As anyone who has sat shiva will confirm, it’s never just the people who come to wish the mourners long life who are noticed. The mourners, acutely sensitive to everything in their state of heightened grief, are always aware of who is missing. “Why,” my grandmother once inquired acidly, “was Mrs Thing not there? She had seven whole days to turn up and show her respects”.
Mrs Thing, it is to be hoped, had a halfway decent excuse for not showing her face. But I wonder about the conversations that took place among world leaders and politicians in the last two weeks before Shimon Peres breathed his last, knowing that a funeral was surely imminent and that an informed decision would have to be taken about an appearance.
And surely, in a situation like this, with the knowledge that a Jewish funeral has to be arranged quickly, people understand that there is little time for mulling things over and thinking about whether or not to turn up.
An appearance at this kind of funeral really separates the mensches from… what shall we call them? The “those-who-should-know-betters”?
So who made the journey to Jerusalem, and what messages did their presence send?
From Britain, Prince Charles, as the personal emissary of the Queen, who had awarded Shimon Peres with an honorary knighthood.
Charles, wearing a kippah embroidered with the Prince of Wales feathers and its motto, Ich Dien, or I Serve, which could almost have been Peres’ own motto.
Anyone who expected the Queen herself to attend is living in dreamland, and those who bitched that the Royals only attend events relating to dead Israelis need to take their heads out of the sand. Prince Charles is the heir to the throne; take heart, they could have sent Andrew, or no-one at all.
It was good, too, to see Tony Blair, and that man who used to be… oh, yes, I’ve got it! The prime minister. I mean David Cameron, who has dropped so completely out of public life that it was a slight shock to see him there.
But Cameron was a philosemitic prime minister, even if he made it plain he didn’t always agree with his opposite number in the Knesset.
And then there was Bill Clinton, awkwardly wearing a kippah and paying tribute to a dear friend; and Barack Obama, now in the final days of his presidency, but still dropping the affairs of state at short notice to make a heartfelt eulogy to Peres.
Obama showed his essential menschlichkeit by ordering flags on US public buildings to fly at half-mast. And it was he who recognised the courage of the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who bravely attended the funeral in the face of fierce criticism from many Palestinians.
But oh, heavens, the 17 Arab Knesset members, led by Ayman Odeh, were the Mrs Things of this funeral. If Odeh thought he was being principled by refusing to attend the Peres funeral, he is severely mistaken.
He will not be thanked for his determination to be among the missing.
Last word should go to writer Amos Oz, asking, where are our leaders now? Good question, Amos.
Let’s hope some are paying attention.