VP Pence in Jerusalem

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.

Western Wall

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.



cropped image

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!).

Unofficial reaction

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.

Me and Shimon

Lots of people posted pictures of meeting Shimon Peres z’’l after he passed away last Wednesday.  I met him too, but unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of it.

Shimon Peres was the last of the generation of pioneer leaders in Israel.  To honor his legacy, Israel shut down most of Jerusalem for the past day and a half along with the highway corridor to the airport so that 70 or more world leaders could attend the funeral.  It’s been very quiet in Jerusalem today except for the sirens letting us know an entourage was passing by and the helicopters flying around on patrol.  The King David Hotel apparently had to move their paying guests to other locations so that they could, as per tradition, host all the world dignitaries.  As I passed by there yesterday I saw that the whole front was tented and police barricades were already in place.

As I mentioned, I met Shimon Peres once and it was kind of a funny story.  A friend was in Israel and I was able to use my connections to get us a visit to the Knesset – not the regular tour, but back where the politicians’ offices were.  Since my friend studied Middle East politics this was the best possible thing I could have possibly organized for him.  I was actually a bit amazed at how star-struck he was, but he said that all of his reading in university was by and about the people walking around in the corridors in front of his eyes.  It would be like a character from a novel coming to life and being willing to chat with you.  I hadn’t been in Israel long, but long enough to become cynical about the star power of politicians.  They’re just regular people, after all.

We were lounging around on some couches in a central area and along came Binyamin Netanyahu, at this time still just a member of Knesset.  My friend ran up to him to shake his hand.  I noted that the three security guards evaluated my friend’s threat level and decided that in spite of appearances he was a harmless fan.  My friend was a bit disappointed in the meeting because it was so fleeting and the handshake wasn’t perfectly executed.  But still.  Netanyahu.  Check!

There were other rock star politicians to meet and my friend ran up to them and shook all of their hands.  The Knesset session was about to open so we got up to head out.  As we passed some stairs, Shimon Peres and his one security guard were coming up.  My friend instantly stuck out his hand and leaned forward, “Mr. Peres, it’s such an honor to meet you!”  I gave the security guard a look letting him know that this guy was perfectly harmless.

Shimon Peres asked him who he was and what brought him to Israel and the Knesset.  My friend answered, but Shimon Peres was suddenly more interested in who I was so my friend somewhat reluctantly introduced me as the person who got him this backstage pass to Israeli political Lollapallooza.  Shimon Peres turned to me and put out his hand.  I shook it and told him in Hebrew that I had recently made aliyah and I lived in Jerusalem.  I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember that his voice was low, rumbling, and a bit hypnotic.  And the handshake kept going on – a good, solid, well-executed, but slightly overlong handshake.  By this time, Shimon Peres had turned away from my friend and was speaking only to me.  I saw out of the corner of my eye that my friend was a tiny bit jealous that this particular rock star had moved on to someone who was not such a superfan like he was.  Then the moment was broken by the security guard reminding Mr. Peres that he had to go into the Knesset chamber.

And then Shimon Peres was gone.

The final person to enter the Knesset hall was Ariel Sharon, who was prime minister at the time.  I suddenly worried that my friend would try to run up to Ariel Sharon and so I turned to him and said, “For the love of God, whatever you do, don’t run up to Sharon.  His security detail is not going to be very understanding and they’ll probably kill you.”  Dejectedly, he agreed to the logic, but we were close enough to see him walk by into the chamber with his band of at least eight security guards.  He was a speedy walker and surprisingly short.

And then we were alone in the waiting area.

My friend has gone on to meet many other political rock stars, but on this day, we met Shimon Peres and Peres was more interested in me.


Shimon Peres 1923-2016

Shimon Peres also had a great sense of humor.  Here’s a YouTube video of his job hunt after being president of Israel.


Wishing everyone a Shana Tova u’Metuka! 

May the Jewish year 5777 be filled with joy, good health, great success, and may we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life!