Barack Obama in Israel: You can go to the ball, they told me – but remember to go in by the back entrance

Alistair Dawber had a much-coveted  ticket to the dinner thrown for Obama. There were strings attached, though

Last week it was on, then by Tuesday it was definitely off, but on Thursday morning a call from Shimon Peres’s office and it was back on again: The Independent was going to the ball, or more specifically, the state dinner thrown by the Israeli President in honour of Barack Obama’s visit.

For mere reporters, however, the dinner jamboree is not as glamorous as it might be. A small number of foreign journalists – a Brit, an American and a German among us – had been invited along with the local press pack to provide words for the “pool”, a system that sees a few reporters file for all fellow foreign correspondents here.

The instructions were specific: turn up at the back entrance to the President’s residence at least an hour early, and don’t worry about dressing up – by the time the dinner starts, you’ll be in a tent in the back garden,  set up for journalists.

Still, it was just like being at the Oscars. The red carpet at the President’s residence was in place hours before the guests arrived and scores of staffers spent the afternoon running around in the heat ensuring the last-minute details were in place.

One such detail that was sadly overlooked was the TV set in the media tent, which couldn’t be turned on when, earlier, the American President made the set-piece speech of his visit to Israel’s young people – a fact that was made infinitely worse by the fact that someone had managed to cut through the cable that provided us with the internet. Not such a good endorsement for a country that sees itself a hi-technology hub.

On then to the pen adjacent to the red carpet, and one of the first guests to arrive, right on the advertised start time of 6.30, was the towering figure of Yityish Aynaw, the recently crowned Miss Israel, who said after being invited to the dinner last week that the American President had been a “notable influence on her life”.

As Ms Aynaw gave interviews to local television crews other, perhaps less glamorous, guests slipped into the reception – both opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich and the outgoing Bank of Israel head Stanley Fischer, among others. Thirty-five minutes after arriving, Miss Israel was still outside chatting to reporters.

The 120-odd guests that included leading Israeli and American politicians, religious leaders and heads of military were all in place before Mr Obama and Mr Peres, along with the  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, arrived in the building. Somewhat like schoolchildren, those of us who had had a purple dot attached to our press credentials, allowing us into the dining room, were pushed into a small corner, where we were told, strictly, not to make any noise.

Mrs Netanyahu, an intimidating woman in her own right, gazed up at the US President as he helped her into her seat at the top table, Mr Netanyahu himself having long since sat down.

Much of the trip has been about mutual backslapping, and Thursday evening was no exception. After being awarded the “Presidential Medal of Distinction” – Israel’s highest honour – by President Peres, Mr Obama then made a speech that started with a toast and a joke about Mr Peres having removed his wine glass. The star-struck waitress bearing a new glass was on the platform a little too quickly to think that the whole thing hadn’t been scripted in advance.

Speeches over, the hacks went back to their tent, where, praise be, the internet was back and stories were written. Then it was out into the night again, through the back entrance, naturally.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk