Among the lessons to be learned from the recent visit by US President Donald Trump is that, while official Israel is more than adept at staging circumstance, pomp is not on the local menu. While the substance of this important visit was evident in the US leader’s meaningful, well-scripted speeches in venues of core significance to the Jewish people, these unfortunately had to overcome the initial impressions of a farcical arrival ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The outstanding example of the lack of decorum in that event was of course the antics of rogue Likud MK Oren Hazan, shoving himself through his place in the rear of a ridiculously long line of notables to force the startled Trump into a self-aggrandizing photo-op, known for good reason as a selfie.Hazan’s embarrassing stunt – embarrassing only to Israel, since he is apparently incapable of embarrassment – was not the only example of Israeli rudeness and lack of dignity on that occasion. As the American president made his agonizingly slow process along a receiving line packed with self-important figures, he was also briefly accosted by other politicians who seized the captive moment to push their agendas.Minister upon minister decided to use the opportunity to share a bit of wisdom with Trump. Israel Katz told Trump of his decision to name his regional peace plan after the president and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Trump that a car accident in Tel Aviv was possibly a terrorist attack. Others, like Naftali Bennett and Ze’ev Elkin, urged the president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had required the presence of his entire inflated cabinet at the red carpet airport reception, despite a request by the White House to skip an elaborate reception due to the brevity of Trump’s 28-hour visit, which it designated at a “work visit,” and naively asked for the ceremony to be kept as short as possible.According to the Israel Hayom daily, Netanyahu has since instructed the Foreign Ministry to eliminate ministerial handshaking from the airport protocol.Whether his cabinet members will agree to forgo their 20 seconds of glory is another matter, but the airport indignities should be seen in the wider context of inappropriate behavior that has become intolerable by members of Knesset when they are indoors in the plenum.“This was a scandal. This is not how we behave at an official ceremony,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said later on Army Radio about the Hazan selfie. Indeed, Edelstein had vetoed a Knesset address by Trump for a similar reason, despite the White House team’s desire for such an appearance. The Speaker’s Office declared that “the president’s visit to Israel is considered a work visit and not an official visit. As such, it does not require a visit to the Knesset.” Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) did not buy this explanation. He told The Jerusalem Post: “If the Knesset doesn’t know how to deal with interruptions, then it does not respect itself.” Self-respect is indeed the issue, a quality like dignity and decorum that eludes our legislators.In planning future official arrivals, we should take our cue from how the United States conducts itself.Because of the large number of visits, the US has a rigid protocol, according to the rank of the visitor and the purpose of the stay, which are labeled “official visits” or “working visits” or even “official working visits.”Just as in Israel, visitors arrive by official aircraft and are met on the tarmac’s red carpet, but in a much more modest and brief ceremony. This takes place at Joint Base Andrews, while a more elaborate welcome is held soon after at the White House. There are the usual honor guards and anthem playing, but the flight line ceremony is short and sweet.The airport welcoming committee consists of the US chief of protocol, the American ambassador to the visitor’s state and the visiting state’s ambassador to the US, the air base commander, and just two or three prominent personages designated by the chief of protocol.The visitor is greeted with a bouquet of flowers, the national anthems are played and the visitor quickly departs by car for the White House.Sometimes less is actually more.
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) snaps a selfie with visiting President Donald Trump (credit: GPO)