The backyard of the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Herzliya Pituach was the site of an all-American picnic yesterday evening, as a Who’s Who of Israeli society chomped on McDonald’s hamburgers and snapped photos of the fireworks in honor of America’s Independence Day.
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“The Fourth of July is more than an American holiday,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said from a temporary stage decorated with red, white and blue bunting. “It’s a day that is celebrated by all those who cherish freedom around the world. It’s a day that we honor the nation that has held the torch of liberty for 237 years.”
In a reference to the crises in Egypt and Syria, Netanyahu added: “Israel has always been an island of civility and democracy in a sea of instability and despotism. This has always been true, but today this is clearer than ever before.”
The crowd, which included politicians and members of the Israeli and American militaries, responded with half-hearted applause when Netanyahu spoke about the attempt to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. “We place no obstacles whatsoever to resume negotiations, and we hope the Palestinians will join us in trying to secure a lasting peace between us,” he said.
In his remarks, President Shimon Peres made reference to U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Israel, saying he “injected a much needed dose of optimism in the future.”
After giving a brief overview of American history, U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro hailed the recent Supreme Court decisions backing the right to same-sex marriage as “an example of how our democracy and institutions continue to adapt.” He said the country’s founding fathers “found inspiration in the Tanach” and noted that the Bill of Rights echoes the Ten Commandments.
After the speeches, the leaders sat together and watched a fireworks display as John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” blared over the speaker system.
Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman, who counts Shapiro among his friends, was among several Knesset members in attendance. In an interview, he said he felt somewhat awkward at his first Fourth of July party since renouncing his American citizenship − a step he was required to take in order to serve in the Israeli parliament.
“It’s good to have a little taste of Americana,” Lipman said. “I think it’s very healthy for Israelis to celebrate together with America on Independence Day, and I hope we reach a point where Americans start to understand the importance of Israeli independence.”
As in previous years, the event’s sponsors − McDonald’s, Domino’s, Subway, Ben & Jerry’s, Estee Lauder and others − set up booths around the yard and distributed their products. According to the Embassy, 2,000 burgers, 3,500 slices of pizza and 5,000 bottles of soft drinks were served.