Grapevine: Diplomatic woes

Inside the presenting of letters of credence to President Reuven Rivlin.

President Reuven Rivlin accepts a letter of credence from the Japanese ambassador (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin accepts a letter of credence from the Japanese ambassador
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
There is a certain protocol along with time-honored traditions related to new ambassadors presenting their letters of credence to the president of Israel. Every country has its own rules and traditions. In Israel, what generally happens is that between three to five ambassadors present their credentials on the one morning – not together but at half-hour intervals. All of them assemble at the King David hotel, from where they are individually escorted to the President’s Residence in a Foreign Ministry limousine. They are accompanied by senior members of their staff, sometimes a spouse and children, and Foreign Ministry officials, the most important of whom on this day is Meron Reuben, the chief of protocol, who instructs the ambassador on what to do and where to turn and in the end introduces the ambassador to President Reuven Rivlin. The president, together with his own senior staff and senior Foreign Ministry representatives who deal with colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the country of the ambassador, form a reception line to welcome the envoy. The president stands slightly in front.
The limousine enters the grounds of the presidential compound. Everyone alights. The military or police band at the far end of the compound plays the national anthem of the ambassador’s country, after which there is a slow walk along the red carpet. At the halfway mark, the ambassador turns and bows to the honor guard, which is sometimes composed of all three branches of the armed forces, and at other times only one or two. The walk along the red carpet takes on a brisker pace in time with the Israeli music being played by the band.
Inside the large reception hall, Reuben leads the ambassador along the carpet and turns left toward the president. The ambassador says that he or she has the honor of presenting his or her letter of credence and the letter of recall of his or her predecessor. The president accepts them, hands them to an aide, after which Reuben takes the ambassador along the reception line, performing introductions, and then the ambassador introduces senior staff and family to the president, after which everyone moves toward a smaller reception hall. The president and the ambassador shake hands for the photographers, and then the president and the ambassador have a brief conversation on bilateral issues, after which they drink a toast, and the president leads the ambassador and retinue back to the large hall, where the ambassador signs the visitor’s book, then moves toward the door, while the president returns to his office. The ambassador plus retinue pause in the doorway as the band plays “Hatikva” and then move on to the end of the red carpet, where the limousine is waiting just beyond the pergola, and everyone goes back to the King David, where there is usually a vin d’honneur, an afternoon cocktail and networking reception for all the new ambassadors.
This time the vin d’honneur was canceled, possibly because the very suave Hungarian Ambassador Levente Benko was having his own reception at 4 p.m. in Tel Aviv in honor of his country’s national day, and most of his ambassadorial colleagues had been invited to that. However, Guatemalan Ambassador Mario Adolfo Bucaro Flores held his own reception in a suite of the King David, which was understandable, considering that the Guatemalan Embassy is one of two located in Jerusalem.
Not counting the absence of the vin d’honneur, there have been dozens of credentials ceremonies along the above mentioned lines, but on Thursday, due to fears of inclement weather literally raining on everyone’s parade, there was a major change. The whole ceremony was taken indoors. It’s not the first time that the weather interfered with the ceremony, but in the past the honor guard and the band were moved under the pergola, and everything else went ahead as usual. But this time both the honor guard and the band were moved into the large hall at right angles to each other. Rivlin and the reception line, instead of waiting in the large hall, waited in the smaller hall, where the situation was so cramped that the president had to stand alongside everyone else instead of in front of them. The limousine drove right up to the doorway of the large hall, even though not a drop of rain had fallen at that time. This time “Hatikva” immediately followed the anthem of the ambassador’s country, instead of being played at the end when the ambassador was departing.
The first ambassador was Jean-Pierre Biyiti bi Essam of Cameroon, who looked very distinguished, but who was so nervous that he forgot the instructions that during the handshaking with people in the reception line, he was not to put out his hand to Rivka Ravitz, who runs Rivlin’s office, because she is ultra-Orthodox and doesn’t shake hands with men, and usually stands with her hands behind her back. The hapless ambassador put out his hand, she bowed but didn’t take it, and he quickly withdrew it and moved on to the next person.
All South American anthems are very long. The Guatemalan one is no exception – it goes on for about seven minutes. The ambassador sang it all. Unlike the hand on heart gesture of the Americans during the playing of their anthem, the Guatemalans have something akin to a horizontal salute along the chest instead of by the temple. While all five ambassadors voiced their pleasure at being posted to Israel, the Guatemalan wrote in Latin characters in the guest book: “Hineni in Jerusalem” (Here I am in Jerusalem).
Next was German Ambassador Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer, the only female ambassador on this occasion. She has previously worked and studied in Israel, and said that she felt as if she had come home. Nonetheless, even though the words of the anthem have been modified, it is still jarring to hear “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” in the residence of the president of the State of Israel. She had met Rivlin earlier in the month when she accompanied German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and she met him again on Thursday afternoon when she accompanied Bundestag President Wolfgang Schauble.
Benko had also met Rivlin before, when accompanying Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to Israel in July. Rivlin is always delighted when he finds soccer as a topic of mutual interest with his visitors, but with Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi he talked about how fascinated he and his wife had been by Japanese culture during their visit to the land of the rising sun. Early next month there will be another batch of new ambassadors. Hopefully it won’t rain. It certainly did not rain till early afternoon Jerusalem on Thursday, and even then it was only a brief sprinkle. The arrival of so many new ambassadors means that there will also be a number of new faces at the annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference. This year it takes place on Wednesday, November 21, at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem.
■ ONE WOULD think that after nearly three years in Israel, Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss would have taken weather forecasts with a grain of salt. Dire predictions have time and again proved to be unfounded. Weiss had scheduled the celebration of his country’s national day for Thursday, October 25. But weather reports of heavy rain and possible floods caused him to postpone the festivities till this week. That’s all well and good, but what guarantee does he have that it won’t rain on the night of his reception? Preferring to be sure rather than to be sorry, Weiss spared his guests the possibility of getting drenched last week, and as it turned out, it wasn’t just a matter of being sure rather than being sorry. Rain began to fall in several parts of Israel in the early afternoon.
■ IT’S A known fact that singer-composer Ivri Lider is among the advocates for the LGBT community. Less known is that he’s the son of a Holocaust survivor, and another piece of the Lider puzzle is to be revealed this week, when he holds his first photographic exhibition under the title “Fragile Matter.” The October 30 opening at the Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art on Ahad Ha’am Street, Tel Aviv, is under the patronage of Bank Hapoalim. Invitees are reminded that this is also election day. The exhibition will remain on view to the public from November 1 to December 8.
■ THE UNIVERSITY of Haifa last week unveiled its Lorry I. Lokey City Campus, which will comprise at least four buildings located throughout Haifa Port and the city’s downtown area. The opening of the campus, which will also house Israel’s first school of data sciences, is part of the university’s comprehensive plan to expand its educational reach and become one of the key factors of regional development, while in the process bringing in more people, jobs, stability and security to the entire north of Israel.
“We are committed to increasing our involvement in the urban fabric of Haifa, and with the opening of our new campus in the city’s downtown area, we are making significant strides in the right direction,” said Prof. Ron Robin, president of the University of Haifa. “Our campus will attract thousands of students who will be an integral part of the unique climate of downtown Haifa, which merges academia and research, biomedical hi-tech and a vibrant nightlife.”
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