VENLO, Netherlands – A few iPhone-wielding photographers were all that betrayed
the current year at events belatedly celebrating Israel’s independence on Sunday
at the Floriade agricultural exposition in the south of the
The rest of the show – including a concert by the Israeli
oldies band “Hakol Over Habibi” – could have happened in 1975. Similarly
reminiscent of earlier times was the unabashed adoration that local politicians
showered on Israel at the event near Venlo.
The Floriade is an
international agriculture exhibition held once a decade. It attracted over a
million visitors from across Europe and the world.
Israel, one of 44
countries represented at the event this year, was the first nation to celebrate
its national day there.
The time-capsule effect during the celebration
was no accident. The organizers said they wanted to speak directly to the
“ordinary European from the countryside, who have always liked Israel” – and
over the heads of the elites and their revisionist attitudes toward
Israel filled two separate spots at the exhibition: An
interactive hi-tech lounge covered in touchscreen computers, biblical writings
on the wall; a solar-powered water-filtration system and rocks from Israel; and
a garden boasting the seven species traditionally considered to defining
characteristics of the Holy Land – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, dates, olives
“This two-point presence allowed us to simultaneously
offer Israeli history with a religious motif, alongside innovation,” Joseph
Alfassy, the commissioner- general of the State of Israel to the Floriade, told
The Jerusalem Post
. Israel was one of a few countries offering more than one
pavilion at the Floriade.
At Israel’s high-tech lounge, visitors were
encouraged to create an imaginary fruit or vegetable using an application, as
they read about Israel’s feats in genetic engineering of plants. For each new
fruit – which is displayed on a big screen – Israel pledged to donate 100 seeds
to be sown in hunger-stricken countries.
Other attention-grabbers at the
Floriade exhibition included the artistic South Korean pavilion. Built as an
oriental garden, it used rusty debris arranged around grassy patches to create a
rustic effect. At the center stands a modular white sphere whose interior hall
is fitted with flat screens.
Outside, performers dressed as alien-looking
red birds pranced on stilts, croaking as they entertained delighted
The park was spread across 66 hectares, checkered with tropical
gardens, ponds, cooking and tasting corners and displays on innovation in
Overhead, a cable car runs the park’s entire
The Chinese pavilion featured a large and placid pagoda compound
with fishponds and bonsai trees for sale.
Many countries, including
Thailand, Pakistan, Yemen and Sri Lanka, used their Floriade pavilions to sell
“This is exactly what we wanted to avoid,” said
Alfassy. “We wanted to donate, not peddle goods.”
four million shekels for the Floriade effort.
Alfassy said that
currently, the Israeli pavilions registered a total of 3,500 visitors per day
and a total of 60,000 people since the Floriade opened on April 5. The
exposition closes October 7.
At the Floriade, Israel will try to profile
itself among professionals in the horticultural industry, while at the same time
speaking to the general public and attracting tourists.
delegation to the Floriade on July 16-22 will hold a series of events entitled
Israel National Week celebrating the Jewish state.
“The attempt to reach
beyond the elites to the common person is a good idea,” said Ronny Naftaniel,
who heads the Hague-based Center for Information and Documentation on Israel.
“There was a positive attitude toward Israel. The affection for Israel that used
to exist everywhere in Europe is very much present in the countryside. A similar
event in Amsterdam would’ve invoked less sympathy.”
found the hi-tech lounge too highbrow for the target audience.
most visitors would enjoy a free fruit snack far more than the chance to fight
world hunger or create an imaginary fruit.”
Dszingisz Gábor, the Dutch
government’s commissioner-general for the Floriade, believes
“The touchscreens at the Israeli lounge are very popular with
the visitors,” he said, calling the donation of seeds “a great
“The Israeli participation in the Floriade underlines the
traditionally good and strong relations between the Netherlands and Israel,” he
Gábor, a Dutch former deputy minister, congratulated Israel on its
technological and agricultural feats, noting that Israel exported 35 times more
flowers to the Netherlands than vice versa.
An exuberant Haim Divon,
Israel’s ambassador to the Netherlands, thanked Gábor but reminded him that the
Israeli expertise in growing flowers partly owed to tutoring by Dutch
agronomists. Divon did agree, however, to take full credit for “importing the
sun” that Sunday, Holland’s first truly sunny day in weeks. Gerd Leers, the
Dutch immigration and integration minister was one of the politicians who
attended the celebration.
“Performing for the Dutch at the Floriade felt
like time stood still since the 1970s,” Shlomit Aharoni, the lead vocalist for
the band “Hakol Over Habibi” told the Post
The band’s name – which can
be translated to “This too shall pass, friend” – proved a bit too much for
organizers and guests, who referred to it simply as “Habibi.”
which was formed in the 1970s, has been to the Netherlands several
“We do feel we represent something all-Israeli, something basic
and apolitical. And that’s how we feel we are received by the crowd,” Aharoni