Grapevine July 31, 2020: Praying outdoors

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

THEN-US president Barack Obama speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Shimon Peres during his visit to Yad Vashem in 2013. (photo credit: JASON REED/REUTERS)
THEN-US president Barack Obama speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Shimon Peres during his visit to Yad Vashem in 2013.
(photo credit: JASON REED/REUTERS)
While observant Jews have gradually become acclimatized to holding prayer services outdoors, regulars attending Western Wall services or the annual Tisha Be’av service organized by The Women in Green are used to the idea.
This year marked the movement’s 26th annual gathering in Jerusalem’s Independence Park, opposite what used to be the US Consulate and is now an adjunct of the US Embassy. Every year, hundreds of people, mostly affiliates of national-religious parties and organizations, but also people from the other side of the political map, gathered for a meaningful reading of the Book of Lamentations, after which they heard several nationalistic speeches, then went on a walk around the Old City walls. This year, in keeping with Health Ministry regulations, Women in Green co-founder and co-director Nadia Matar announced that participation would be limited to 50 people. In fact, there were more than 50 people, but nowhere near the multitudes of yesteryear. Those who attended all wore masks covering their noses and mouths, and most complied with social distancing sitting on one of the many benches installed around the city by the Jerusalem Municipality, on the low stone fence at the edge of the park, under a tree or somewhere else on the large expanse of lawn. For the first time, the service and speeches were broadcast live on Arutz Sheva to local and overseas viewers. As has been the case every year, there was a large contingent of police and border police who had nothing to do, because this particular group does not go wild and does not get into scuffles. The section of the park where the service took place is a three-minutes’ walk from where anti-Netanyahu demonstrators were congregating around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence, but there was no interaction between the two. Paris Square at the entrance to the demonstration was barricaded, but the overall situation was much quieter and more melodious than usual – perhaps because of Tisha Be’av or perhaps because of statements against violence issued by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the day. There were no horns, and no drums, just guitars and soft singing. There were also fewer people than usual, although they did fill up a large section of the street. At the Paris Square intersection, a lone male demonstrator dressed in baggy white shorts and a loose white sweatshirt was pontificating through a megaphone berating the mutual hatred he insisted is bringing the country to ruin.
■ DURING THE pandemic, when meetings between international leaders were mostly curtailed and diplomacy was conducted via Zoom, some diplomats voiced the thought that traditional face to face and handshaking diplomacy may become history. Should this happen, there will no longer be a need for the position of chief of protocol in state and government offices, and senior secretaries would simply have to consult Dr. Google as to how certain national symbols should be displayed on the Zoom screen.
There is something charming about protocol, and hopefully it will not become obsolete.
Chiefs of protocol are privy to an endless variety of state secrets, some of which can never be revealed, and others which can be disclosed only several years after a person is out of office, and which can make for intriguing reading when published in book form.
An interview in the Galleria section of Haaretz conducted by Tzach Yoked with Capricia Penavic Marshall, the former chief of protocol to president Barack Obama, and before that social secretary to president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, sent the writer of this column scurrying to the internet to read more. Marshall is the author of Protocol: The Power Of Diplomacy and How To Make It Work for You. Yoked was not the only person who had quoted her. Another more elaborate article by Tel Aviv-based freelance journalist and photographer Larry Luxner is featured on the website of the Atlantic Council and is based on an Atlantic Council July 1 virtual event at which Marshall spoke frankly about her life and repeated anecdotes that appear in the book.
Protocol varies from country to country, but there are certain rules that are almost universal, and are specifically aimed at avoiding diplomatic mistakes and misunderstandings.
It’s possible that the deterioration in relations between Israel and Turkey would have occurred under any circumstances, but from a purely diplomatic perspective, was spurred by then-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon when, in January, 2010, he humiliated Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol by placing him on a low seat in his office, so that he could lord it over him from his significantly higher chair. Israel subsequently apologized to Turkey, but the damage was done. Celikkol left soon after and no other ambassador was appointed in his stead until December 2016 when Mustafa Okem presented his credentials to Rivlin. No one succeeded him after he completed his tenure.
In recent years, Israel has become more protocol-conscious, but there were times when flags that bore a resemblance to each other were mixed up, and the wrong one displayed, or the wrong music chosen at a state dinner. For instance, in April, 2008, then-president Shimon Peres hosted a state dinner for then-Australian governor general Michael Jeffries, who had been a major general in the Australian army. The music chosen comprised songs that had been popular with the troops in World War II. The problem was that all the songs were British and not Australian. As the reporter covering the dinner for The Jerusalem Post, I arrived early, while rehearsals were still in progress and was horrified that not a single Australian melody had been included. Drawing this to the attention of one of the president’s chief aides, the initial response was a shrug of the shoulders indicating that it was too late to do anything about it at that stage. As an Australian, I stood my ground, produced the names of a few appropriate melo dies which I demanded they look for on the internet and choose the easiest to learn quickly. This was done with great reluctance, but it may have saved a diplomatic incident, even though Australians tend to make less of a fuss about things like that than Europeans and Asians might do.
Getting back to seating, Obama is considerably taller than Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. At meetings that Obama had with either of these leaders, Marshall always made sure that they were photographed sitting, and had the chairs of the Russians remodeled so that their occupants would look as tall as Obama.
Inasmuch as she is an expert on protocol, Marshall has also made an occasional mistake, as for instance in 2010 when Obama and then-Philippine president Benigno Aquino met during a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in New York. The American team working on the hoisting of the flags hung the Philippines flag wrongly. It was inverted, symbolizing an emergency situation that indicated war. Marshall had to do a lot of apologizing afterwards. She was certain that she would be fired. Obama gave her a mild reprimand, and told her to make sure it would never happen again.
Marshall is in despair over President Donald Trump, who has broken all the rules of US diplomacy, especially in relation to North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un and to North Korea’s minister of defense, whom Trump saluted. American protocol clearly states that the president never salutes an army officer of another country, said Marshall, and especially a military representative of a country with which America does not have diplomatic relations.
I can hardly wait to read the book.
■ VERY SOON after his appointment as chief of operations in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, Prof. Ronni Gamzu met with Noam Semel, director of Habimah Theater, and Tzipi Pines, director of Beit Lessin. The three discussed the possibility of reopening theaters to the public in August. Although Gamzu seems to be taking a more lenient attitude regarding basic freedoms, including attendance at live cultural events, it is still too early to anticipate any major change in policy.
■ IRONY OF ironies. Unorthodox – which has received four nominations for the Emmy awards, namely: Best Limited Series, Best Lead Actress for Shira Haas, Best Director for Maria Schrader and Best Writing for Anna Winger, will live up to its title in the event that one or more of the above are among the award winners. The award ceremony takes place on September 20, which is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, although by the time the ceremony starts, the festival may have just concluded. Difficult though it is to imagine that anyone who surfs the internet is unaware of the highly popular Netflix production about a young married woman from the New York Satmar community who flees this rigid lifestyle, that’s the gist of the story in a nutshell.
But there’s much more to it than that.