Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is invariably part of American Independence Day celebrations, can never give himself over to the event wholeheartedly. This is because July 4 is also the anniversary of the death of his older brother, Yoni, who was the commander of the audacious Entebbe rescue in July 1976, and the only soldier killed in the operation.
The dramatic events unfolded when an Air France plane carrying more than 240 passengers was hijacked in the last week of June by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells, and flown to Entebbe, Uganda. Jews and Israelis were separated from other passengers and progressively, non-Jews and non-Israelis were released. Nearly all of the more than 100 hostages were rescued.
Yoni Netanyahu paid with his life. Five other commandos were injured – among them Sorin Herscu, who was left permanently confined to a wheelchair.
■ THE TRAGEDY and brutality of the murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students brought reactions of sympathy, empathy and outrage from world leaders and their representatives in Israel. Several of the latter attended the funerals and paid shiva calls afterwards.
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro wrote on his Facebook page: “I join US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry in sorrow and outrage over the terrorist murder of Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali.
Deepest condolences to their families. May their memories be a blessing.”
When news of the discovery of the bodies was received in Italy on Monday, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asked government members to observe a minute’s silence out of respect for the victims.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called the murders “an appalling and inexcusable act of terror.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was moved to write an op-ed in the Bild newspaper declaring that violence must not be allowed to triumph.
French President François Hollande described the murders as “cowardly,” while French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave, who on July 1 had planned to confer the French Legion of Honor on French Embassy literature attaché Roselyne Dery and journalist and author Meir Shalev, postponed the event in deference to the funeral.
The Japanese government strongly condemned the abduction and murders, and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice as soon as possible under close cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma said he was shocked and outraged.
Romania’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement condemning the assassination in the strongest possible terms, expressing the hope that those responsible “for this abominable act” would be identified and prosecuted with the shortest of delays.
■ IN CANADA, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was sickened by news and Foreign Minister John Baird said he was personally dismayed. Nonetheless, Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici went ahead with the Canada Day reception she co-hosted with Ruth Ben-Tzur, general manager of Air Canada Israel.
The reception at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Towers coincided with the time of the funerals of the murdered boys, and several of the guests who arrived well after sunset came straight from the service. Bercovici explained that the event had been planned well in advance and although it was a very sad day for Israel, it was felt that in honor of the shared principles and values of Israel and Canada – of freedom, fortitude, equality, respect for democracy and human rights – the reception should go ahead.
The national anthems of Canada and Israel were sung by Kathleen Reiter, winner of the first season of Channel 2’s The Voice. Reiter, who came on aliya from Canada three years ago, sang both the French and English versions of “O Canada.”
Incidentally, Bercovici noted that her own mother’s maiden name was Reiter, and decided to explore the possibility that she and the highly talented singer might share family roots.
Ben-Tzur informed those present that Air Canada’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the latest state-of-the-art passenger plane, would be introduced on the Toronto-Tel Aviv route by mid-July. Israel is only the second country to which Air Canada is flying this carrier, she said, the first being Japan. The maiden flight to Israel as well as the return flight to Canada are both fully booked, she added.
Yossi Deskel, the newly elected chairman of the Israel-Canada Chamber of Commerce, said the biggest challenge in Jerusalem-Ottawa ties is boosting trade relations and economic cooperation. He was hopeful that increased trade between the two countries would also be reflected in the number of passengers flying in both directions via Air Canada.
■ THE DISCOVERY of the bodies of the boys also cast a pall on what had been intended as the festive opening of the Max and Jenny Weil Hibba Center in Jerusalem.
The Hibba Israeli Heritage Movement was founded more than 30 years ago by Baghdad- born former MK Eliahu Gabbay, based on the concept that there are commonalities between all Jews regardless of background, and these commonalities should be nurtured through a variety of projects for people of all ages, and Jews from Israel and around the world.
During the reception that preceded the ceremony, there was no hint that anything was amiss. It was only upstairs – when Master of Ceremonies Yehoram Gaon apologized that the program would be somewhat muted, but could not bring himself to explain why – that a few of the invitees realized tragedy had struck. Most, however, did not, even when Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar began talking in somber tones about the importance of religion and tradition.
It seemed that few people were listening when Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat conveyed the awful truth, and some of the Weils’ friends were annoyed and even angry when they saw a large exodus by political and religious dignitaries before Max Weil had a chance to deliver his address. When it was explained to them by others who either were listening or had known before, some went into shock and left themselves.
The Hibba Center is going to be one of the most vibrant and varied community centers in the capital. Over the years, Hibba has addressed many aspects of Jewish culture and identity, in an effort to reclaim the cultural treasures of the past and make them relevant to Jewish life today. It is Gabbay’s firm belief that music is a unifying force and for years, Gaon has been associated with Hibba’s musical projects – especially with regard to verses from the Psalms and the Bible, enhanced by numerous melodies sung by even the most secular of Israelis.
One of Gabbay’s first projects was the construction of the Mishkan Yosef Synagogue, which he built 30 years ago. He then turned his attention to the Hibba building, which for years was little more than a shell, because Gabbay lacked the funds with which to complete it.
Along came the Weils, who four years ago gave their name and money to a community center in another part of Jerusalem that had never come to fruition, although there had been a gala cornerstone ceremony. Disappointed but not disillusioned to the extent they would shy away from any similar plan, the Weils were thrilled when they discovered Hibba, with its much more ambitious programs.
They happily contributed the funds that would enable Gabbay to complete the building – which will also house a rabbinical training school and in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality, a multi-activity day center for senior citizens. Programs for all ages will be held in many languages, with the idea of providing facilities and services that will enable anyone who so desires to feel included rather than excluded.
One floor of the building will be taken over by Gesher, whose programs are very similar to those of Hibba and whose raison d’etre is to close the gap between secular and religious Jews while promoting a shared heritage.
Gesher has sold its beautiful building adjacent to the Waldorf Astoria hotel for a multimillion- dollar sum, and from an economic standpoint, is now very much in the black.
The Weils were naturally honored by Hibba, but so were longtime movement supporters Moshe and Evette Dabbah of New York, whose sons Ezra and Isaac made a significant contribution towards the construction of the building in their names.
■ ON THURSDAY, July 24, there will be a changing of the guard in the presidency of the State of Israel, as Shimon Peres exits the stage of public service for the first time in the history of the state, and Reuven Rivlin takes over as Israel’s 10th president.
The fact that Peres will no longer be an appointee or elected representative of the nation or of a political party, does not mean he will be silent about his vision for peace in the Middle East. He will continue to talk about it from the Peres Center for Peace and from various platforms around the world, to which he will be invited in his emeritus role of the world’s most senior statesman.
Meanwhile, in the time left to him as president, he will continue to talk peace – however slim the chances for it appear – and will do so on Tuesday, July 8, at the Peace Conference at the David Intercontinental Hotel, organized by Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken. Peres will open the conference and will be interviewed by wellknown print media journalist and television commentator Ari Shavit, who will discover – as did Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, when he interviewed Peres at the Post’s diplomatic conference last year; and as did David Horovitz, editor-in-chief of The Times of Israel, at the opening of the Jewish Media Summit last month – that Peres is more inclined to answer the questions he puts to himself than those put to him by others.
Other conference participants will come from both the Right and the Left of the political spectrum, as well as from the Palestinian Authority; a number of American personalities will also participate. The conference may revive the peace dialogue, but given the mood in Israel at the moment, is unlikely to revive the peace process.
■ IT IS almost ironic that two Jews from the former Soviet Union traveled to France this week for an emotional farewell ceremony at the historic Synagogue des Tournelles in Paris for hundreds of French Jews who will be migrating to Israel in the coming weeks.
Over 25 years ago, French Jews were part of the worldwide struggle for Soviet Jewry and were demonstrating on behalf of Natan Sharansky, or Anatoly as he was known then. Sharansky, now chairman of the Jewish Agency, and Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver came to tell French Jews who are leaving their native land that Israel has become a preferred destination for migrating French Jews.
It would be wonderful if their motives for migrating were purely ideological, but in the majority of cases they are based on rising incidents of anti-Semitism. There has been a dramatic increase in aliya from France, with some 2,600 French Jews arriving in Israel during the first six months of 2014, and the number expected to rise to 5,000 by the end of the year. Last year, the figure was 3,289; in 2012, it was 1,917.
In the midst of a week of turmoil, pain and sorrow, there is some cause for joy.
Sharansky and his wife, Avital, are today celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.
■ BASED ON forecasts by Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett that there will be elections in 2015, opposition leader Isaac Herzog does not rule out such a possibility.
Aside from preparing the ground within the Knesset for any eventuality, he is also bolstering the Labor Party – by opening the ranks for new members and the reinstatement of former members.
Several veteran members of the party, among them Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, were unable to vote in the last Labor primaries because unbeknownst to them, they had been disenfranchised. For years their membership had been paid by bank order or automatic credit card payment, and the symbolic sum deducted once a year was barely noticed by anyone.
Thus, it was also not noticed when such deductions ceased under the leadership of Shelly Yacimovich.
Herzog wants to welcome disenfranchised veterans back to the fold, and bring in fresh blood as well. Some of the veterans may balk at being registered as new members instead of simply being reinstated and paying whatever membership fees are in arrears, but unless the rules are changed, they will have to come back as new members. Membership recruitment will begin in August.
■ UNLESS CHANNEL 10 receives a substantial cash infusion before the end of the year, chances are high that its days are numbered – and that it will cease broadcasting on December 31.
Channel 10’s director-general Rafi Ginat resigned this week after only 18 months on the job, though some say he was fired.
Either way he’s about to become a man of leisure – albeit not entirely. As far as is known, his Kolbodek investigative consumer affairs show will continue to be screened on Channel 10, unless it is axed in a new wave of stringent cost efficiency measures.
Kolbodek is the longest-running adult program on television in Israel. It was launched in December 1974 on Channel 1,with the genial Daniel Pe’er as the program’s anchor and Ginat as the producer. Ginat later became the presenter and when he left Channel 1, took the show with him. To avoid legal problems, its name was changed to Kolbodek (from the original Kolbotek), a word play that was actually more in keeping with its purpose. Ginat subsequently took the show to Channel 2, and later to Channel 10.
Ginat came to Channel 10 after a twoyear stint as editor-in-chief of Yediot Aharonot. Ever since it began broadcasting in January 2002, Channel 10 has been financially ailing and had been under threat of closure several times. It does employ top-class journalists, and part of its news presentation is not only informative but entertaining.
Many of the employees at Channel 10 were paid higher salaries than their colleagues at other media outlets, but when Ginat came along, it transpired that he was one of the highest-paid employees in Israel’s television industry; the channel’s senior staff were not happy campers. In addition, the production costs of Kolbodek were astronomical in comparison to the channel’s other productions.
It is understood that Ginat, 66, was at loggerheads with both his employers and senior staff at Channel 10. It was in the cards that he would not last long in the job.
If Channel 1 also ceases to broadcast in accordance with the plans of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, there will be sufficient out-of-work television staff in all categories to start at least another two channels – which is more or less what Erdan wants to do with Channel 2 franchisees Reshet and Keshet, which are reluctant to come to the party.