JERUSALEM – President Donald Trump got an abrupt Israeli welcome on his arrival in Tel Aviv on Monday, with politicians lobbying him and snapping selfies as they sought to get a piece of the commander in chief’s attention.
Walking down the red carpet upon landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport, the president was greeted by dignitaries exhibiting the blunt forwardness and informality for which Israelis are known. Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu what protocol was as they approached the dais before delivering their speeches. Netanyahu threw up his hands and replied: “Who knows?”
The president arrived for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, and politics surfaced just minutes after landing. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, was among the first ministers to shake hands with Trump, and took the opportunity to insist the United States should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while campaigning for president last year. Since taking office he’s backed away from that promise, saying the issue needs more study. His response to Bennett was a curt “that’s a good one.”
Lawmaker Oren Hazan, a politician in Netanyahu’s Likud party with a reputation for inappropriate antics, gave Trump a version of his own characteristically aggressive handshake. Hazan then whipped out a cell phone and took a selfie of the unamused-looking president. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted, unsuccessfully, to swat Hazan’s arm away.
Likud politicians said after the incident that Hazan wasn’t invited to the welcome ceremony, and that he “caused a great embarrassment to Netanyahu.” A TV commentator called the scene “a disgrace.”
Israel captured east Jerusalem 50 years ago and claims the area — home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites — as part of its capital. The Palestinians also claim east Jerusalem as their capital and previous U.S. administrations have said the area’s fate must be decided through negotiations.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan informed Trump of a possible attack in Tel Aviv that transpired while the president was airborne. A car crashed into a crowd of pedestrians, injuring three people.
“You know that it’s possible that today it was also a terror attack. We’re still investigating a ramming in Tel Aviv,” Erdan said, even though police had already said the incident was a car accident.
Before boarding the Marine One helicopter for Jerusalem, the premier’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, told first lady Melania Trump that they had a lot in common with the Trumps.
“The majority of people in Israel, unlike the media, they love us, so we tell them how you are great, and they love you,” Mrs. Netanyahu said.