I usually walk to the office on King David Street, but this week, I had to take an alternate route. US VP Mike Pence was in town at the King David Hotel and the street was completely closed to traffic and was more or less a sterile security zone, complete with cement roadblocks, security gates, and plenty of personnel.
Pence’s itinerary included speaking at the Knesset, visits with the President and Prime Minister, visiting Yad Vashem, and a trip to the Western Wall. Diplomatically, this itinerary is a huge deal. Pence is the first vice president who has ever addressed the Knesset. Weirdly, the Israeli news noted that it was also one of the few times that a teleprompter was installed in the Knesset. Visiting the Western Wall is also a big deal, and the visit was not without controversy – but not the controversy you might expect.
I may not have noticed much this week because of my cold, but this visit was hard to miss.
Several of the Arab members of Knesset disrupted the beginning of Pence’s speech by protesting and holding signs up that said “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine!” They were immediately ejected (zero-tolerance for heckling during a foreign dignitary’s speech) and Pence remarked on the “vibrant democracy” of Israel. Overall, the speech was extremely well-received by almost all the parties. One reporter on Israeli news said that there were somewhere around 20 standing ovations. Personally, I was most impressed that when Pence referenced Israel’s 70th Independence Day, he recited the Shehecheyanu (“who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion”) with not-too-terrible pronunciation.
Jpost summary and Transcript of the speech.
Pence and his wife went to the Western Wall – he to the men’s side and she to the women’s side. The Western Wall plaza follows the rules of an orthodox synagogue, so women are not allowed on the men’s side. That was a big problem for the women journalists trying to cover Pence’s visit to the Wall. Haaretz had a field day with it (and rightfully so).
The weird thing in my neighborhood
The Friends of Zion Museum tells the story of non-Jews who were friends and supporters of Israel – people like Lord Balfour, Orde Wingate, Harry Truman, and others (full disclosure: I haven’t visited it yet). The person who initiated the project is a well-known evangelical Christian Zionist. So the museum put these signs up all over my neighborhood.
The weird part isn’t that the signs were put up. The weird part is that they are all in English. These signs are not for Israelis and they’re not for Arabs. They are posted all over the hotel area of Jerusalem, so Mike Pence might have seen one or two, but the majority of people who saw these signs were tourists.
I have to question the sign that suggests that Trump could make Israel great. Trump is at most an ally of Israel. Allies don’t make a country great. The country has to be great on its own merits.
Ironically, all these signs on my street were probably never seen by the VP. The official route to the hotel was changed to a side street named George Washington (really!).
When I spoke to other Israelis about the visit, the main reaction was: “Ugh! Traffic was ridiculous! Why do they have to close off so many streets?!? Can’t he just take a helicopter?”
And the next day, everything was back to normal as if it had never happened.