It's all-in-the family as Trumps take centre stage on trip

US First Lady Melania Trump (in white) and Mrs Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Hadassah Children's Hospital in Jerusalem on Monday.
US First Lady Melania Trump (in white) and Mrs Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Hadassah Children's Hospital in Jerusalem on Monday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JERUSALEM • At an Israeli children's hospital, Mrs Melania Trump handed out blue canvas backpacks filled with Dr Seuss books and emblazoned with a picture of the White House.

At a forum in Saudi Arabia on combating extremism, Ms Ivanka Trump stood in for her father when he got tired. And in Israel, her husband, Mr Jared Kushner, stuck by his father-in-law's side as US President Donald Trump pushed for peace in the Middle East.

The President's first foray overseas is giving the rest of the world its first real glimpse of America's new governing structure - a White House that has quickly become an all-in-the-family business, standard practice in Saudi Arabia but rare in the United States.

During the President's nine-day, multi-country trip that began last Friday, the world is learning - and Americans are being reminded of - the significant overlap between blood ties and policy advisers in the White House now. For Mr Trump, they are almost interchangeable.

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"It is extremely rare that a president would bring family members, other than a spouse, and ask them to assume a public role on a foreign trip," said Mr Carl Sferrazza Anthony, the historian at the National First Ladies' Library.

He said presidents often brought their children or other relatives on foreign excursions. But he added: "In terms of the Trumps assuming public roles, this is unprecedented."

Mrs Trump, America's reticent and reserved First Lady, has all but shunned the spotlight since her husband was elected. Overseas, though, she has been willing to play the role of global ambassador, stepping out a bit as she accompanies her husband. Wherever she goes, she draws attention.

But not all the attention has been kind. On Monday, television cameras at the airport arrival ceremony in Tel Aviv captured what appeared to be an annoyed Mrs Trump slapping away her husband's hand when he tried to hold hers.

The video clip of Mrs Trump flicking away the President's hand quickly went viral on Twitter and was posted on the website of Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, under the headline, "Well This Is Embarrassing".

All three members of the Trump family joined Mr Trump on Monday as he became the first sitting president to make a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, Judaism's most holy place for prayer.

Israeli news websites raced to feature pictures of Mrs Trump, dressed in a white skirt suit, standing solemnly by the wall.

TV cameras captured an emotional Ms Trump, who converted to Judaism, appearing to wipe away a tear after gently touching the wall with her left palm. Mr Trump reportedly bragged about his daughter and her husband as he greeted members of the Israeli Cabinet after touching down at the Tel Aviv airport.Of one thing he was certain, the President told one of them, "you will like Ivanka".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'It's all-in-the family as Trumps take centre stage on trip'. Print Edition | Subscribe