Former president Shimon Peres did not give his successor President Reuven Rivlin the customary 100 days of grace before plunging into activity.
Longtime friends and associates of Peres, who at various stages during June and July came to farewell him in his final period of office, said they knew he was leaving the presidency, but not retiring. Peres said as much himself and within less than a week of handing over the reins to Rivlin in a Knesset ceremony, he was back in action, making political statements – first at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba; then at his Jaffa office in the Peres Center for Peace, where he met with Quartet envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has paid more than 70 visits to the region. Peres and Blair had met two weeks earlier, when Peres was still at the President’s Residence.
Blair is only one of many international dignitaries who will be beating a path to the former president’s door. Presumably, many dignitaries will be in touch with Peres one way or another on Saturday to wish him a happy 91st birthday.
■ MEANWHILE, RIVLIN has been busy learning the presidential ropes, and for the benefit of all those readers who wondered whether his wife would be an active first lady: The answer is yes! When Rivlin emerged from his office on Wednesday night to greet a Hadassah delegation, his wife, Nechama, was with him, which got the knickers of the protocol people in a twist because they didn’t know where to put her. They eventually placed her in a seat behind the visitors, which was downright embarrassing.
Eventually, a couple of the Israeli Hadassah women seated on one of the sofas took the initiative and said, “Nechama, don’t sit over there. Come and sit with us.” And she did. It was a better seat than she had before, but it was still not the right place for the president’s wife.
■ PEOPLE FAMILIAR with the President’s Residence were somewhat shocked when they entered this week to see bare walls at the front section of the building, in which security checks are conducted. Up until last week, the walls were adorned with blown-up photographs of Peres and various past and present heads of state such as Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama and Pope Francis. Now, the room looks strangely bleak.
A bust of Peres has not yet been put up in the front garden alongside those of his eight predecessors, and contrary to practice over the past seven years, there were no elaborate flower arrangements in the main reception hall – though in the smaller hall there were bowls of white chrysanthemums, each covered with a strand of magenta hued orchids.
Greeting a Hadassah delegation headed by Marcie Natan, national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Association of America, Rivlin – true to form – invited everyone to “feel at home,” and said he was speaking to them as a Jerusalemite and the president of Israel. “I have to get used to it,” he said with a grin of his recently acquired title.
Rivlin initially spoke of how appreciative Israel is for the support it receives from the US and from Diaspora Jewry. He was very happy to host Hadassah, he said, declaring, “You cannot believe the feelings of Jerusalemites towards Hadassah, which is an address for everyone who needs professional help.”
The meeting took place in the evening because Rivlin had spent the day in the North visiting bereaved families of fallen soldiers, among them the family of Sgt. Oron Shaul – who was killed in Gaza, but whose burial place is unknown. Shaul had been one of the 120 outstanding soldiers honored at the President’s Residence on Independence Day this year. In addition to receiving checks and citations, all the outstanding soldiers received a special pin.
Shaul’s pin had broken – perhaps a symbolic omen – and when Rivlin met his family, he brought with him a replacement pin in mint condition.
For Shaul’s parents, Zehava and Herzl, who had been so proud of him when he received his original pin in April, this was an extraordinarily emotional moment. They embraced Rivlin in gratitude, and shared memories of their son with him.
■ MORE OF Israel’s veteran spokespersons are coming to the fore at a time when Israel desperately needs effective public diplomacy.
Businessman, former MK and two-time ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, 84, who also happens to be multilingual, did a sterling job during Operation Cast Lead in 2009 explaining Israel’s case to the world. Now, he’s doing it again with Operation Protective Edge – once more in a voluntary capacity.
Shoval has a lot of experience in this arena. During the Begin administration, he was in charge of Israel’s overall public diplomacy, which in those days was referred to as hasbara. Now, Shoval is rushing from one television studio to another, talking on the phone to foreign media correspondents and anchors, analyzing the situation and providing commentary.
“Public diplomacy, provided it sticks to the truth and is furnished in real-time, must be part of any successful military operation. Israel’s case is just, and it’s our task to get it across,” he said.
■ CURRENTLY DOING the rounds on the international Jewish social media circuit is a clip of US Ambassador Ron Dermer telling CNN’s Erin Burnett that her outlet did a disservice to its viewers by not showing in real-time that Hamas uses hospitals, UNRWA schools and mosques as depots for rockets and missiles, and also failing to report in real-time the condemnation of Hamas by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
But, to be fair, a few days later CNN did cover the views of Mossab Hassan Yousef, the son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who told interviewer Don Lemon that Hamas does not care about the lives of Palestinians, Israelis or Americans, as they don’t care about their own lives.
They consider dying for the sake of their ideology a form of worship, he said.
Yousef, who broke away from Hamas and converted to Christianity, has been completely renounced by his family. He told Lemon, “Hamas is not seeking coexistence and compromise; it is seeking conquest and taking over.
And, by the way, the destruction of the State of Israel is not Hamas’s final destination; its final destination is building the Islamic caliphate, which means an Islamic state on the rubble of every other civilization.
These are the ultimate goals of the movement.”
■ BARELY A month after resigning from the position of director-general of Channel 10, Rafi Ginat, who had intended at the time to continue with his long-running investigative consumer program Kolbotek, has been axed by his successor, Yossi Warshavsky. This is because Ginat refused to compromise on the excessive production costs of the show, at a time when Channel 10 – which is in danger of closure at the end of the year – has gone into stringent belt-tightening mode, with a series of dismissals and salary cuts on the immediate horizon.
One of the longest-running programs on television, Kolbotek launched 40 years ago on Channel 1, later moving to Channel 2, then Channel 10. Who knows, Ginat may yet be able to market it to the new public broadcasting enterprise that the Knesset on Tuesday voted into being, in tandem with its vote for the dismantling of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Meanwhile, it appears it is not definite that the abolition of the television levy promised by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Yair Lapid will come into immediate effect. The IBA liquidator has the option to maintain it until such time as the authority is replaced by a new public broadcasting service.
■ ON THE same night the Knesset voted on the demise of the IBA, Oren Nahari produced his scoop on Channel 1 of the previously unpublished section of the transcript of the alleged tense and even hostile conversation between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Obama. Denials were quickly issued by American and Israeli officials saying the report bore no resemblance to reality, but Nahari – who had received the transcript from someone he described as a reliable American source – stuck to his guns. IBA colleague Ayala Hasson, who is no slouch at investigative reporting and has contacts in high places in the US and Israeli administrations, checked out Nahari’s story and publicly supported him.
Several MKs who voted against the closure of the IBA, which for the time being is continuing business as usual, said it was inappropriate to even discuss the subject while IBA reporters were risking their lives to bring information to the public from the battlefront. Others with broadcasting backgrounds noted that the new law makes no provision for what should or should not be included in broadcasting content.
In fact, there is barely any reference to content. Likewise, there are serious omissions related to the number of journalists who will be employed in the new entity, how many journalists currently working for the IBA will be transferred to the new public broadcasting network and the sum of the final compensation to be paid to each of the dismissed IBA staff members. All that is known in terms of actual finances is that the closure will cost the government something in the realm of NIS 1.3 billion, a sum it cannot really afford given the huge, previously unbudgeted amount the war effort and its aftermath are costing.
Although the 13 unions within the IBA, together with the Jerusalem Journalists Association and the Histadrut labor federation, lost the battle to save the IBA, the fight is not yet over. JJA chairman Hika Ginosar says his organization will now push for clarification on the exact number of journalists to be employed, how many will be transferred from the IBA and the criteria for determining which of the IBA journalists will be transferred to the new entity.
■ MEDIA OUTLETS in Israel have been flooded with stories of the generosity of individuals and organizations in efforts to bring food, basic necessities and forms of relief to residents in the South and soldiers based throughout the Gaza Strip. Hospitals have been overloaded with visitors bringing gifts to wounded soldiers – often to soldiers they never met before – to the extent that relatives and hospital staff are asking people to stay away so the wounded soldiers can get some sleep.
The need to identify with the national mission and to find heroes is also reflected in the hundreds of people attending funerals of fallen soldiers, to pay their respects to them on their final journeys. No media outlet has room to publish the totality of this outpouring of unconditional goodness and love, which symbolically comes at a time when Jews recall the damage and destruction wrought by baseless hatred. Here is some of what has gone on: Social welfare services in all of the southern municipalities have been bolstered by numerous volunteers who are going from house to house to see older residents – especially those living alone – to ensure all their needs are met. Farmers, including Arabs, are donating crates of surplus crops. By the same token Leket Israel, working in close cooperation with 30 IDF bases, has rescued tens of thousands of kilograms of food for distribution to the needy; with the assistance of 360 volunteers, it over the past week provided 3,400 food parcels to partner agencies in Ofakim, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Nitzan, Netivot, Sderot, Beersheba and Kiryat Malachi.
The International Young Israel Movement, at the initiative of Meir Mishkoff, president of American Friends of Yisrael Hatzair, has been bringing busloads of children, including a busload of deaf children, from southern communities to the Center for days of touring, creative activities and fun. Mishkoff specially came to Israel to participate in the project.
When Uri Lupolianski, the founder of Yad Sarah, put his own personal problems (such as a cancer battle and impending imprisonment) on the back-burner and asked Yad Sarah’s American Friends to send wheelchairs for wounded soldiers and residents of the South who might need them, the response exceeded all expectations.
An emergency campaign that was part of a joint venture between El Al and Yad Sarah resulted in sufficient funds for 1,000 wheelchairs, the first shipment of which was flown to Israel this week by El Al.
Led by Linda Mirels, chairwoman of the UJA Federation of New York, a solidarity delegation of UJA Federation leaders pledged $200,000 to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center when the group visited the South and met with hospital director-general Dr. Chezi Levi.
On the home front, Cellcom donated 600 McDonald’s meals to southern residents who had to evacuate their homes and are being hosted in a WIZO youth village. Synagogue committees and other groups are publishing notices about orders and deliveries of products from southern communities, especially Sderot, and are asking people in the Center to help support the southern economy.
And the list goes on and on...
Some of this generosity of spirit will continue after the hostilities abate but unfortunately, most of it will evaporate.