Patrick eagerly accepts role as state’s envoy abroad
But he insists he just wants to come home and run Massachusetts
JERUSALEM — Governor Deval Patrick stood still for two full minutes, waiting for Israel’s elder statesman, President Shimon Peres, to enter. Two chairs were arranged at perfect angles next to national flags, separated by a bouquet of white roses.
“Mr. President,’’ Patrick said, as the audience stood and fell silent.
“The Governor,’’ Peres replied in heavily accented English as he entered through a door.
They exchanged pleasantries and posed in a frozen handshake for 30 seconds, while photographers captured the moment.
Patrick may have no aspirations to become ambassador, as he has repeatedly and emphatically said, but his trip to Israel last week has nonetheless given him a chance to try his hand at the craft that many of his gubernatorial predecessors have aspired to practice.
He has appeared at ease amid the trappings of diplomacy, in an environment far from Beacon Hill, where a meeting with the mayor of Peabody is often as close as it gets to a state visit for the governor. And he has seemed to revel in the stagecraft and pomp.
While abroad, Patrick has been treated to a declaration from the floor of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, and a dinner at the US ambassador’s mansion, an impressive estate with a lush garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. He has presented a bronze statue of JFK to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial visited by nearly every American dignitary.
For other recent governors, the allure of life beyond Massachusetts has proven too strong to resist. William Weld gave up the governorship for a failed quest to become ambassador to Mexico. His successor, Paul Cellucci, went on to represent the United States in Canada. And Mitt Romney still has eyes on the presidency, an ambition that kept him out of town for days at a time during his tenure.
But Patrick insists that his trade mission, which continued on to the United Kingdom yesterday, is a two-week chance to burnish the state’s image, not his own.
“No,’’ the governor said with a purposeful laugh Wednesday. “I love the job I have.’’
“When I’m finished,’’ he added. “I need to, and will, go back into the private sector, make a little money.’’
Still, while most of his days here have been crowded with meetings on business ventures and potential partnerships, Patrick was obviously taken by the public moments. He called it “pretty amazing’’ to be acknowledged from the floor of the Knesset and, like most who visited Yad Vashem, was moved to tears there.
“This little kid from the South Side of Chicago had a chance to sit down with the president of Israel yesterday, with the prime minister the day before,’’ Patrick said during a breakfast with former Kennedy School fellows from Israel on Friday.
The governor’s travel companions, business executives and political supporters who are close to him, have given him high marks for his ability to shift gears between formal diplomacy and less scripted encounters with younger government officials who control some of the country’s business levers.
“Put simply, our governor has a sense of powerful presence,’’ said Suffolk Construction Co. chief John Fish.
He also possesses a diplomat’s sense of decorum that has served him well on the international stage.
Shimon Peres holds a largely ceremonial position in Israel. But the 87-year-old fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and has held nearly every major position in its government.
Patrick was deferential to that legacy on Thursday, nodding approvingly as Peres expounded at length on the country’s history in one breath and analyzed Israel’s high-tech economy in the next.
When Peres made a self-deprecating joke about his long-windedness, the governor led the audience in laughter and applause.
While Patrick appears eager to begin another high profile assignment — his role speaking out for Obama’s reelection campaign — he did not attempt to speak for the president while meeting with Peres or other Israeli government officials last week.
“That’s not my assignment,’’ Patrick said. “There’s a whole diplomatic service whose job it is the represent the president.’’
He said Obama did not send any messages through him. Nor did Israelis send Obama messages through Patrick.
“I thanked him for [Massachusetts’] divestment from Iranian companies until the Iranian regime changes course,’’ said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who met with Patrick on Wednesday before the Netanyahu meeting.
During Patrick’s only previous trade mission, to China in 2007, he was asked often about Obama, who was then seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Some who traveled with Patrick there said the perceived friendship between the governor and Obama was helpful on the trip, because it gave him additional clout.
That has not been the case in Israel. Obama’s name rarely comes up in large gatherings, and opinion polls show many Israelis hold a negative opinion of the American president.
“Bush was better to Israel,’’ said Yoav Raif, a 24 year-old economics student at the Interdisciplinary center, a university in Herzliya. Obama “doesn’t represent our interests. He’s not a friend.’’
For all the honorary welcomes Patrick received last week, he remains largely unknown in Israel, where his visit has received scant attention in the national media. He was barely noticed when he and the trade delegation walked through the crowded Yad Vashem museum.
Raif, who was smoking a cigarette on campus a few hundred yards from where Patrick was speaking at his university Tuesday, seemed baffled when asked if he knew who Governor Patrick was.
“Deval Patrick? No. He’s here?’’
Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com.