Grapevine: Balfour, Brits and betrayal

It appears that members and friends of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association might miss out on having a Balfour Day dinner this year.

November 5, 2013 21:32
Israel and Great Britian.

jewish boys with israel and britain flags 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It appears that members and friends of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association might miss out on having a Balfour Day dinner this year. As it is, the dinner seldom takes place on the actual anniversary, but it does take place some time in November.

The format consists of two speakers – one British, one Israeli – each of them a well-known dignitary. The British speakers to date have all been impressive orators, some with an extraordinary gift for language and imagery. Most of the Israelis have been good to very good, particularly Amnon Rubinstein, who was the Israeli speaker some years ago. Rubinstein has an excellent command of English and spoke very well.

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Last year, unfortunately, was a fiasco.

The Israeli speaker was Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein, whose English is less than perfect and whose address was less than inspiring.

This year, organizers wanted to be sure of a particularly good Israeli speaker who would be a great draw. It was a case of familiarity breeds contempt.

Several of the better-known speakers have been heard so often that no one would pay a triple-digit figure to hear them, regardless of the quality of the catering. But there are many more superb speakers out there: academics, members of the legal fraternity, diplomats, etc., whose names may not be so famous, but whose talents are enviable.

Meanwhile, IBCA has joined forces with Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, to host a lecture by former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on November 12. Since many IBCA regulars live in the Netanya and Herzliya areas and environs, IBCA will be providing transportation for those who register with committee member Austen Science.

■ FOR ALL that, there were a few Balfour Day regulars who did commemorate the Balfour Declaration – not at a dinner, but at a thought-provoking film and lecture evening at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. The film, The Forsaken Promise, is a chilling reminder of how the British reneged on the November 1917 commitment of His Majesty’s government, which viewed with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.

Former Hagana activist, organizer of mass Jewish emigration from Iraq, diplomat, politician, government minister, Knesset speaker, and Keren Hayesod world chairman Shlomo Hillel is one of several well-known Israelis who appear in the film. He lauded its producer and director, Hugh Kitson of the Hatikvah Film Trust, which made the documentary, as a man of courage in telling the truth, placing him with Balfour, Arthur James, Winston Churchill and Orde Wingate on his shortlist of Brits who enable him to continue to believe in mankind.

Controversial and intrepid journalist Melanie Phillips spoke of the “current malice in Britain” and the “vicious propaganda” that is demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, characterizing the film as “the most shocking story of British perfidy.”

Prof. Robert Wistrich of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism said the film was characterized by honesty and moral clarity, something he believes has been left behind in academia.

The attempt to abort the Balfour Declaration was not the first instance of British cruelty to Jews. Observing that Jews had arrived in Britain in 1066 with William the Conqueror, Wistrich said Britain had been the first country to expel Jews in 1290 during the reign of Edward I. In view of that, it was almost ironic that Kitson, who is so pro-Jewish and pro- Israel, happens to be a descendant of Edward I.

For 350 years, there were no Jews officially living in England, said Wistrich, and the slow return began only under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. Even before the expulsion, the first blood libel against Jews was made public in Norwich in 1144.

Wistrich grew up in England; Phillips lives and works in England, as does Kitson – yet all three spoke out and continue to speak out against what they perceive to be wrong with British history and policy.

Any Israeli doing something similar with regard to Israel would immediately be branded as a leftwing, self-hating Jew. Some people might even call him a traitor.

Perhaps in Britain, they realize that you can’t cure an illness until you diagnose its cause.

■ ALTHOUGH THE memorial service for Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, was held last month in accordance with the Hebrew calendar date of his demise, both his birthday and his passing took place in November – his birthday on the 27th, and his death on the ninth. In fact, next year will be the 140th anniversary of his birth. Weizmann played an influential role in the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, the 96th anniversary of which was last Saturday, November 2.

On Friday, Israel Radio broadcaster Chaim Ador wondered on air what Lord Balfour would have written to Weizmann if the latter had a Facebook page.

■ ARGUABLY, THE best-known Grecophile in Israel is broadcaster Yaron Enosh, who on his weekly program on Reshet Bet promotes Greek culture in its many variables. He has interviewed several of Greece’s leading singers, whose songs he often airs; he talks almost nostalgically about his frequent trips to Greece, the people he meets, the food he eats, the tavernas he frequents and the anecdotes he picks up along the way.

But like most people, Enosh returns to roots – which in his case are Polish.

He has a regular satirical corner in his program, in which Ditzia Kohana, a stereotyped Polish-Jewish character of the old school who believes in the philosophy of negativism, discusses her views of the world.

But last Friday, Enosh, whose mother comes from the Polish port city of Gdansk, went a step further and spent a long time interviewing Arieh Rosen, director of cultural programing at the Polish Institute, who together with food writer Ronit Vered dreamed up the Polish Culinary Week, which opened last Saturday night and continues till November 11.

Enosh, a Jerusalemite who is just as interested in food as he is in anything and everything to do with Greece, was more than keen to attend at least one of the 40 events planned for the first Polish Culinary Week in Israel. He told Rosen he would definitely be at the Middle East-Polish fusion dinner, accompanied by arak and vodka, which was held last night at the Machneyuda restaurant in Jerusalem’s famed Mahaneh Yehuda market. Chef Arturo Moroz, of the Bulaj restaurant in Gdansk (the city of Enosh’s culinary roots), joined chefs Uri Navon, Assaf Granit and Yossi Elad in hosting a tasting in their kitchen.

In the interview, Enosh was curious as to how Rosen, who was born in Israel, got a job as director of cultural programing at the Polish Institute, a branch of the Polish Embassy, albeit in a different part of Tel Aviv. It was very simple. Rosen had been sitting on his balcony one day when a friend, who had the job before him, walked by. They exchanged greetings and updated each other on what was new in their lives, and it transpired the friend was leaving for a post abroad. He suggested Rosen apply for the job he was vacating.

As a schoolboy, Rosen had been on a Holocaust history class trip to Poland. He had become curious about the extent to which Jewish cultural traditions had been preserved in a country which for so many centuries had been home to a vibrant Jewish community – that had all but disappeared. Now, he had a chance to find out about Polish culture.

In the interim, Jewish culture has been revived in Poland and there is a growing interest in it on the part of Jews and non-Jews. So in his work, both in Israel and Poland, Rosen gets the best of both worlds – which he said are each very rich in their own way.

■ THERE WAS definitely a hint of Polish cuisine on the menu for the state dinner hosted on Monday by President Shimon Peres for Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

The mutual admiration between the two men was unmistakable, especially towards the conclusion of their morning meeting at the President’s Residence.

Earlier in the day, when Peres – who generally speaks to his guests in Hebrew, English or French – allowed himself two Polish words as an expression of appreciation for Komorowski’s friendship for Israel and the Jewish people, saying, “Dziekuje´ bardzo,” which means thank you very much and has deeper connotations than the same phrase in English.

In their individual addresses, both in the morning and at the state dinner that evening, the two presidents focused more on what unites Israel and Poland rather than the issues that divide them. While neither president evaded the most tragic chapter in contemporary Jewish history that took place on Polish soil, Komorowski, an historian by profession, prefaced every reference to the period prefaced with “the Nazi conquest of Poland,” so as to ensure that blame was attributed to the real perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Komorowski also spoke of the symbiotic relationship that existed between Jews and Poles for nearly 1,000 years, which is reflected in Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews – which Peres is scheduled to visit some time next year, when it is finally completed and officially opened. He also noted that among the exhibits and documentation in the museum, there will be a section dedicated to Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. Poland is committed to preserving the memory of the Holocaust through education programs in its schools, he said.

Neither Israeli nor Polish officials, when asked by this reporter, were able to say exactly when the reciprocal visit will take place, or whether it would take place while Peres was still in office.

Nonetheless, Komorowski enthused about how much pleasure it would give him to welcome Peres to Warsaw and escort him through the museum.

As an historian with integrity, Komorowski did not overlook the period in which Poland severed its diplomatic ties with Israel, saying this had happened at a time of crisis, but noted that relations had been renewed when Poland became a democracy. Due to the courage of its first non-Communist president, Poland had been one of the first former Eastern Bloc countries to revive relations with Israel, and is today interested in the best relations at all levels. He also noted the ongoing revival of Jewish life in Poland, and declared this to be a good thing for both Poles and Jews.

Looking back beyond the Holocaust years, Peres said Poland had played a special role in the history of the Jewish people. It was a country in which Jewish culture had flourished, and in a sense, he said, “It was where Zionism was born” – despite the fact that Theodor Herzl, who was not Polish, was the Zionist visionary. But the bulk of the Zionist leadership who became the future leaders of Israel were born in Poland.

Peres commented that the new Poland is very different from the old Poland, just as the new Europe is different from the era prior to the EU, which Peres was glad that Poland was part of.

In the late afternoon, prior to the state dinner in Komorowski’s honor, Peres accompanied the Polish president and his wife, Anna, to Yad Vashem, where they viewed the “I Am My Brother’s Keeper: 50 Years of Honoring Righteous Among the Nations” exhibition, and participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance. They then visited the Children’s Memorial and Korczak Square, named for the great Polish-Jewish educator, children’s author and pediatrician Janusz Korczak, whose real name was Henryk Goldszmit.

Korczak, who was the principal of a Jewish orphanage, was given the opportunity to save his own life, but chose instead to go with the children in his care to the Treblinka death camp. Korczak was revered in Poland even under the anti-Semitic Communist regime, and there is a monument in his memory at the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. Last year, to mark the 70th anniversary of his murder, Poland organized a Korczak year, which was also promoted by Polish embassies around the world.

At the reception prior to the state dinner, the lawn at the President’s Residence resembled a little piece of Poland, with Polish as the predominant language among the guests – who included new Bank of Israel Gov. Karnit Flug, who was born in Poland and whose late father, Noah Flug, was for many years the chairman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. This position is now held by Colette Avital, who was also present.

Among the other guests were Yad Vashem chairman and child Holocaust survivor Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; singer and composer Tzvika Pik, who is an honorary consul of Poland; Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland following the renewal of diplomatic relations; other former ambassadors to Poland Gershon Zohar and Szewach Weiss; and of course, present incumbent Zvi Rav-Ner; along with Poland’s Ambassador to Israel, Jacek Chodorowicz, who is today hosting an all-Polish reception for Komorowski at his residence in Udim.

Among the others present were former minister Rafi Eitan, chairman of the Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Task Force; the last survivor of Treblinka, Samuel Willenberg, and his wife, Ada, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto; Henryk Lewinski, chairman of the Israel-Poland Chamber of Commerce; Yiddishpiel founder Shmuel Atzmon-Wircer; Polishborn journalists Sever Plocker, an economics expert, and Yossi Melman, an expert in strategic affairs and intelligence-gathering; along with Strasbourg-born journalist Noah Kliger, an Auschwitz survivor who has written about Holocaust issues for decades, and has accompanied so many official delegations to Poland that he is somewhat of an honorary Pole.

■ ONE OF the frequent moderators at state dinners hosted by Peres is television personality Romy Neumark, who had been approached well in advance of the Polish president’s visit. However, Neumark does not speak Polish, and when it was realized that a Polish-speaking moderator was also needed, the natural choice was Israel Radio’s Arieh Golan, who was born in Poland and has been back often, including in a professional capacity.

Golan was perfectly capable of switching from Polish to Hebrew and back, but the powers that be at the President’s Residence told him they couldn’t bring themselves to tell Neumark that her services were not required. So it became a kind of farcical sharing of the microphone, including one-sentence translations.

Entertainment was provided by singers Ania Bukstein and Dr. Michael Riskin. Bukstein, who sang in Hebrew and English, received a big round of applause – but not nearly as much as Riskin, who also sang in Polish, and is an opera singer with a powerful voice. When he finished, there was a roar from the crowd and cries for an encore, with the words “Jeszcze raz,” which is Polish for “One more time,” chanted over and over again. Riskin, flushed with pleasure, was not quite sure what to do, but when Komorowski asked him to sing another number, he returned to the stage and performed to another deafening ovation.

It would appear that Poland’s first lady Anna Komorowska has not become blasé about the trappings of office, and when she and her husband left at the end of the evening, she was clutching a printed menu as a souvenir.

■ APROPOS BUKSTEIN, she was the subject of a feature article in Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday, with regard to reforms in the marriage laws vis-à-vis the rabbinate.

Bukstein, who was recently married to Dotan Weiner, came to Israel from Russia with her parents when she was eight years old and grew up in a totally Israeli milieu. She was a gifted singer and actress, won several prizes, did full service in the Israel Air Force, voted in elections and was looking forward to her wedding.

There had never been doubts about her Judaism, until she and her then-fiancé went to register at the rabbinate.

That was the beginning of a humiliating nightmare. Even though her ID card stated she was Jewish, that was not good enough for the rabbinate, which demanded more convincing proof such as her maternal grandmother’s birth certificate – which was not something the family had brought in its luggage. A relative was sent to Moscow in a futile attempt to locate the birth certificate, and Bukstein and her mother were subjected to an intensive rabbinical examination as to their Judaism.

When the rabbinate continued to cast doubts on her Jewish identity, the Buksteins turned to Shorashim (Roots), an organization that helps people with similar problems and inspects tombstones in cemeteries in Russia to find signs of Jewish identity.

They found the necessary proof, but it still wasn’t good enough. Bukstein’s mother was subjected to another humiliating interrogation, and finally Bukstein received approval.

It was an unpleasant situation for her, and no less so for Weiner, who had taken it for granted that he had proposed to a Jewish girl – which indeed she was, but had a hard time proving.

After her own experience, Bukstein hopes the proposed reforms will pass, so that other prospective brides and grooms will not have to live with the uncertainties that clouded her happiness while preparing for her wedding day.

■ EVEN THOUGH the Jaffa flea market is not what it used to be, treasures, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. To a lot of people, what looked like a framed, illuminated manuscript might not have been of particular interest or importance. But to 90-year-old Eli Shlush, a veteran of the Hagana and the War of Independence who likes to check out the flea market circuit, his NIS 10 purchase was akin to a winning lottery ticket.

Shlush found an illustrated copy of the original Declaration of Independence in the Jaffa Flea market, and didn’t bother to bargain when the vendor asked for NIS 10. As far as Shlush was concerned, it was money well-spent, and he was even ready to pay more.

Now he is printing up copies at his own expense, and wants to place one in every government office and school. He also wants one presented to every soldier – so that people will not forget the importance of having a sovereign state for the Jewish people.

■ AFTER ALL the criticism leveled at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, especially with regard to its poor ratings, veteran political reporter Ayala Hasson proved to be its saving grace – with an extraordinarily revealing interview with Boaz Harpaz, who helped torpedo the chances of Yoav Galant becoming chief of general staff. Admittedly, there was a lot of promotional material about the interview in Friday’s newspapers, but the interview itself was an amazing outcome of investigative journalism.

Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes interviewed Hasson on Reshet Bet on Friday, and although Hasson was reluctant to talk about the extent to which her previous disclosures in the Harpaz-Galant-Gabi Ashkenazi- Ehud Barak case had brought grief to her personal life, Nir-Mozes, who is a fairly good investigative reporter herself, managed to pry out of her that several of her friends and certain politicians broke contact with her, that her phone was tapped and her email was hacked, and that some of her colleagues kept telling her she was on the wrong track. But Hasson persisted and paid a heavy price for following her own truth, in the final analysis proving to be correct.

Her triumph, though she took it modestly, was in the studio on her Friday night current affairs show, when she was commended by colleagues and a senior army officer in the reserves, who kept repeating how ashamed he was of the incident – which he said in no way reflected the overall situation in the IDF.

What was particularly interesting was that former defense minister Barak – who almost everyone had learned to hate, due to misinformation about him that was deliberately filtered out to the public – had made no effort to defend himself.

According to close associates, this is because he put the honor of the army ahead of his own.

Hasson has a lot more material that will make the public sit up and take notice, but for the time being, she’s keeping it close to her chest.

■ LARGE JEWISH communities in different parts of the world have been written about in detail. Smaller communities are often bypassed.

Thus, Glaswegian Jews will be glad to learn that Jewish Glasgow, an illustrated history edited by Dr.

Kenneth Collins, will be launched in Glasgow on November 10 and at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv on November 24.

The book covers 200 years of the history of the largest Jewish community in Scotland, and includes pictures, documents, captions and vignettes about religious life, education, social and cultural aspects, welfare, wartime and the influence of the Zionist movement on the community. Glasgow Jewry has had several major religious, political and business leaders over the years, among them Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhak Hillman, grandfather of president Chaim Herzog and great-grandfather of Labor MK Isaac Herzog; and Sir Isaac Wolfson, philanthropist and funder of Heichal Shlomo.

The foreword is written by Prof. Bernard Wasserstein, who spent some of his school years in Glasgow, where his father was a university professor.

■ MORE THAN 20 years ago, the glitter of Tel Aviv was enhanced by the annual fall/winter Israel Fashion Week. The spring/summer fashion week was usually held in Eilat, though one year it was held in Jerusalem. Then there was a long hiatus for the best part of 20 years, with feeble attempts at revivals, which became much stronger last year with the presentation of the Gindi-sponsored Israel Fashion Week – which brought buyers and fashion writers from abroad to Israel.

Gindi announced this week that it will sponsor another Israel Fashion Week in Tel Aviv in March 2014, with the participation of at least 22 local designers. As was the case last year, the event, replete with gala fashion shows featuring Israel’s top models, will be produced by Moti Reif – who is keen for the success of Israeli Fashion Week to emulate that of Israeli television shows, which are being adapted for audiences around the globe.

The aim is to make the names of Israel’s best-known designers household words in countries worldwide.

Just as fashionistas on every continent are familiar with Chanel, Sonia Rykiel, Christian Lacroix, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Valentino, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and others who have made an international impact, Reif would like to see the same kind of recognition bestowed on Raziella Gershon, Ronen Chen, Sasson Kedem, Dorin Frankfurt, Alembika and other Israeli creative fashion talents.

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