June 6 marks the 30th anniversary of Operation Peace for the Galilee, aka the First Lebanon War. On June 7, Educational Television began broadcasting a news and interview program to and from the battlefront under the heading of a “Erev Hadash” (A New Evening), anchored by veteran print media journalist and television current affairs anchor Dan Margalit, whose journalist peregrinations have taken him from Ha’aretz to Ma’ariv to Israel Hayom, from Channel One to Educational Television and to commercial television.
Despite attempts to oust him and to close down Educational Television, Margalit is still hosting “Erev Hadash”, albeit in a somewhat different format, and Educational television, regardless of its problems with the Finance Ministry and with obsolete equipment, is still going strong.
Not everyone is aware that Educational Television was the pioneer of television in Israel. It was established in 1965 as a joint project of the Education Ministry and the Rothschild Foundation, and began broadcasting in March 1966, two years before Israel Television, now known as Channel One, launched its first broadcast on Independence Day.
Levy Eshkol, who was then prime minister, set the ETV ball rolling in the presence of Lord Jacob Rothschild, who was present as the representative of the Rothschild Foundation. Initially, ETV broadcast lessons in mathematics, biology and English, but it gradually expanded its format to include general programming.
Following the introduction of commercial television, there were many attempts by the Finance Ministry to close down ETV on the grounds that it is redundant. However, it continues top have a following, and to date reports of its demise have been premature.
The First Lebanon War was authorized by prime minister Menachem Begin almost a year and a half before his resignation in October 1983. Anti-war-demonstrators congregated daily outside his residence with placards bearing the number of Israeli casualties. Having the death toll waved in his face in this manner was more than Begin could bear.
■ IT IS fitting, therefore, that one of the major conferences reviewing the war, its background and its consequences be held by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. The conference, which opens today at BIU’s Feldman Conference Center, will be held in Hebrew with simultaneous English translation.
It has been organized in coordination with the Begin Heritage Center and the Argov Chair at BIU. Speakers will include army officers and academics, among them Moshe Arens, who was appointed defense minister after Ariel Sharon was forced to leave office following the Kahan Report on the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Also among the speakers is Yossi Peled, who commanded a special force during the First Lebanon War, along with other IDF reserve officers who fought in Lebanon.
■ ACCORDING TO a report in Ma’ariv, Madonna arrived in Israel last Friday, not in a private plane, but on a scheduled El Al commercial flight on which she had reserved a large number of seats in first class, business class and economy class. Attagirl Esther! (That’s what she calls herself in her Kabbala class.) It may be remembered that Shimon Peres, for budgetary reasons, flew to and from Canada recently via Air Canada and not via El Al.
The frequency with which Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu travel abroad with relatively large entourages has made air travel for Israel’s head of state and head of government a very expensive proposition, so much so that it warranted considering the possibility of a acquiring a special plane, equipped with all the necessary security needs plus the comforts of home for the use of the president and the prime minister.
In fact, a committee appointed by Netanyahu not long after he came into office has recommended the purchase of such a plane. In the days of Chaim Herzog, an army plane used to be re-painted with El Al insignia for the president’s travels abroad, serving as Israel’s temporary Air Force One and returning to army service once it was back in Israel. But it was an old plane and once it was no longer fit for use, both the president and the prime minister had no choice but to travel via commercial flights. They traveled almost invariably by El Al, the national carrier, which was a given before El Al was privatized because fares could be tailored to the travel budgets of the president and the PM. It obviously didn’t work that way when the people in the president’s office were checking out the cost of fares to Canada. Peres and Netanyahu have also used Arkia from time to time.
Despite the recommendations of the committee, convincing the Treasury will be very tough going. But who knows? Some Jewish billionaire may leave his private jet to Israel in his will. (It can’t be accepted while he’s still alive in case he has vested interests in making the donation.)
■ DIPLOMATS USED to play their cards very close to their chests , and to some extent still do. But with the advent of Facebook, they feel a strong need to share. Case in point is US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who shares both diplomatic news and his personal observations and experiences with anyone who wants to know. For example, he’s a regular blood donor, with donations of 50 units to his credit, the last as recently as a week ago.
Sometimes he has to be careful of what he writes, as for instance on US Memorial Day when he wrote: “We honor our brave and selfless American service members who died to protect our security and preserve our freedoms.”
This left him wide open to Facebook comments relating to Jonathan Pollard.
There were some people who wanted to know how long Pollard still has to wait for his freedom.
■ ON THAT particular score, there are Pollard supporters who are urging President Peres not to accept the Freedom Medal from US President Barack Obama on June 13, unless Peres can be assured that he can bring Pollard home with him. It is highly unlikely that Peres would rebuff the American President in this way, but Obama should be aware of a sizable chunk of Israeli public opinion (not to mention the attitude of American Jewish voters) with regard to Pollard who has been incarcerated for an abnormally long period in relation to other people convicted on similar charges.
■ IT WOULD seem that one of the roles of a US ambassador is to promote his country’s national sport – baseball. When Dan Kurtzer resigned from the foreign service after 29 years with the State Department, he became the first commissioner of the Israel Baseball League. Whether Shapiro will ever hold that office remains to seen (especially because the IBL only lasted one season), but meanwhile he last week accompanied former major league baseball player Brad Ausmus to a meeting with President Peres.
Ausmus, who used to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, volunteered to manage and play for the Israeli national baseball team in preparation for the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic and is currently in Israel to learn more about baseball in Israel. Shapiro, an avid baseball fan, was really happy to go along with Ausmus, hand in glove. During the meeting, Ausmus gave Peres a full baseball kit, including a practice jersey with the president’s name, a bat and a ball and said he left the “soft spot” of the ball – usually reserved for the most senior player in the team – for the president to sign.
Peres thanked him for the kit and said “it’s easy to sign, difficult to play.”
For that matter it’s a little difficult to imagine Peres throwing a curve ball or hitting a home run, but he did evince an interest in baseball in Israel, and Shapiro told him that baseball is becoming increasingly popular, especially since the formation of a national team.
Shapiro expressed the hope that more Israelis would gain exposure to the game and become ardently attached, because “a common sport can contribute to the bond between two people.”
Ausmus said that he had come to Israel in order to “test the waters” and updated Peres on the efforts to build the team that would represent Israel in the World Baseball Classic in the United States. Peres said that he had watched baseball games in his youth during his visits to the US. The Israeli team will play in the qualifying round this coming November against the Spanish, French, and South African national teams. If the team finishes in the top of the group, it will play in the WBC March 2013.
■ IN A video clip broadcast at the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv at an evening symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the death of right-wing ideologue Abba Ahimeir, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recalled the friendship that had existed between the Netanyahu and Ahimeir families and said that there have been few Zionist leaders of the caliber of Ahimeir.
The symposium on Ahimeir was conducted in two sessions, the first chaired by his younger son, Yossi, who is the executive director of the Jabotinsky Institute, and the second by his elder son, Ya’akov, who was awarded the Israel Prize in communications at this year’s Independence Day awards. Abba Ahimeir, prior to and during his political activities, was also a well-known journalist.
■ IT’S NO secret that Binyamin Netanyahu is a keen chess player and that he used to play chess with his later father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu. This week, the PM took time out from his busy schedule to watch the 12th game in the World Chess Championship between Boris Gelfand and Viswanathan Anand. The game was broadcast on a giant screen in a room adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Office, where the prime minister watched between meetings and discussed the moves with Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who had maintained his sanity when incarcerated in the Soviet Gulag by playing chess in his head. In March 2010, Netanyahu met with Gelfand, who played a match against him and Sharansky; The match ended in a draw.
■ THE NAME of the late Maurice Abraham Jaffe is linked in perpetuity with the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, of which he was a founder and chairman. Born in Salford, England, Jaffe was a chaplain in the Jewish Brigade and Allied Forces, serving in the Far East and in Europe during World War II. Haunted by memories of the war, he raised funds for the establishment of the Great Synagogue as a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. He was an intensely involved community activist both in his native England and in Israel, where he and his Israeli wife, Ella, raised three sons: Zeev, who is a board member of the Great Synagogue and twins, Zali, a lawyer who is vice president of the Great Synagogue and Elli, a worldrenowned conductor who is choirmaster at the Great Synagogue. In other words, the Jaffe family was, is and will be closely associated with the Great Synagogue.
This week the memory of Rabbi Maurice Jaffe was also linked in perpetuity with the Jerusalem College of Technology, where a lecture hall was dedicated in his name. The occasion was also used to launch his biography, under the title The Major – the Life and Activities of Rabbi Dr. Maurice Jaffe. Some of the positions he held in England included member of the British Board of Deputies, vice chairman of the Manchester and Salford Council of Jews and vice president of the Mizrahi Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. In Israel he was president of the Union of Israel Synagogues, chairman of the World Conference of Synagogues and Kehilot, executive member of the National Religious Party, member of the World Zionist Executive and member of the Board of Governors of the World Jewish Congress and Jewish Agency – and that’s just a short list.
In addition to his rabbinic ordination, he had a law degree in public and international law.
Before enlisting as an army chaplain, he served as a rabbi in the North Manchester Synagogue.
When he left the British Army in 1946, it was as senior chaplain to the British Forces in Europe, with the rank of major. After moving to Israel in 1948, he was appointed director of external relations of World Mizrahi, and in 1952 he was appointed honorary executive director of the Heichal Shlomo building committee.
He has much more to his credit, but this an indication of why his family thought it was important to publish his biography. Some of the visitors to the Great Synagogue, who may have noticed that the plaza was named for him but not known who he was, can now learn by reading the book.
■ WHEN LAWYER David Shimron and his wife, Audrey, who is the executive director of the Israel office of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, married off Nadav, the youngest of their four children at a festive reception at Kedma in Neveh Ilan this week, guests were asked to arrive well ahead of the time listed for the ceremony. The reason? The number one invitee was Binyamin Netanyahu, whose participation in both private and public events requires intensive security arrangements. Shimron happens to be the prime minister’s lawyer and is also his close friend – so there was no way that he was going to leave him off the guest list, even if it meant inconveniencing other guests.
■ AS FOR inconvenience, it also applies to high school students who happen to attend the same school as Avner Netanyahu, the PM’s younger son. While it’s true that one cannot choose one’s parents, one can often wish that parents had made different career choices.
Though Avner undoubtedly loves his dad, the fact that his father and the closest members of his family require constant security can sometimes be a pain in the neck.
When Avner was a little boy, he was good at evading security guards and made their lives a nightmare whenever he disappeared. According to a report in Yediot Yerushalayim, security at Avner’s school has been tightened to the extent that no other pupil can enter the building before Avner arrives. This presents a problem for some of the students who live in outlying areas and are given rides to school, arriving well over an hour before the doors are opened.
■ SEVERAL OF Benzion Netanyahu’s neighbors were inconvenienced when the family spent the week of mourning at his house. Letters of apology signed by the PM and his wife Sara were subsequently sent out to all the neighbors, some of whom voiced their appreciation for the gesture.
■ AT THE annual Guardian of Zion Award ceremony at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, American Jewish community activist Ingeborg Rennert bestowed the award that is adjudged by Bar-Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies on the Israel Antiquities Authority and its director, Shuka Dorfman.
Dorfman in turn gave Rennert the key to the city of Jerusalem, an honor usually reserved for mayors of cities abroad, in recognition for what she and her husband have done over the years to support the work of the Antiquities Authority.
Dorfman is obviously a team player, because in accepting the award he read out a long list of names of people who are part of the AA team and without whom the Antiquities Authority would never have aspired to the heights – or rather the depths – that they have penetrated, and who have brought so much prestige to the authority. He said the award belonged to all of them.
BIU president Prof. Moshe Kaveh said, “Exposure to our past is one of the most important ways we can impact upon people.”
To this end, he announced that the university will be spearheading a new national initiative bringing students from Israel and abroad to take part in archaeological digs throughout the country. Earlier in the week, during the University’s 57th Annual Board of Trustees Meetings, Kaveh announced that Bar-Ilan will establish a world-class center of archaeological research and education in cooperation with Ramat Gan mayor Zvi Bar. The center will be built on 2.5 acres of land being allotted for the project by the Ramat Gan municipality.
Kaveh also announced at the King David that the university had just launched an academic program in public diplomacy in the framework of its new School of Communication.
The program will train academic faculty and graduate students from Bar-Ilan and other universities to wage a widespread offensive to counter delegitimization campaigns against Israel. “They will be the true Guardians of Zion,” said Kaveh, who also announced that this fall 250 students will be studying in the university’s new Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who usually makes hit-and-run appearances, stayed for all the speeches after making his own. Dorfman, who is used to Barkat’s quick disappearances, in reading out the names of various dignitaries, said after reading Barkat’s name, “oh he’s already gone…” to which there was a chorus of “No he hasn’t. He’s still here.”
■ VETERAN AND new Australian immigrants will get together at the Herzl Center on Mount Herzl on Monday, June 18 as guests of president of the Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester, who will feed both their minds and their mouths. Chester, who will be in Israel with a delegation of Zionist community leaders, has put together a list of distinguished ex-Aussies as guest speakers along with Nir Barkat and Stav Shafir, who is a leader of the protest movement for social justice. The Aussie expat speakers include Jerusalem Post columnist and former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Isi Leibler; diplomat D.J. Schneeweiss who is winding up his job as director of Civil Society Affairs and coordinator of Counter BDS campaigns at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before becoming an Israeli consul in Canada; and Tal Becker a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and an international associate at the Washington Institute.
■ TIMING IS everything. Reports in the Hebrew media suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a lightning visit to Israel at the end of June. It just so happens that the book Putin’s Oil, by Martin Sixsmith, the erstwhile BBC correspondent in Moscow, is currently available in Israel. The key focus of the book is the Yukos Oil Company, which was a prime factor in Russia’s economy. One day, soldiers armed with machine guns stormed the plane of Yukos chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky while it was on the tarmac, put him in chains and took him to prison, where he has been for the past eight years.
His good friend, Russian Jewish philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, who now lives in Israel but who might have met a similar fate had he stayed in Russia, has tried to alert world attention to Khodorkovsky’s plight, but it doesn’t look as though anything positive is going to develop there soon. Meanwhile, the book is being advertised several times a day on Israel Radio.