Writing this week in Israel Hayom, peace activist and former MK Yossi Beilin used the example of his friend and old Knesset colleague Haim Oron, a former head of Meretz.
Beilin reminded readers that Operation Protective Edge not only affects everyone in the country, but in many families two, three, four or more members have been called up, and in some cases where rescue efforts are needed, they may not even be aware that their army tasks involve their own flesh and blood.
Oron and his wife, Nili, who live at Kibbutz Lahav, have five of their offspring engaged in Operation Protective Edge. One of their grandsons, Adi Zimri, was seriously wounded in battle in Gaza. One of their sons, who is a helicopter pilot, flew the plane that rescued Adi and took him to hospital, without knowing his identity. One of the Oron granddaughters works in flight control, and it was she who sent the helicopter to Gaza, without knowing she was sending it to her own cousin – who happily is now out of danger, but still has a long haul to recovery.
Family involvement on a broad scale is not the only message Beilin wants to convey. Oron’s politics are left of center. While he supports destruction of the Hamas tunnels, he does not believe in humiliating Arabs or depriving them of human and civil rights. He prefers nonviolence and dialogue in the quest for solutions to Middle East conflicts. It pains him, as the head of a fighting family, that certain right-wing and religiously Orthodox elements are accusing the Left of lack of patriotism.
Kibbutzniks are not the only leftists among the officers and soldiers who have fallen in battle in this war. The fact that they are sickened by the number of civilian casualties in Gaza does not make them any less patriotic. It just makes them more humane.
■ AT LEAST one right-wing personality who understands this is President Reuven Rivlin, who though opposed to a two-state solution is an outspoken advocate for civil rights.
In his inaugural speech in the Knesset, Rivlin spoke of his father, Prof. Yoel Rivlin, who translated the Koran and had many Arab friends who often came to the Rivlin family home. During World War II, when Europe was in flames, the Jews of Europe were being slaughtered and Nazi Gen. Erwin Rommel was fast advancing towards the Suez Canal, Rivlin’s father was sitting on a balcony in Jerusalem with two of his friends – one a member of the Muslim Nashashibi family, the other a member of the Christian Frej family.
In genuine friendship, they turned to him and said: “Rivlin, you have nothing to worry about, even if the Germans do reach here – we will protect you all.”
Looking them straight in the eye, Yoel Rivlin said: “[Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery will be victorious, we shall be victorious and Rommel will be defeated. A Jewish state will be established here, and in our state I will not need to protect you both, because you will be full partners and equal citizens.”
This was the philosophy that Reuven Rivlin learned at his father’s knee.
“At the most difficult times and against all odds, that is the society we dreamed of – where all its members, haredi and secular Jews, Arabs and Jews, veteran citizens and new immigrants – all together bear responsibility for building the country, and take an equal share in designing its character and its future,” he said.
■ IN HIS address, Rivlin also emphasized the importance of listening to others.
Rivlin said there were times, serving as Knesset speaker, when he and another MK were the only people in the plenary chamber. The one MK would go on and on, getting whatever it was off his chest, and Rivlin had no option but to listen.
At this, current Speaker Yuli Edelstein nodded his head and smiled knowingly.
■ OTHER THAN his family, if anyone was happy that Rivlin’s dream of being president had finally come true, it was former Israel Bonds president Yehoshua Matza. It was Rivlin’s moment of triumph not just because it was his second try, having failed seven years earlier, but because his father had also been defeated when he ran against Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in 1952.
Matza is a more veteran former politician than Rivlin and can claim credit for bringing Rivlin not just into politics, but into the executive of the Beitar Football Club. Both Matza and Rivlin are members of old Jerusalem families. Matza’s family, which was expelled from Spain in 1492, came to Jerusalem from Greece more than three centuries ago; Matza is a 12th-generation Jerusalemite. Rivlin is a seventh-generation Jerusalemite whose ancestors went from Austria to Lithuania to Jerusalem, arriving in the eternal capital of the Jewish people in 1809.
Both Matza and Rivlin were members of the Jerusalem City Council before becoming MKs, and both were deputy mayors who aspired to become mayor but failed. Rivlin had it tougher than Matza. When he wanted to head the Likud list for the 1989 municipal elections in Jerusalem, he was ousted by his own party because of his close ties to renegade David Levy. In 1993, he tried again, running against Ehud Olmert for the Likud leadership in the capital, but lost out again. This time, Olmert not only headed the Likud ticket, but became mayor.
In the elections for the 14th Knesset in 1996, Rivlin who had been in political isolation for nearly four years, just missed getting a seat, but found himself back on board when Eliyahu Ben-Elissar was appointed Israel’s ambassador to Washington. Rivlin was next in line, and couldn’t have been happier.
But even more than being an MK or minister – which he did only once, serving as communications minister in the 15th Knesset – he wanted to be president.
■ WHEN RIVLIN celebrated his bar mitzva, Jerusalem was a divided city. When he became president, Jerusalem was a united city yet torn by strife, with violent demonstrations in Arab neighborhoods in response to the conflict.
The situation in Gaza prompted Rivlin and Edelstein to tone down the inauguration ceremony, and Rivlin missed out on some of the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the inauguration of his predecessor, Shimon Peres, seven years ago. Nonetheless, the crowd of invitees to the Knesset hailed the realization of his dream with great warmth, and queued up in the Chagall Hall after the ceremony to shake his hand, wish him well and pose for a photo with him.
Isaac Harari, one of the Knesset photographers, was kept exceedingly busy. The invitees included past and present members of the judiciary, with no fewer than four Supreme Court presidents – Meir Shamgar, Aharon Barak, Dorit Beinisch and Asher D. Grunis – in attendance.
There was also a large representation from the diplomatic community, though Brazil’s Ambassador Henrique da Silveira Sardinha Pinto missed out, having been recalled for consultations in protest of Israel’s reaction to Hamas.
Colombian Ambassador Fernando Adolfo Alzate Donoso had not realized that the invitation did not, with certain exceptions, include spouses – and brought his wife, who was not admitted. He had to deposit her at the King David Hotel for the duration. He was somewhat surprised when he entered the Knesset lounge, where early arrivals were waiting, in that former Israel ambassador to Colombia Haim Aron was there with his wife, Maria. A native of Tripoli who fled just before the outbreak of the Six Day War, she happens to be a personality in her own right – heading the Latin Friends of Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and traveling the world fund-raising for it, also speaking at international forums on Jews from Arab lands.
Invitees also included former ministers and MKs who sat at the back of the plenum. One of the few who walked to the front, meeting and greeting people before the ceremony, was cosmetics queen Pnina Rosenblum, who was an MK for all of four months. She spent considerable time in animated conversation with Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, before the two strolled arm in arm towards Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, with whom they continued the conversation.
Probably the oldest ex-MK present was former Labor legislator Tamar Eshel, 94. Among the other former MKs, some of whom were also ministers, were of course Matza, who was invited with his wife, Rachel; Aharon Yadlin, Moshe Shahal, Rafi Edery, Rafi Elul, Yossi Ahimeir, Shmuel Flatto-Sharon (who was among the most colorful of MKs), Yona Yahav, David Mena, Colette Avital and Rivlin’s immediate predecessor as Knesset speaker, Avraham Burg, who is also distantly related to Rivlin – as is current MK Meir Porush, who came late.
The mayors of all of the southern communities were invited and the only one who did not come was Haim Yellin, the head of the Eshkol Regional Council, having remained at the bedside of his son – who was wounded in Gaza.
On the day following his inauguration, Rivlin immediately began paying condolence calls to families of the fallen and visiting wounded soldiers in hospital. He will continue to do so for some time to come.
His first state ceremony was on Sunday, when he spoke at the commemoration of his ideological leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, on the 74th anniversary of the latter’s death. His second official ceremony was a much sadder affair, when he spoke at Tuesday’s remembrance service at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue for murdered yeshiva students Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel.
■ THIS PAST Monday, Rivlin met with some 70-plus members of his staff. He is the fifth president under whom Ziona Rosenthal, the director for special projects, gender equality and the Presidential Medal of distinction, has served.
Rosenthal started as the personal assistant to Aura Herzog, when Chaim Herzog came in as Israel’s sixth president, then continued with Reuma Weizman and Gila Katsav. When Shimon Peres took over and his wife refused to enter the President’s Residence, another position had to be found for Rosenthal, who is a member of the permanent staff of the President’s Office.
Another veteran is events coordinator Aviva Reshef Schutz, who has worked with Rivlin’s three immediate predecessors.
Of the team that worked the closest with Peres, the sole remaining member is his aide-de-camp, Brig.-Gen. Hassson Hasson, who has the distinction of being the first Druse appointed as a presidential military aide. Hasson is staying on with Rivlin.
Every new president and prime minister brings with them a group of trusted confidantes, and Rivlin is no exception. His director-general, Harel Tubi, worked with him for years and belongs to the national-religious camp. His bureau chief, Rivka Ravitz, is haredi, 38 and the mother of 11 children. She has been running Rivlin’s various offices for the past 13 years, and began her parliamentary career as a parliamentary assistant to her late father-in-law, Avraham Ravitz of Degel Hatorah, who was the father of 12. Her husband, Yitzhak, is the deputy mayor of Betar.
Rivlin’s personal adviser, Ze’ev Dolinsky, has been his political adviser for the past 15 years. He is the son of the late Morty Dolinsky, who was a director of the Government Press Office and a frequent speaker at events involving Christian Evangelical groups visiting Israel.
All three were active in Rivlin’s presidential campaigns in 2007 and 2014.
Rivlin’s spokeswoman is Naomi Toledano Kandel, who was a communications consultant for The Israel Project and previously worked for the television division of Associated Press. She has also filled a number of communications positions within the IDF, most recently as part of the Spokesman’s Office. Roni Alon, who has worked for several years as Rivlin’s content manager, will continue in that capacity, advising on speeches and special projects.
There is little doubt that Rivlin, unlike Peres, will go to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and perhaps more importantly, will occasionally join the morning service in the synagogue in the grounds of the President’s Residence. Regular worshipers invited Peres again and again – but he always declined.
■ OTHER THAN those rabbis who are so blindly anti-Zionist they cannot bring themselves to pray for the safety of Israel’s soldiers, all rabbis here are praying for a speedy and prolonged cease-fire, the safety of the soldiers engaged in battle and the full recovery of injured soldiers and civilians.
Rabbi Benny Lau, the spiritual leader at Jerusalem’s Ramban Synagogue and the head of the Beit Midrash for Social Justice, is also an ex-Golani, and has a son in the Golani Brigade who was called up to fight in Gaza; he has other sons in other units. So Lau may be praying just a little harder than most other rabbis – even harder than his first cousin, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, who also served in the IDF and is a reserve major in the Intelligence Corps.
■ JEWISH TRADITION teaches that no prophet is heard in his own city. Thus, the late Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who though in favor of land for peace, was vociferously opposed to the disengagement from Gaza because it was a unilateral rather than a negotiated withdrawal.
Yosef warned then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz, and all other emissaries sent to him by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in an effort to get Yosef to change his viewpoint, that disengagement would bring rockets to Ashdod and Ashkelon. He also lambasted what he called Sharon’s cruelty and dubbed him an evil man, forecasting that God would strike him so that he would never rise again. Sharon in fact collapsed in January 2006, and fell into a coma from which he never awoke. Yosef had instructed Shas MKs to vote against the disengagement plan, but the vote in favor was carried by a large majority.
Next week, in accordance with the Hebrew calendar, former Jewish residents of Gush Katif and their supporters will mark the ninth anniversary of the disengagement, and the responsibility for its repercussions must be borne in large part by the Quartet and former US president George W. Bush. The resulting bloodshed and trauma on both sides of the border have escalated alarmingly, and have not only caused needless loss of life but have driven a wedge through Israeli society, forging an ever wider rift between Israel’s Jews and Arabs.
Regardless of their political beliefs, decent people are horrified at the sight of human carnage, especially when the victims are women and children. Some Israelis have taken this so much to heart that they are calling for the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza, and for the resignation of the government. Others, though equally sickened by the scenes coming out of the Strip, say that Israel must complete its mission – because if it doesn’t, the lives of all Israelis are at risk.
Added to this is the reality that many of the Jews who lived in Gush Katif and were forcibly evacuated are still without permanent homes, jobs and adequate compensation. They have been living on broken promises for far too long.
■ POPULAR SINGER Einat Sarouf came from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to sing the national anthems of Britain, Australia and Israel, at the official opening of the third Australia-Israel- UK Leadership Dialogue. It is the brainchild of Albert Dadon, a Moroccan-born businessman, philanthropist and musician who lives in Australia, but is interested in finding common ground between the three groups on a variety of mutual issues and challenges, such as immigration policies.
Sarouf dedicated her rendition of “Hatikva” to the soldiers fighting in Gaza. Among the other Israelis present were Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar; opposition leader Isaac Herzog; MKs Moshe Feiglin, Danny Danon and Nachman Shai; and former MK and minister Rabbi Michael Melchior.
The Australian delegation was led by Australian Minister for Education Chris Pyne, who was on his sixth visit to Israel. It included, among others, Labor MPs Michael Danby and David Feeney, as well as journalist Tony Walker, the international editor of the Australian Financial Review, who many years ago was stationed in Israel and has many friends here as well as in other parts of the Middle East.
Among the British delegation were Stuart Polak, director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, former defense minister John Spellar and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones. British Ambassador Matthew Gould and Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma were also present.
Though political rivals, Sa’ar and Herzog are personal friends and even when speaking of serious subjects, namely Operation Protective Edge, managed to also compliment each other. Sa’ar said that with regard to the operation, the coalition and the opposition were united. “I cannot recall when we were more united,” he said, and commended Herzog “for the distinguished way in which he is leading the opposition these days.”
When the Likud was in opposition, he continued, directing his remarks to Herzog, “we tried to act as you act.” Herzog, for his part, replied that “the opposition has been supporting what is right, and will continue to support what is correct.”
Both Sa’ar and Herzog thanked the Australian and British delegates for coming to Israel during a time of crisis, and were pleased to hear that there had been no drop-outs. “Friends who come when times are tough are real friends,” said Pyne. “Australia has always been on the right side of Israel, and is on the right side of Israel now. Israel is the beacon of freedom and liberty in the Middle East.”
Pyne and his delegation had come to Israel at this time “to say to Islamic Jihad that they won’t frighten the Australians from coming to Israel. Freedom is winning. Tyranny is losing.”
■ CATCHING HIS breath between television interviews, former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren took some time out on Monday night to drop into the Jerusalem Press Club, to share his views on Operation Protective Edge and the crisis in Gaza. No longer responsible to anyone but himself, Oren conceded that from their perspective, Hamas was doing very well.
“Every cease-fire is interpreted as weakness by them,” he said. “They got us more isolated and condemned in the world than any time previously. Their media strategy is designed to get us delegitimized.”
Israel has no choice but to continue the military operation until Hamas is defanged, said Oren. “They can condemn us in the UN Human Rights Committee, we can be subjected to international pressure, but at the end of the day, Israel has no option but to strike back.”
Oren also outlined the difficulties in reaching a peace agreement in the foreseeable future. “To make peace with the Palestinians, Israel has to make monumental concessions and take great risks,” he said. What the Palestinians have to give up, he added, is their narrative – and that’s something Oren was certain they could do.
■ FINANCE MINISTER Yair Lapid and his wife, Lihi, were in Sderot on Friday and went shopping in a local supermarket in a demonstration of solidarity with the residents of the South. The Lapids were joined by Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen.
The finance minister and his wife filled their shopping cart and actually did themselves a favor, because prices in general were much lower than those charged for the same products in Tel Aviv. “Whoever doesn’t shop in the South is crazy,” declared Lapid.
A Color Red siren sounded while the two ministers and their entourage were in the store, and they headed for the shelter together with other shoppers – who took the opportunity for selfies with Lapid. When they emerged from the shelter, the Lapids continued with their shopping, then rushed back to Tel Aviv so the minister could participate in the meeting of the security cabinet.
Paying for his purchases in the Sderot supermarket was no big deal for Lapid, but the NIS 30 million he promised to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center earlier in the week for the fortification of its facilities may not be forthcoming as quickly (if at all) as hospital management and city Mayor Itamar Shimoni would like. It would not be the first time the Finance Ministry had reneged on a promise.
■ CANADIAN LAWYER, businessman and former politician Jerry Grafstein will be the keynote speaker at a Canada-Israel solidarity rally to be held tonight, Wednesday, at 7 p.m. at the David Citadel Hotel, Jerusalem.
■ THE CANADIANS are certainly forthright in their support of Israel. Tomorrow, Thursday, July 31, Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici will join Australian Ambassador Sharma – who, as it happens, was born in Canada – in making Commonwealth comments on Operation Protective Edge. Also joining in the 5 p.m. discussion at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center will be Prof. Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor. Steinberg was not born in Canada, but qualifies for a Commonwealth discussion because even though he was raised in California, he was born in London.
■ SPOKESPEOPLE FOR Israel during Operation Cast Lead have been dragged out of mothballs to join the proliferation of talking heads who are commenting on Operation Protective Edge. Among those who are back in the limelight are Avi Pazner and Danny Ayalon.
On the other hand, Channel 10 has decided not to provide a platform for people who are under police investigation or who have been charged with criminal activities. Thus, former prime minister Olmert, former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu and Ashkenazi’s former assistant Erez Weiner, are among those on the Channel 10 blacklist, and will not be invited to join panels or give comments on Channel 10 on any issue.
■ APROPOS AYALON, he is currently the Ira and Ingeborg Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies at Yeshiva University in New York. YU last week announced the appointment of another former politician: former US senator Joseph Lieberman, who has been appointed the Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service for the 2014- 2015 academic year. The Rennerts also established the Lieberman chair, and in Israel are generous benefactors of Bar-Ilan University, which is among several beneficiaries of their philanthropy.
■ YU’S STERN College for Women is entering into a scientific research relationship with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, thanks to a significant grant by the National Science Foundation of the US. Dr. Anatoly Frenkel, professor of physics at Stern College, will serve as principal investigator on a three-year, $675,000 grant by the NSF for an internationally collaborative study of colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals, tiny synthetic particles containing metal impurities whose properties have intriguing implications for the electronics, solar energy and biological fields. Frenkel will work in tandem with the Hebrew University ’s Dr. Uri Banin, the Alfred and Erica Larisch Memorial Chair at its chemistry institute.
The grant is administered by NSF, which awarded $375,000 to Frenkel’s group, and the Binational Science Foundation in Israel, which awarded $300,000 to Banin’s.