Hobnobbing in the Holy Land
Jerusalem -- Just before President Bush left for Israel this week, the White House named an "honorary delegation" of some 80 prominent American Jews, big-time GOP donors and others to accompany him to the celebration of the Jewish state's 60th anniversary.
It turns out you don't get too much for being in that group -- no ride on Air Force One for example. That's not a problem for some in the delegation: Former New York Times columnist William Safire told me he was able to hitch a ride on publisher Mort Zuckerman's jet along with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is not an honorary delegate but was coming for "big ideas" conference being sponsored here by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Thursday night, Bush delivered on perhaps the one perk available to the delegates, an invitation to an elaborate reception in the sculpture garden of the Israeli Museum. The museum is home to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls and the rare Isaiah Scroll, which has been brought out especially for the 60th anniversary and is not yet on public display, according to the pool report by my New York Times colleague Sheryl Stolberg.
Bush appears to have been in a good mood all week -- no doubt owing in part to the lavish encomiums he's been hearing from Israeli officials -- and he alluded in brief remarks to the sea of familiar faces who have accompanied him to Israel. "I'm driving in the limousine, waving at friendly faces, half of whom seem to be from California," the president said. "I hope you're having as much fun as we are. It's been a -- it's been such a fantastic couple of days for us. And what a fitting way to end with our buddies from the United States of America."
Among the buddies, there are a number of big-time GOP donors who accompanied Bush on his first-ever trip to Israel in 1998, when he was Texas governor and took a famous helicopter ride over the country with then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon. They include Houston businessman Fred Zeidman, the chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's governing council; former ambassador and Florida developer Mel Sembler; and the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Cliff Sobel.
There's also Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul who has become influential in Republican and Jewish philanthropic circles. Adelson has seemed ubiquitous this week. He and his wife Miriam were greeted personally by Bush when the president showed up Wednesday night at the big birthday celebration at the Jerusalem conference center. It might have helped that Adelson contributed a reported $3 million to help fund Peres' ideas conference.
Meanwhile, a couple of Hollywood actors also showed up for the festivities. When Bush arrived Thursday to speak at the Israeli Knesset, one of the guests drawing attention was Jon Voigt of "Midnight Cowboy" fame (or perhaps more apt, father of Angelina Jolie).
It wasn't clear why Voigt was there, but others in the audience definitely wanted their picture taken with him. Also present was actor Ron Silver, who actually IS a member of the honorary delegation. (He turns out to be a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace -- who knew?!) That probably made it the only time the Knesset has been graced by the presence of Dershowitz and an actor who played him in a movie (Silver starred in "Reversal of Fortune").
Bush was leaving Jerusalem this morning on route to Riyadh to meet Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and celebrate the 75th year of U.S.-Saudi relations. No word on whether he's bringing any celebrities to this party.
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