Israel and the Jews.
Eretz Nehederet’s portrayal of the Netanyahu-Trump dinner – simultaneously with the dinner actually taking place – was another repulsive performance. The sketch suggested that there was a delay in the serving of food, resulting in Trump trying to eat the food on the plate of Netanyahu’s dog, by which he was bitten.
Oren Hazan’s selfie with Trump is another issue worth commenting on. In fact, most Israelis, including some left-wingers, weren’t at all shocked, and simply took it as another act of mischief by the outrageous Likud MK, who appeared to have struck the jackpot – a selfie with Trump and a good deal of media attention.
There were, however, two main problems with this incident. The first is the fact that Hazan was among those receiving Trump at the airport, according to reports thanks to Cabinet Secretary Zahi Braverman, and contrary to protocol.
The fact that Hazan actually had his cellular phone on him (according to Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Erdan himself was forced to leave his cell phone behind), and was not stopped by anyone, not even members of Trump’s own security team, from advancing toward the president (though Netanyahu himself made a feeble attempt to lower Hazan’s arm) was a serious breach of security. The fact that Hazan was not reprimanded on the spot is difficult to understand.
Netanyahu recently admonished the Humanities Faculty at the Hebrew University for failing to play the national anthem at its graduation ceremony, accusing it of lack of national pride and respect, even though the event was not a national ceremony.
Did Hazan’s prank represent “national pride”? The ceremony at Ben Gurion was a national ceremony, and even though I am no fan of Trump, or of the Israeli government for that matter, I felt great shame and embarrassment on Israel’s behalf that the likes of Hazan was allowed to sully the event with his boorish behavior.
I do not know whether Netanyahu suffered any physical pain during the visit as a result of the bladder stone which was successfully removed two days after the visit ended. If he did, he bore it with dignity