coalition - Gili Eliyahu - June 12 2011
Benjamin Netanyahu with members of his coalition and their spouses during a tour of Safed yesterday. Photo by Gili Eliyahu
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Gili Eliyahu
Sara Netanyahu with members of the coalition and their spouses during a tour of Safed yesterday. Photo by Gili Eliyahu

MKs and ministers, with their spouses, strolled through the alleys of the Old City of Safed yesterday while their guide, David Amiel, related stories of the city's past.

Accompanying the coalition members on their walk around the city were about 15 protesters from the Headquarters for Gilad Shalit. Some of them wore masks of Shalit's face and shouted: "I want to come home." One demonstrator said: "We will follow Netanyahu everywhere and remind him about Gilad Shalit at every moment. It makes us mad that they go on vacation and forget that there's a soldier who can't see the light of day."

After a weekend of team-building, during which members of the coalition toured Safed and broke bread together, Benjamin Netanyahu and eight of his cabinet ministers will fly to Italy today for a 25-hour visit. The prime minister will meet with his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, while the cabinet members - including Limor Livnat, Shalom Simhon and Avigdor Lieberman - will attend a joint cabinet meeting.

The coalition members who reported for the weekend stay at the northern city's Ruth Rimonim Hotel were effusive in their praise for the experience. "It's an excellent weekend," MK Ofir Akunis said, after visiting several art galleries in the Old City. "There's a great atmosphere, it's a genuine team-building, in an informal atmosphere." Akunis, a Tel Avivian, made special note of Safed's clean air.

Agriculture Minister Orit Noked called the weekend "amazing," saying, "We had an enjoyable encounter. We sat and talked with each other, without speaking about politics. We also got a chance to meet our friends' families, the people who give us support throughout the year. We managed to disengage for a brief time from the daily nuisances of life, and I didn't speak on the phone even once."

Noked, whose last visit to Safed was five years ago during the Second Lebanon War, added: "It's a city that's fun to be in. It has everything - art, Jewish heritage, the history of the Zionist movement."

Mayor Ilan Shohat mingled with the MKs and ministers as if he were the birthday boy. "The weekend isn't the appropriate time to make demands of the prime minister and his people," he said. "I believe the people connected personally to the city and that they'll remember it when the time comes. They saw a Safed that cannot be seen from their offices."

The walking tour came after a busy night: After arriving on Friday afternoon, the guests attended a reception that including klezmer music performed by local musicians, during which the coalition members sang "Kol ha'olam kulo, gesher tzar me'od," attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, as well as the traditional Friday night song "Shalom Aleikhem, Malakhei Hashalom," which was composed in Safed.

Works by local artists and musicians, as well as the products of farmers and manufacturers in the north, were exhibited. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, lit Shabbat candles together with Shohat and his wife, Sivan.