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Thursday, June 4, 2015

When you’re visiting the President: the secret to my success.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and Canadian foreign minister Rob Nicholson, June 3, 2015 in Jerusalem

I don’t like to brag, but I’m kind of a big deal.

How big?

Well, I spent this morning hobnobbing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.  Does that count as a big deal?

Okay, we weren’t exactly hobnobbing

Actually, neither of those guys has a clue who I am… and I’m okay with that.  I’m kind of shy in real life.

But one of the things I’ve loved most about my time here in Israel is putting on my cub reporter hat and attending events (fun and not so fun) with ambassadors, ministers, in the Knesset, and various high-level government offices.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Canadian foreign minister Rob Nicholson, June 3, 2015 in Jerusalem

If you’re not planning to spend time in the upper echelons of government, maybe my secret isn’t so relevant.  But I’ll tell it to you anyway.  Here is the secret to my success:  leave an hour to go through security.

Getting in to see these guys is like an airport, only more so.

Remember – Netanyahu is one of the most hated people in the world (and I don’t just mean outside of Israel).  As a nation, we have far more enemies around the world than friends.  As far as his security folks are concerned, you are one of those enemies, until proven otherwise.

So smile, relax, and bring a nice blended iced coffee with you to help make the process go smoothly.  I recommend Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf – you’ll be standing around for an hour, you’re worth it. 

While you’re waiting, be prepared to:

  • Explain where you’re going.  Unlike every other Israeli in the country, they’re not in a hurry.  Explain in detail until they begin to nod and figure out where you’re supposed to be.  Don’t worry; everybody speaks fabulous English.
  • Present identity cards:  I have a press pass, which looks cheesy, but is in fact magical.  It opens more doors than all my other ID put together.  You’ll also need an Israeli teudat zehut.  If you’re not Israeli, your passport will do, but they really prefer Israeli ID.
  • Don’t ask for them back.  They will hold one ID card the whole time you’re inside.  In return, you’ll get a cool Visitor or Media badge to hang around your neck.  I think it’s a great trade.
  • Open your bags.  And pull everything out.  Even if said “everything” is some very personal garments that you’d rather the world didn’t see.
  • Hold out your hands.  At the PMO, they swipe your hands with a dry square of cotton fabric.  I think this is to check for explosives residue?  I also saw them swipe a camera.
  • Open your computer.  At the PMO, I just had to open it, but at the President’s residence, I had to open it, turn it on, and make it play a sound.  And then, because I have the slowest computer in the world, wait another 5 minutes for it to shut down again.
  • Answer personal questions.  Who you are, who you work for, where you live, where you’re going.  They can ask you anything, and I wouldn’t want to see what might happen if you said you didn’t want to answer.
  • Hand it over.  They’ll give you a basket in which to toss your phone and anything essential that you don’t want to get lost.  It may get lost anyway.
  • Open anything else they ask you to.  I watched a camera guy dismantle his entire video camera, and then demonstrate how his tripod opened and closed – before they put it through the X-ray.
  • Put your stuff through an X-ray.  This is not optional.  Remove anything that could look like a battery first.  They hate batteries – or rather, anything that looks on an X-ray like it could explode.  I forgot I had an outlet splitter in there… but they found it and pulled it out.
  • Walk through the full-body scanner.  But only when they tell you to.  Guys, take off your belt and your watch.  You’re never going to get through with them on.
  • Describe in detail why you are bringing a giant-sized serving fork in to visit the President of Israel – without sounding like a maniac. 

Yes, the PMO security people actually didn’t catch it (or maybe they didn’t think it was odd?), but there was indeed a giant stainless steel serving fork in my personal toiletries bag.  The President’s people kindly suggested that I wouldn’t need it in the press conference, and that they’d hold onto it for me until I came out.

I don’t think I’ve revealed any state secrets here.  I kept wanting to take pictures of the little room where they process you at the Prime Minister’s Office, but wasn’t sure how the security folks would feel about that.

By “security folks,” I mean that you’ll encounter two distinct groups – standing side by side, talking and joking like they do this every day (which they do):

  • Smiling, friendly young women in their early 20s who are chatty, warm and outgoing.  They wear no makeup, for some reason, and dress very casually.
  • Security guys with big guns pointed right at you in case you mess with one of the friendly young women.

The most amazing thing is how friendly everybody is.  The higher the security, the more wonderful and smiley the folks at the front gate are.

That said, they’re all – boys and girls – tougher than nails.  You wouldn’t want to mess with them.  At all.

(Want to read my article?  It’s over here in The Canadian Jewish News.)

And you know what?  Since my last post was about taking trains and buses everywhere in Israel, I’m proud to report that after the event this morning at the Prime Minister’s Office, I walked outside and hopped on a local Jerusalem bus. 

It got me to the next event, at the President’s residence (yes, it rhymes) in about 15 minutes.  In fact, I beat most of the other journalists, who probably had to shlep back to their cars, wrestle through traffic, then find a new parking spot.

So score one for me.  No, score two

Why?  I actually remembered to get my giant serving fork back after the event with the President.  When they asked what it was for, I told them the truth:  when I broke my ankle three years ago, I used it for scratching inside the cast.

Why was it STILL in my bag, three years later? 

I have no idea.  The journalist behind me on the way out told the story of how she arrived at a high-level press conference with the knife from her daughter’s birthday cake still in her purse.  So at least I know I’m not the dorkiest reporter on the beat.

Still.  I’ll probably skip the hassle and just leave the fork at home next time.

p.s. Okay, truth?  OMG, I totally love to brag.  Don’t you?  Tell me all about who you’ve hobnobbed with… in the Comments!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


[all photos in this post are mine – please use only with attribution and a link back]

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