Barack Obama’s first tricky presidential visit to Israel has not gotten off to an auspicious start.
First his $1.5 million armored car known as ‘Beast’ broke down in embarrassing circumstances and now it seems his Israeli hosts have dug up a beautiful magnolia tree he planted in the morning in the name of peace.
The tree was brought over from the United States by the president, intended as a gift and was planted by Mr. Obama along with Israel’s veteran President Shimon Peres at his home in Jerusalem.
Holding a press photo-call for the joint-planting, both president’s smiled as the sapling magnolia was put into the ground.
President Obama told Peres, ‘It is an incredible honor to offer this tree to this beautiful garden, and to someone who is champion of the Israeli people and a champion of peace.’
However, upon the president’s departure, the tree was unceremoniously dug up by the agricultural ministry and taken away to be tested for pests.
According to the Times of Israel, ‘Plants cannot be brought in from abroad ‘without undergoing a check’ by the ministry, the report quotes the bureaucrats as saying. If this were April 1st, we’d assume this was a wind-up.’
‘As President of the United States Barack Obama has brought the plant with him and because agricultural products are not allowed into Israel from abroad without passing inspection — for fear diseases or pests are found on the plant itself — it will be uprooted for testing.’
The tests could, according to Ynet take months – and only if it does will it be allowed to be re-planted in the president’s home.
A White House official did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The news of the tree uprooting comes on the first day of a diplomatic visit during which President Obama will have to navigate several hugely contentious issues such as Iranian nuclear ambitions, Palestinian relations and future of the Arab Spring.
His personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also come under the spotlight – as it is a well known fact the two do not enjoy a warm personal rapport.
However, Ayelet Frish, a spokesman for Shimon Peres’ office has denied that a diplomatic gaffe has occurred and said that Israel had been aware of the plans to bring the tree for months.
He is not clear if the White House was aware that the tree would be dug up.
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