Notes from July 4th at the American Ambassador’s Residence in Tel Aviv

Well, American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro actually hosted the 239th American Independence Day celebration on July 1st, and his residence is in Herzliya Pituach north of Tel Aviv, but in any event, a jolly time was had by all.   And by all means a cast of thousands, who filled the various layers of lawns adjacent to the residence overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The gates opened at 5:30, and guests were warned not to arrive later than 6:30 because of the tight security precautions.  These events are like a huge mixer,  a vast speed-dating arrangement, with people rushing around to meet people they know and get to know people they don’t.   And to keep everything moving, the invitees were treated to 2,000 hamburgers, 3,500 pizzas, 5,000 drinks (cola, beer, sparkling and regular wine, etc.), 1,000 cakes (which I didn’t see), much Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (subtle support for fellow Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders?), 6,500 balloons and 1,400 fireworks at the end of the evening.

No one went hungry at the 239th American birthday bash

Becky said that she never felt more secure, to which I quipped that all the extra security precautions were there to ensure that Michael Oren couldn’t get in.  And to be sure, the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. whose new book “Ally” places sole responsibility for the current state of American-Israeli relations on President Obama’s shoulders, was nowhere to be seen.  Another Israeli who was probably persona non grata was Judy Nir Moses Shalom, wife of Minister Silvan Shalom who, among other things, has been designated responsible for the non-existent negotiations with the Palestinians.  She earned her non-invite by retweeting a “joke” she heard – “Do u know what Obama coffee is? Black and weak.”

“Strong Black Coffee” and “The Whiffenpoofs”

As a powerful counterpoint to that tasteless comment, one of the featured musical acts at the celebration was a duo of Ethiopian Israeli rappers who call themselves Kafe Shahor Hazak (Strong Black Coffee). There were also some great performances by Touch n’Go, an ensemble of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band, jazz at the entrance from the Israel Conservatory of Music Tel Aviv Quintet and three songs from the wonderful justifiably world-renowned Whiffenpoofs from Yale University – Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of my Life”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”, and of course “America the Beautiful.”

Ambassador Dan Shapiro takes a selfie with the Yale Whiffenpoofs

Two-state solution. Shapiro – Yes, Netanyahu- ?

When it came time for the speeches, Ambassador Shapiro spoke about the unshakable American-Israeli alliance and the American commitment to Israel’s security, while emphasizing the landmark decisions that the U.S. Supreme Court had reached the previous week on the legality of the Affordable Care Act and Same-Sex marriage, and he  thanked Canadian Ambassador for “allowing” the Americans to hold their holiday on July 1st, Canada Day. The Ambassador also emphasized America’s commitment to help promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace based upon a two-state solution.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was sitting next to the Ambassador, at that point nodded his head as if in agreement with the idea.   However, when it came his time to speak, the idea of a two-state solution was nowhere to be seen or heard, only talk about the threats on the horizon from Iran and the Islamic State.

I was particularly impressed by the presentation by Israeli President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, who received a much warmer welcome from the audience of diplomats and Israelis than did the Prime Minister, who only received a smattering of applause.  Rivlin made the usual salutations at the start to the personalities present, and as an expression of his commitment to the importance of Israel’s democratic institutions and to the Knesset in particular, I was struck by the fact that after noting the names of Ambassador Shapiro and the Prime Minister, he greeted MK Isaac Herzog as Head of the Opposition, before greeting IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot. Rivlin then decribed how he was inspired by America in our youth, mentioning John Wayne, Gary Cooper (High Noon?), Rita Hayworth and Marlon Brando (though I noticed that Marilyn Monroe was missing from his list). He also related how he had recently been in Selma Alabama, and described how meaningful the image of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel  walking across the bridge arm in arm back in 1965 was to him, while quoting one of Rabbi Heschel’s comments about what it means to be human.

Rivlin’s Ramadan message of hope

Rivlin made a special point of issuing a warm greeting to the Muslims present and in the region in general who are marking the holy month of Ramadan. He expressed the hope that Ramadan would become a symbol of love, peace and harmony for the Arab world and for all.

And Netanyahu?  Rather than speaking about how the American’s have inspired us, he spoke about how Moses inspired the founding fathers of America 239 years ago. And about how we, Israel and America must and will stand together against the dangers swirling around us.  As for hope and inspiration about the future?  That would require another speaker, or another PM.                                                                              It was Shapiro, and not Netanyahu, who made the following comments about how  “our founders were deeply influenced by Jewish tradition.  The pursuit of happiness (as defined in the Constitution) is closely connected to things often singled out in Jewish texts for pursuit: Justice – Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof; and Peace: Bakesh Shalom v’Rodfeihu.”

President Rivlin, Julie Fisher & Ambassador. Dan Shapiro, Sarah & Prime Minister Netanyahu and the honor guard.

Making the rounds

Just a few more notes from the event.  Seeing him for the first time in person, and not on TV, I never realized how tall former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is.  As I said to Lior from Peace Now, I wonder if he realizes that he is one of the center-left’s hopes for leadership in the future.  Also there was Yosef Abramowitz, excitedly telling about his latest solar energy initiatives, which he will be describing in the British Parliament next week.  When I asked former Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens if he agreed with Oren’s criticisms of Netanyahu, his response was “Of course”.  On the other hand, there was the new American envoy in charge of the Iranian file at the embassy, such a recent arrival that he didn’t have a business card yet.  “I just finished my duty as ‘the bartender’ at the celebration, since I’m also a professional bartender” he said, “so now I can make the rounds.”  And there’s singer David Broza, who I congratulated on the wonderful duet with Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad “Ramallah-Tel Aviv”  from his project “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem” which I just heard on 88FM.

And there’s the Indefatigable Alice Krieger, introducing Itamar Feigenbaum,  Israeli Coordinator of Combatants for Peace to all the passing diplomats she could collar.  And I manage to remind the two Egyptian attaches present that we are looking forward to receiving their articles for the next issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal ( on Religion and the Conflict.  And after not seeing her for many years, I even took a selfie with Reena Pushkarna, the Indian-Israeli who founded the Tandoori restaurant chain.

“Oh say can you see”

I’m one of those people who likes national anthems.  As a dual Israeli-American citizen, when President Obama spoke before over 2,000 Israeli students in Jerusalem in 2012, I was one of the few people present who sang both the American “Star Spangled Banner” and the Israeli Hatikvah (The Hope). This time, with all of the other Israeli-Americans present, I wasn’t the only one who joined the Whiffenpoofs in singing the American anthem, while also singing the Israeli anthem.

Actually, my two favorite anthems are the French La Marseillaise, and particularly the South African, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, which includes lyrics from the five most widely spoken languages in the country.

I’m sure that the Americans won’t mind my listing La Marseillaise, since General Lafayette and his French troops helped General George Washington to defeat the British way back when in the struggle for American independence.

1,600 fireworks over the Ambassador’s Residence in Herzliya Pituach

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv