"The Mikado" Can Wait: President Bush in Jerusalem
January 2nd, 2008
When we were kids, my parents used to take me and my siblings to the LOOM (Light Opera of Manhattan) for Gilbert & Sullivan musicals. Over the past few years in Israel, a large group of talented actors, singers, and musicians has been making its way through the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire. Two years ago, I took some of my own children to see "HMS Pinafore" and it was quite enjoyable. This year, I was looking forward to attending a performance of "The Mikado." The musical was staged at Beit Shmuel in the center of Jerusalem. I had planned on going to one of the final performances—either on Wednesday January 9 or on Thursday January 10. But President Bush arrived in Israel on January 9, he stayed at the King David Hotel (located just up the block from Beit Shmuel), and the entire area was closed to vehicular traffic. Just how badly did I want to see "The Mikado"? Apparently, not badly enough.
The best way to understand Jerusalemites reaction to the severe security arrangements made for President Bush is to compare it to how we react to the first weather report of the year indicating the possibility of some snowfall: we stay home. The Jewish Agency (my employer) gave everyone off on Thursday January 10 (the cost to be split equally between the Agency and employees). On that day, the President was supposed to have traveled by helicopter to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Due to overcast skies, the President made the trip in a motorcade, thereby affecting the northwest Jerusalem neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Neve Ya'acov. At 8:00 a.m. residents of those areas were warned by Israel's media to leave for work soon if they didn't want to be stuck at home. My 10th grader Ezra happens to have two teachers who live in Pisgat Ze'ev. Quick test on Israeli society: What do you think the chances were that those teachers made it to school that day?
In truth, aside from the closed area around the King David Hotel, traffic in Jerusalem flowed quite smoothly. Friday morning was the exception. This was the only time that President Bush traveled for any real distance within Jerusalem (he went to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum). His travel path took him near the Jerusalem Mall, and traffic was snarled in that area for several hours. It's one thing to stay home on a workday. It's another not to go to the mall on the weekend.
Those protesting President Bush were mainly the "One Jerusalem" types—the people who feel that Jerusalem must not be divided (even though they are not quite in favor of giving residents of Arab East Jerusalem the same municipal services as residents of Jewish West Jerusalem—more on this in a future column). On Tuesday night, the eve of the President's arrival, 5,000 people created a human-chain aound the walls of Jerusalem. My 8th grader Elie wanted to go to this demonstration after his basketball practice, but I was able to convince him to come home with me (true, Elie was in a moving car and so my job was not all that difficult). Thursday night, however, was a different matter. Elie was on his own in Jeruslaem, and the prospect of a nice demonstration in the center of town at Zion Square was too tempting. Asked to speak on record about the demonstration, Elie said that it was "good."
President Bush agreed to return in May to help Israel celebrate its 60th birthday. I have written the following to him:
Dear President Bush,
On your next trip to Israel I would like to invite you to a home-cooked meal with my family in Givat Ze'ev. We are very proud to be American and Israeli citizens and it would truly be an honor to host you. We can jog in the Judean Hills and you can bring your secret Texas sauce for the traditional barbecue on Independence Day.
I'll let you know if the President decides to visit me.
Copyright 2008, Teddy Weinberger