With horsemen, motorcyclists, shofars, an honor guard, fanfares and cries of "Long live," the president's inauguration is a particularly colorful and traditional ceremony. Even the shouts of protesters down the hill could not dent the festive nature of the event. And thus, after a ceremony in which everything went off like clockwork (and even the crying of the president's very young great-grandchildren was not really bothersome), Shimon Peres swore allegiance yesterday evening and took up the post of ninth president of the State of Israel.
A moment later, the former acting president, Dalia Itzik, had a brainstorm: asking the new president's forgiveness on behalf of generations of Knesset members. It was nice of her, especially considering that she wanted to be president herself. For half a year, she was acting president, but she never reached the longed-for position. "Over the years, we made your life bitter," the Knesset speaker explained the historic apology. "You knew hard times and painful moments. We ridiculed your dreams."
The dream motif played an even more central role in the entering president's speech. "I did not dream of becoming president," Peres said. "My dream as a boy was to be a shepherd or a poet of stars." He even quoted from the Bible: "Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28). Toward the end of his speech, he requested: "Permit me to be a dreamer of his people."
There was never an Israeli president whose agenda generated such interest. That is due to the knowledge, or fear (depending on one's viewpoint), that Peres, as Itzik put it, will be "a nonstop president." The secretary general of the National Religious Party, Sar-Shalom Jerby, called on Peres to make the Gush Katif evacuees his top priority, because "the wound is bleeding and is far from healing." MK Zahava Gal-On of Meretz-Yahad called on him to find a humanitarian solution to the problem of Darfur refugees, since "it is impossible that refugees from a genocide should find themselves behind lock and key."
Peres himself said that the president "must encourage peace processes. Within the house. With our neighbors. In the whole region." The problem, of course, is that the greater the peace abroad, the less domestic peace there is, and vice versa. But judging by the word count he devoted to the subject, Peres will make his top priority the Peace Valley project he hopes to build between Israel and Jordan. The rejuvenated Arava will have not only a channel connecting the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, but also several artificial lakes. It only remains to be seen why National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Peres's great rival in the Peace Valley project, was laughing throughout this part of the speech.
It has been a long time since an event here enjoyed such broad national consensus, and seemingly everyone wanted to attend this ceremony. In view of this, the absences stood out. First Lady Sonia Peres did not come. She apparently will not come to many more events. Officials at the President's Residence were unable to offer any details about her situation, but it looks like from now on, any event that Sonia Peres does attend will be an event indeed.
Not only did former president Moshe Katsav not attend the ceremony; his shadow did not even hover over the event. Another fortnight and we will not even remember that we once had a "temporarily incapacitated" president.
With 900 invitees crowded into the hall, it was impossible to overlook the nine empty seats among the Arab factions. Only MK Talab El-Sana came. Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) was in Haifa "with Mahmoud Darwish. This is historic." According to Tibi, this was not a boycott, "but there is no enthusiasm." Reports from Darwish's poetry evening placed another four MKs in the audience.
Also absent were half of United Torah Judaism: Yaakov Litzman and Yaakov Cohen, both Ger Hasidim, and Moshe Gafni of Degel Hatorah. Gafni's office stated: "We have no part in this festival. Gafni is opposed to the institution of the presidency."
The most feminist moment of the event was certainly when Peres's granddaughter, Mika Almog, nursed her crying son, Ari, in the gallery. It is doubtful that this has ever happened before in the plenum - and certainly not during a ceremony with a thousand people, with the mother and baby seated directly across from the Knesset speaker's podium.
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