Fears and concerns among government ministers that they would be ignored during the reception for President Donald Trump Monday as he arrived in Israel proved misplaced. The president not only stopped to shake hands with each minister – but also had a good time joking with some of them.
At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, a livid PM Netanyahu demanded that all ministers and heads of coalition parties show up at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday to receive President Trump, after hearing that a number planned not to attend. Ministers were insulted, reports said; the president was to shake only the hand of PM Netanyahu, and not other ministers, as is customary on such visits. In addition, ministers were to be required to undergo security checks before they were allowed out onto the tarmac to meet President Trump – which was not required in previous presidential visits. Yisrael Hayom reported that a number of ministers felt offended at both changes, to the extent that a number considered not coming to the event at all.
In the end, the security checks took place – but so did the handshakes. The only minister who did not show up was Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. But the others, along with numerous other dignitaries, including the Chief Rabbis, Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich, Christian and Muslim religious figures and others shook hands with President Trump on the reception line, as the airport ceremony continued for about 45 minutes, nearly twice as long as had been expected.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett warmly shook President Trump’s hand, telling him that this week was “the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. We look forward to your being the first president to recognize a unified Jerusalem.” When PM Netanyahu introduced Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, the two shook hands, with the president quipping that health minister was an appropriate job for him, as “he certainly looks healthy.” When Religious Affairs Minister Rabbi David Azoulay shook hands with the president, he made the brachah of “shechalek mikvodo l’basar vadam,” (but without Shem u’Malchus) as is traditional when meeting or seeing a major world leader.
When PM Netanyahu introduced Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, Trump asked what his job was, and Katz began talking about his vision for a regional transportation hub that would link Israel and the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, via Jordan. Katz asked President Trump if he could guess the name of the project; when the president said that he couldn’t, Katz said he was calling it “Trump Rails,” to which the president responded, “Very nice.”
There were also several potentially embarrassing moments. Channel Two reported that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, while exchanging a few words with President Trump, told the president that his help in stemming Palestinian terror was greatly needed, as there had been a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv that very morning. The incident, which took place in central Tel Aviv while President Trump was en route to Israel on Monday morning, was ruled a traffic accident by police. Erdan’s office responded to the report by saying that the minister had told the president that the incident was still under investigation.
Most controversial was the “selfie” – a photo featuring himself and the president – snapped by MK Oren Hazan (Likud). PM Netanyahu, seeing Hazan approach, tried to play interference by placing himself between Hazan and the president. To no avail, though; reporters snapped up the opportunity to snap a photo of Hazan snapping his picture with President Trump. The Prime Minister’s Office has not publicly commented on the matter, but Channel Two quoted sources close to PM Netanyahu as saying that he was “quite angry” with Hazan. “Today is supposed to be a work day in the Knesset, and Hazan is an MK,” the sources told Channel Two. “He is supposed to be at work. Who invited him anyway?”