Grapevine: Differences notwithstanding

President Shimon Peres and PA President Mahmoud Abbas maintain a mutual admiration that transcends political differences.

May 28, 2013 21:34
President Shimon Peres and PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum May 26, 2013.

Shimon Peres and Abbas at WEF 370. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Neither President Shimon Peres nor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had to go to Jordan in order to meet each other.

The two keep in fairly close contact throughout the year and exchange greetings on major Jewish and Muslim holidays. They also make complimentary remarks about each other, with Peres insisting in the face of much Israeli opposition that Abu Mazen is a partner for peace, and Abbas – while criticizing Israeli policy or political leadership – reserving favorable comment for Peres. The two men have known each other for a very long time, and their mutual admiration transcends political differences. They were genuinely glad to see each other in Jordan this week.

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■ WELL BEFORE Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach came up with the idea for a significant project that should have been implemented half a century ago, Cairo-born author and human rights activist Gisele Littman – née Orebi, better known under her pseudonym of Bat Ye’or, or daughter of the Nile – wrote of the pain of leaving Egypt as a stateless refugee in the late 1950s, and of the sad nostalgia of witnessing the disintegration of a centuries-old Jewish community. Despite that, she bears no grudge against Egypt, which at the time was a country in transition, she said at a brunch hosted in her honor last Friday by Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel and his wife Michelle.

Most of the guests at the Mazels’ Jerusalem penthouse were either retired diplomats or Egyptian expatriates. Littman was married to eminent historian and human rights activist David Littman, who died in May of last year.

Gisele has authored several books which have been published in French, English and Hebrew. She is a political commentator, whose main focus is on the history of the Middle East and on Christian and Jewish minorities, as well as other dhimmis (non- Muslims living in Islamic countries); she is also known to have coined the term “Eurabia.”

Littman said that she has often been misrepresented by her critics, who believe her to be anti-Egypt and anti-Muslim.

Littman is neither. She has nothing against Islam per se, but is of course opposed to Islamic fundamentalism. She is well-aware that Jews from other countries in the region experienced humiliation, dispossession and the misery of statelessness, and she has wondered in her lectures and writings about the root cause of all this grief. Orbach’s project, meanwhile, is to get all those Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab lands to record their personal stories and those of their communities – so that the period in which Jews lived, worshiped and contributed to the politics, and the economy and culture of the lands in which they resided throughout the Middle East and North Africa, will not fade into the vacuum of time.

The project is being promoted on radio and television by master storyteller Yossi Alfi, who was born in Basra, Iraq, and came to Israel as a three-year-old child. He grew up on stories told to him by his mother and grandmother, and his annual Succot Storytelling Festival always includes expatriate groups from many parts of the world, including his native Iraq. A lot of material relevant to Orbach’s project already exists in the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda and the North African Jewish Heritage Center in Jerusalem, but Orbach wants to have as comprehensive a record of personal stories as possible.

■ SINCE HIS failure to gain a meaningful spot on the Labor Party list for the Knesset elections – which came as somewhat of a surprise, given his high media profile and the enormous support he received while his son was a soldier in captivity – Noam Schalit has stayed out of the limelight. But he will be making another public appearance on Thursday, June 6, at the Jerusalem Press Club in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, when he attends the launch of To Free Gilad, which tells of the involvement of Gershon Baskin in the release of Gilad Schalit from Hamas captivity.

Baskin, who writes a column in The Jerusalem Post, was greeted with a lot of cynicism when he made public the fact that he had played a role in the five-year drama. Yet there was no real reason to doubt him, as he is a fervent activist for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, which brings him into close contact with influential Palestinians who were able to point him in the right direction.

Noam Schalit’s presence at the launch and the fact that he is one of the speakers gives credence to Baskin’s claim.

■ WHEN HE called on Peres last Friday morning, British Foreign Secretary William Hague was accompanied by British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who before coming to Israel was Hague’s principal private secretary.

Peres congratulated Gould on the recent birth of his second Sabra daughter, and said they should raise a glass of wine in celebration.

Gould politely declined, saying that it was too early in the morning.

Hague had to wait for a few moments in the reception room before Peres entered, but the photographers were already impatient to do their thing and began snapping away.

Hague raised his hands in mock self-defense, saying that he had not yet met the president, so there was no point in taking photos.

In a more serious vein, following his meeting with Peres, Hague met in Jerusalem with Yitzhak and Tamar Viflic of Ramat Beit Shemesh, whose son Daniel died just before Passover 2011. Daniel, who was a British dual citizen and like his mother born in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony, was the victim of a terrorist attack on a school bus. Born in January 1995, two years before the end of colonial rule and the handing back of Hong Kong to China, Daniel came to Israel with his parents in 1997. His Polishborn father had initially come to Israel at the age of 10 months and had grown up on Kibbutz Ruhama in the South. For the first two years, the Viflic family lived in Jerusalem and in 1999 moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Daniel went to the Magen Avot School and later joined the Hechal Hatorah Yeshiva, where he was a good student and had many friends.

On April 5, 2011, Daniel’s mother took him to Kibbutz Ruhama to stay with his grandmother Eda for a couple of days. A neighbor, Zion Yemini, who had known Daniel and his Sabra sister Adina since they were small children, was the kibbutz bus driver and invited Daniel to come with him to pick up the schoolchildren. Daniel had spoken to his mother on the telephone earlier in the day; in the late afternoon, Tamar received a surprise phone call from Eda, who usually rested at that time. Eda was agitated and asked whether she’d heard the news. She had not, and Eda told her that there had been a terrorist attack on Yemini’s bus. Yitzhak tried to contact Yemini on his cellphone, but there was too much noise and confusion in the background for him to understand what was being said.

The Viflics then turned on the radio and heard a news bulletin about the attack. The announcer spoke of Gaza terrorists firing an anti-tank missile on a school bus. A 13-yearold boy had been seriously injured and was in critical condition. He had been taken by helicopter to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba. The Viflics felt for the boy and his parents, but also felt a surge of relief because Daniel was 16 – not 13. They presumed that Daniel had been taken to hospital with the other children to be checked by medical staff in case of injury.

On the way to hospital, Yitzhak received a phone call from the hospital asking that they come immediately. The caller explained that no further information could be given over the phone. Fearing the worst, Itzak did not tell Tamar. When they arrived at the hospital, they were met by a social worker with tears in her eyes. Daniel was in the operating theater where the surgeon was trying to remove shrapnel from his brain. Following surgery, Daniel was moved to intensive care. People – religious and secular, from around the world – said prayers for Daniel’s recovery. Scores of strangers came to the hospital to support the parents, who never left their son’s bedside.

After 10 days of fighting for his life, Daniel passed away. It was the eve of Passover. Thousands of people, including Gould, attended his funeral at Eretz Hachaim cemetery just outside Beit Shemesh.

Mindful of last week’s brutal terrorist attack in east London, Hague could both sympathize and empathize with the Viflics.

■ GIVEN ALL the pre-exhibition hype surrounding the new “Threads” contemporary fashion exhibition at the Tower of David Museum, the opening last week did not live up to the expectations of several people who attended.

The concept in itself was brilliant. Fashion photographer and journalist Tamar Karavan, who curated the show, is the daughter of sculptor and Israel Prize laureate Dani Karavan, and the granddaughter of Abraham Karavan, who was the chief landscape architect of Tel Aviv for more than 20 years, and has artistry flooding her genes. When Eilat Lieber – the relatively new director of the Tower of David Museum, and previously the director of Agnon House – suggested to Karavan that she would like to have an exhibit of contemporary fashion inspired by women throughout the ages who had left an imprint on Jerusalem, Karavan loved the idea, boned up on the backgrounds of the women and selected 10 designers. Each designer was charged with learning about the woman assigned to her and to subsequently be inspired by her to create something as reminiscent of yesterday and as futuristic as tomorrow.

The 10 designers responded – how else, but creatively – to the challenge, with Dina Glass inspired by the Queen of Sheba; Raziella Gershon producing a magnificent gown for Queen Shlomzion; Tamar Primak creating for yet another royal – Queen Helene – with clever use of countless gold threads; Lihi Hod, having the Empress Helena as her muse; Liora Taragon stretching her imagination for Roxelana, the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent; Anya Fleet moving away from gowns for Shira, the heroine of S.Y. Agnon’s novel of the same name; Rachel Cohen taking on the image of Hemda Ben-Yehuda; Karen Oberson coming on a little too “sweet 16” for Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, yet putting together a delightfully fresh outfit; and Alembika, better known as Hagar Alembik, who reached into the very soul of poet, playwright and painter Else Lasker Schuler.

Karavan, in addition to exhibiting the designs, decided to enhance their contemporary wearability by photographing wellknown personalities in the clothes inspired by yesteryear, taking them to different parts of the Old City to photograph them. Each of the photographs was displayed on a wall behind its specific garment in the exhibition.

For photographic models, she chose: actresses Keren Mor and Dana Ivgy; fashion model Mayan Karet; writer Zeruya Shalev; choreographer Renana Raz; singer Ester Rada; and artist Miriam Roth.

That part of it was extremely impressive, though one could think of several other, better- known women who made an impact on Jerusalem, such as Henrietta Szold, Ophira Navon, Bracha Eden and Hassia Levy-Agron, to name but a few. But that’s always the case when choices have to be narrowed down to a final limit.

What was disappointing was the lack of a fashion show per se. With seats set out, a klezmer group playing and color as the essential in fruit-flavored popsicles, fruit platters and soft candies, many of those who came were fully expecting to see a different kind of fashion show than those of Tel Aviv. But other than the exhibition, there was no show, which left quite a few people disgruntled.

From all the publicity preceding the opening, and the promises of Tel Aviv fashionistas in attendance, there was an impression that this was going to be the show of shows. But it wasn’t – perhaps for lack of funds. It wasn’t even well-attended. Lieber publicly thanked so many organizations and individuals that it was obvious that the Promised Land is still the “land of schnorrers.”

Still, “Threads” provides an interesting backdrop for Dressed to Dance, the flamenco performance tomorrow night and Saturday that is part of the Israel Festival and which, like “Threads,” will be at the Tower of David Museum. The Spanish cultural offering integrates artistic fashion with the performing arts.

■ THE CUISINE OF Tuscany is legendary, and one of the contributors to the reputation of Tuscan cuisine is Silvia Baracchi, who accepted the invitation of Tel Aviv Hilton executive chef Avigdor Brueh to come cook with him in the Hilton kitchen. Once the invitation had been accepted, Brueh lost no time in issuing an invitation via Facebook to all lovers of Italian gourmet food to come and savor the flavor.

Among the 400 diners on the gala evening launching the Tuscan food festival was Italian Ambassador Francesco M. Talo, who when called to the podium in the Hilton ballroom, said that it would be inappropriate to make a speech and spoil the spirit of the evening. He still managed to put in a plug for Italian food, wine and culture, and of course Alitalia, which was one of the sponsors of the evening – as was Golan Wines, which according to winery marketing manager Amnon Harel, is celebrating is 30th anniversary.

Although it was a gala evening with square tables for 12 set up instead of the customary round tables for 10, most of the women were dressed up, but most of the men were dressed down. Notable exceptions were members of the Italian Embassy; and Alitalia and Hilton executive staff, including general manager Ronnie Fortis and public relations manager Motti Verses, who wore suits.

Many of the diners were non-paying guests. Those who did pay were given a discount, and paid NIS 350 instead of NIS 490, indicating there are still people in Israel who can easily make ends meet. Among some of the better-known personalities present were advertising executive Naftali Spitzer, who is married to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, but came without her; Olympic medalist Yael Arad, whose husband Lior Kahane heads the Hilton’s beverage department; singers David D’Or and Kobi Aflalo; Israel’s international prize-winning celebrity chef Shalom Kadosh, who in private conversation had very good things to say about the standard of the fare; and international businesswoman and philanthropist Yardena Ovadia, who barely managed to eat because so many people kept making a beeline for her table to exchange greetings with her.

Three tenors sang popular Italian folk songs and opera arias, and just as entertainers outside Israel feel obliged to sing Hava Nagila at an Israeli affair, so the tenors felt obliged to sing O Sole Mio and Santa Lucia. Four giant video screens showed people in the ballroom what was going on in the absolutely spotless Hilton kitchen, and to their credit, all of the kitchen staff wore surgical gloves and did not handle food with bare hands. The service was a little slow, with the main course of stuffed veal with black olives, orange zest, leeks and bay leaves served close to midnight. It was delicious, but what was utterly superb was the tuna in a crust of aromatic herbs, green tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil that was served before it, and which provoked appreciative comments on all sides.

“Bravissimo!” declared Italian commercial attaché Lorenzo Ortona, who came with his wife Sheila, an American journalist who he met in Rome. After only two-and-a-half years in Israel, Ortona’s Hebrew is quite commendable, as is that of the ambassador. Increasing numbers of foreign diplomats are trying to master the language, not only to help them understand more of what is going on in Israel but also because they love the country.

Ortona, a second-generation diplomat, makes no secret of his fondness for Israel. His father Ludovico Ortona was Italy’s ambassador to Iran from 1995 to 2000.

■ ON THE following evening, Ambassador Talo himself played host, when he and his wife opened their residence to the International Board of Trustees of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, which held its festive lifetime achievement awards ceremony honoring Ruth Dayan and Dov Lautman. A social activist on many fronts, Dayan was the founding CEO of Maskit, which promoted the traditional arts and crafts that immigrants – especially those from throughout the region – brought with them to Israel. Maskit fashions crafted primarily by Fini Leitersdorf adapted traditional designs to contemporary attire. Lautman, an Israel Prize laureate, was the founder of Delta Galil Textile Industries, which employs Jews, Arabs and Druse, who work together in harmony and mutual respect. He was also president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel and served in an executive capacity on economic advisory, educational and coexistence boards – often as president or chairman.

Other aspects of the ceremony included honorary membership awards, with this year’s honorees being businessman Ronny Douek, who has founded and sits on boards of organizations dedicated to civil society that is pluralistic, proactive, influential and collaborative, and has also been instrumental in funding design research; and Etti and Gabi Rotter, the owners and co-directors of Castro, which has supported Shenkar in different ways, including sponsoring projects, underwriting fashion shows and employing Shenkar graduates in the design studios of their fashion chain.

■ IT’S NOT only Stanley Fischer, the Bank of Israel governor, who is stepping down this summer. Also leaving is Bank of Israel spokesman Dr. Yossi Saadon, who will become Israel’s representative to the World Bank board of directors in Washington.

Saadon was chosen through a search committee process that was conducted at the Bank of Israel, and his appointment was approved by the Dutch executive director, who represents the constituency of which Israel is a member. Saadon, who served as Bank of Israel spokesman for six years, will step down in July and will take up his new role at the World Bank in August.

Fischer, who appointed Saadon in May 2007, said he was delighted that he will be the Bank of Israel representative to the World Bank, and commended his work as spokesman and manager of public relations policy during a complicated, challenging and eventful time. Saadon holds a PhD. in Economics from Ben-Gurion University, with a major in monetary policy. He is also a lecturer in economics, math and statistics at BGU and Sapir College.

■ A FEW years back, a local Jerusalem publication ran a feature story on a visit to childhood haunts by former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who was raised in the capital’s Romema neighborhood, which had already undergone a major transformation at the time. Since then, Romema has been changing to a far greater degree at a much more rapid pace, and with the exception of some stately old houses, there is little left to remind Itzik and others who grew up in the neighborhood half a century ago or more of the Romema of their youth.

High-rise residential and commercial complexes earmarked for the haredi community are going up all over the place, to the concern of veterans of the area, who are beginning to feel dwarfed and hemmed in – so much so that that Romema Community Administration protested to the city planning authorities, saying the application for a building permit on land that will soon be vacated by the Israel Broadcasting Authority does not allow for sufficient public space. The plan that was approved in the final analysis made more space available for public use in a six-tower project that will house 267 residential units.

Most of the residential complexes in haredi areas are built around large squares, which contain children’s playgrounds and lots of benches for supervising parents and grandparents – and in this respect developers are far more community-conscious than is the case in secular areas.

If Communications Minister Gilad Erdan desists from closing down the IBA, studios and staff will move to the nearby, enlarged IBA headquarters located in the old Shaare Zedek building. Erdan wants to reduce IBA staff by more than half, and this is causing sleepless nights to many IBA employees. At least two of them already know to some extent what lies ahead. This week, Omer Ritte, who for the past 17 years has presented a weekly end-of-day program on Sundays on The Voice of Music station; and Hayuta Dvir, who presented, produced and edited Etnachta live at 5 p.m. on Mondays, each had their swan-song broadcasts. Instead of both their programs, there will be reruns of previously recorded programs. These two programs join others that are disappearing or have already disappeared from program lineups on The Voice of Music.

Over the years, veteran broadcasters and editors on the station have had to wage a hard and neverending struggle to keep their programs on air. Now it seems like just a matter of time before The Voice of Music becomes history.

■ WHILE ON the subject of the IBA, Sof Hashavua, a sister publication of the Post, last week ran an interview with Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, who is married to Minister Silvan Shalom. Nir-Mozes, whose youthful face and figure belie the fact that she is a mother of five in her mid-50s, was asked whether television anchorwoman Geula Even, who recently married Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, should continue interviewing politicians.

In Nir-Mozes’s opinion, she should not, because it would represent a conflict of interest. Nir-Mozes, who is a veteran journalist herself, said she gave up interviewing politicians after her husband became a minister.

Nir-Mozes is known for being opinionated and not always in agreement with her husband, even though she supports all that he does. When asked whether it bothers him that she tweets things which might be embarrassing to him, she pointed out that she is an individual in her own right, and that she married Shalom – not Minister Shalom. She never chose to be a minister’s wife, she said, her husband chose to be a minister. Though usually outspoken on most issues, Nir-Mozes was extremely tactful when asked about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s wifeSara, and mindful of not saying anything that could damage her husband’s political career.

■ THE VIETNAMESE are very industrious people and very conscientious workers – but they don’t get much of a chance to prove it in Israel. Vietnamese Ambassador Ta Duy Chinh is very frustrated because he would like Vietnamese workers to come to Israel to work in agriculture and in construction.

However, Thailand, which has a very long relationship with Israel, has more or less laid claim to whatever jobs are going for foreign workers in agriculture, and China has the monopoly on building. For all that, according to the ambassador, there are close to 1,000 Vietnamese in Israel who have come on trainee programs. Vietnam and Israel will this year celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

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