The Knesset is not on the itinerary of President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel. Not due to any oversight, nor because of lack of time during the event-crammed, one-day tour either. (The second day will be spent with the Palestinian Authority.)
The official reason, according to a statement issued by the office of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, is a matter of protocol: “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.”
In the past, the Knesset has been keen to host foreign leaders. Much was made of then-President Barack Obama’s decision not to address the Knesset. French president François Hollande’s initial plan to skip the Knesset caused such a protest that he reversed himself and spoke there.
In the case of the Trump visit, however, there may be another reason why he won’t be seen in the Knesset: the fear that if he does, he will be subject to interruptions and heckling from certain MKs.
The fear is well founded. When then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an outstanding friend of Israel, spoke in the plenum in 2014, several Arab MKs from the Joint List interrupted him repeatedly, shouting at him to sit with the Likud.
A similar scene involving Trump could result in an insulted president, a disgrace to Israel’s parliament, and possibly even upset the delicate preparations for talks of the utmost sensitivity.
Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar (Zionist Camp) insisted that there was nothing to worry about: “I think Trump should speak here. We’ve had the prime minister of Canada here, and even people who are less friendly, like the president of the European Parliament.
“Trump should come and be a guest of honor. He’ll be respected by all the factions,” Bar said.
It seems unlikely at this late stage in the planning that the president will change his mind.
However, President Trump will not escape an encounter with Israel’s assertive parliamentarians, if MK Bezalel Somotrich (Jewish Home) has his way.
Somotrich was offended when he learned that President Trump plans to visit the Kosel on his own, without Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or any other Israeli representative to accompany him. This,“apparently in order not to take a stand on the sovereignty of the state of Israel at the Kosel.”
“There is a limit to the trampling of our national honor that we can agree to. Yerushalayim and the Kosel and their unshakable connection to the Jewish people and its renewed state are a consensus of the majority of Israeli society – and this majority will undoubtedly give you their support in this process,” the MK wrote.
He urged Netanyahu to “make it clear to the president that the state of Israel will not allow the visit to the Kosel without an official Israeli escort.”
Somotrich did not stop there. He wrote: “I will call upon Knesset members to use their immunity and to stand at the Kosel with the president’s entourage in order to clarify to the world who the site belongs and to preserve the dignity of Yerushalayim and the state of Israel.”
Anticipating that the Prime Minister’s Office might take a different view of the dignities involved and might seek to protect the president from such a “clarification,” he also wrote a separate missive to the Knesset legal adviser and the attorney general, demanding that MK’s not be prevented from entering the Kosel plaza during President Trump’s visit there.