After eight years of icy relations between Israel and the U.S. under President Barack Obama, Donald Trump’s arrival in the Holy Land on Monday sparked a media sensation of unparalleled proportions.
Israel’s major broadcasters dropped their scheduled programming in favor of wall-to-wall Trump coverage, which began at 6 a.m. and continued well into the wee hours of the night local time. Even the country’s most popular satirical variety show, “Eretz Nehederet,” the only non-news show of the day, dedicated its entire episode to the presidential visit.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Amit Cotler, a reporter for Israel’s leading news site Ynet, told TheWrap. “It’s a psychotic circus. There is no other way to describe it.”
Israel has rolled out the red carpet for the American president, both literally and figuratively. Jerusalem, usually a reserved city, was draped in red white and blue as networks shelled out for newly-minted outdoor studios overlooking the city’s Western Wall, ahead of Trump’s visit to the site Monday.
“It’s as though the biggest rock star in the world just arrived,” Liron Shamam, anchor of Channel 2’s morning news show, told TheWrap. “Every minute of the day was spent talking about Trump.”
Haaretz, Israel’s longest running daily paper commemorated the event with a listicle of all the day’s most awkward moments, which included Melania’s hand slap and a brouhaha surrounding a pushy Israeli Parliament member, Oren Hazan, who deviated from protocol and asked Trump to take a selfie with him.
Hazan’s story became such a hot topic of conversation in Israel that Ynet put up an online poll asking readers to vote on whether the selfie was “dignified” behavior (as of publishing, 84 percent thought it was not).
“It was by far the biggest story of the day,” Cotler said.
— אורן חזן (@oren_haz) May 22, 2017
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, also made the list, after Sara suggested she and her husband shared something in common with the Trumps: A combative relationship with the media.
“The majority of the people in Israel, unlike the media, love us. So we tell them how you are great so they love you,” she told the president and first lady.
Sara managed to anger a few more Israelis when she later told Trump: “Have a great time at the Kotel,” referring to Hebrew name of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.
“A great time?” quipped Israeli journalist Yossi Verter in an op-ed. “At the Western Wall? It’s a good thing she didn’t recommend that they go to the ‘Discotel.'”
The ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport also came under fire for its apparent lack of organization. At one point, Sara Netanyahu had to give her husband a nudge to let him know he was standing in the wrong spot. The prime minister then awkwardly told Trump: “We have all this protocol, but we never know what to do.”
“To say that what happened on the tarmac below Air Force One resembled a neighborhood event would be an understatement,” Verter went on to say in his article. “It wasn’t a neighborhood event but a bazaar.”
But despite the flurry of last-minute blunders and political faux pas, Israeli media seemed to go the extra mile to welcome Trump. Israel’s largest paper Yediot Achronoth, usually a Hebrew only publication, went bi-lingual for the day with the word “Welcome” in both English and Hebrew splattered across its cover.
“No, we have no golden castles with which to welcome you, like those you visited in Saudi Arabia,” the paper explained in both languages. “We have no colorful parade of camels with which to honor you. We have nothing to offer you, except what we have here: the values of human rights, democratic laws, and a Western observation post in the Middle East.”
“Israel is in love with Trump,” Cotler said. “And that’s the bottom line.”
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) May 22, 2017