Grapevine: President Peres goes Dutch

Peres was not the first Israeli to be received at the palace. In January of last year, Queen Beatrix hosted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

By
October 3, 2013 23:32
PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES shakes hands with King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands at Noordeinde Pala

Peres shakes hands with Dutch King 370. (photo credit: mos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

It may not seem like a monumental victory, but the fact that President Shimon Peres was the first official guest to be hosted at the Noordeinde Palace by King Willem- Alexander of the Netherlands, since his ascent to the throne in April following the abdication of his mother Queen Beatrix, is a matter of political significance – even though the positions held by both the king and the president are largely ceremonial.

King Willem-Alexander has visited Israel several times and said he was always impressed by the country and its people.

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Unlike the British royals, the Dutch royals have no qualms about visiting the Jewish state. Moreover, Peres was not the first Israeli to be received at the palace. In January of last year, Queen Beatrix hosted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

Peres, towards the conclusion of his three-day visit to Holland, met with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and addressed the Dutch Parliament. Among the issues Peres raised, in addition to the Iranian nuclear threat and the Syrian chemical weapons threat, was the boycott of Israeli goods from the West Bank. Rutte stressed that the Netherlands is opposed to such boycotts, and said the practice had not even been considered.

With respect to the recent decision by the EU to indeed boycott Israeli goods produced in the territories and not fund Israeli projects beyond the Green Line, the prime minister said the Netherlands was working within the EU, as an inseparable part of it, to reach a consensus and find a solution that does not harm the peace process. His country hopes to continue to play a positive and central role in this process, added Rutte.

■ THE DUTCH are known as avid cyclists. It’s almost part of their DNA. Thus, it was hardly surprising that a delegation from the Dutch Embassy and Consular Affairs, headed by Netherlands Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp, participated in the Tel Aviv Crosstown Bike Ride during Succot. Most of the Dutch group, easily recognizable in their orange Tshirts, took the 24-km. challenge.

Bicycles are the preferred vehicles of the Dutch government in promoting environmental issues and the use of green energy. According to Veldkamp, who can often be seen in a suit and tie riding his bike to a diplomatic function in Herzliya Pituah or Kfar Shmarayahu, “Creative people ride bicycles. They do so in Amsterdam; they do so in Tel Aviv. It is healthy, good for the environment and a lot of fun.” He had been told, he said, that Albert Einstein got some of his best ideas while cycling

■ IT’S A very diplomatic period for Peres. The flags of the Czech Republic are already flying outside his residence in preparation for the visit next week by Czech President Milos Zeman, who is coming with a large business delegation with the aim of boosting trade and investment between the Czech Republic and Israel. Toward the end of next week, Peres will also accept the credentials of the new ambassadors of Ireland, France, Paraguay, Brazil and Mongolia.

■ IS FORCED ethnicity anti-democratic? A group of Israelis who are Jewish by halachic definition, and who for years have lost legal battles to change the ethnic group on their ID cards from Jewish to Israeli, lost yet another battle this week – when the Supreme Court again rejected the appeal by a group of Israeli Jews and non-Jews to be registered as belonging to the Israeli nation.

Since the establishment of the state in 1948, the nationality of Jewish citizens of Israel has been registered as Jewish and that of Arab citizens as Arab, regardless of whether they are Christian or Muslim Arabs. The nationality of non- Jewish immigrants who acquired citizenship is registered in accordance with their country of origin. The old argument as to whether Jews are members of a religion or a race has not yet been settled. Although Jews living in or born in Israel are defined as Jewish even if they are atheists, Jews who converted abroad and try to immigrate under the Law of Return are not recognized as Jews – although the international Jewish media is quick to recognize anyone who has acquired fame and fortune and has a few Jewish genes as a member of the tribe.

Jerusalem-born Uzzi Ornan, now 90 and a member of the Canaanite Movement, 18 years ago founded an organization under the heading I Am An Israeli, and declared that any Israeli citizen who wishes to be noted as an ethnic Israeli in the population registry should be permitted to do so.

The ethnic argument is not the only one that has plagued people who disagree with the system. Israelis born in this country before the establishment of the state were born in what was then called Palestine, and some have tried unsuccessfully to register this on their identity cards – claiming it was incorrect to say they were born in Israel, because the state did not exist when they were born. Even today, quite a number of Israelis – including Jews – declare themselves, by virtue of their age, to be Palestinians.

After losing the most recent case in court this week, Ornan was interviewed on Israel Radio by Yigal Ravid, who is unfortunately one of those strident interviewers who is so busy presenting his own opinions, the interviewee barely gets a chance to say anything. However, Ornan stood up to him and told him not to interrupt.

That brief interlude was reminiscent of the time when David Levy, as foreign minister, was being interviewed by another self-opinionated journalist. Levy put him in his place by asking: “If you wanted to interview yourself, why did you invite me?”

■ FRUSTRATION AND feelings of discrimination almost always haunt minorities striving to achieve success, especially when such minorities consist of immigrants. The public seems to have forgotten that when the large waves of immigrants came from the former Soviet Union, physicists were relegated to menial jobs such as street sweeping, and medical practitioners who had been in charge of hospital departments were told their qualifications weren’t good enough for them to work as physicians in Israel. A previous wave of immigrants from North Africa suffered horrendous discrimination at the hands of the Ashkenazi regime, but over time produced numerous mayors, government ministers, academics, legislators, lawyers, business leaders and diplomats.

The Ethiopian community, for its part, is still battling discrimination, but has already succeeded in overcoming bias in certain quarters. The current Miss Israel, Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, is a former IDF officer and a member of Israel’s Ethiopian community. In fact, many Ethiopians do very well in the army and have proved themselves to be outstanding soldiers. There are also Ethiopian legislators, and most recently, Tahunia Rubel, a 25-year-old model from Beit Shemesh, won the fifth season of the Big Brother reality show and was awarded the grand prize of NIS 1 million.

Ethiopians have shone in other spheres, but these two beautiful women have captured public attention and are individually speaking out on behalf of their communities – and in Aynaw’s case, on behalf of Israel.

Rubel has been honored by the Hadera Municipality, which has a relatively large Ethiopian population, and she was invited to meet with Mayor Haim Avitan and the leaders and prominent activists of Hadera’s Ethiopian community.

During her appearance on Big Brother, Rubel frequently spoke out against the racist attitudes to which Ethiopian immigrants and even some Israel-born members of the community have been subjected. In Hadera, they wanted to show appreciation for her courageous stand.

Peres, a longtime outspoken advocate for equal opportunities for women and minorities, on Thursday paid tribute to both when he honored three outstanding Ethiopian women. This was done within the framework of the Ethiopian community’s annual Sigd festival, which celebrates their arrival in Jerusalem.

When they still lived in Ethiopia, Sigd was a festival of yearning. The Jews would go to a hilltop, prostrate themselves and pray to one day arrive in Jerusalem. Now that thousands of them are here and either living in the capital or able to get there within less than half a day, Sigd has become a festival of celebration. This is the fifth consecutive year in which Peres has opened his residence to the Ethiopian community.

■ WHILE STILL on the subject of the Ethiopian community, the English-Speaking Residents Association held a gala fundraising dinner in the gracious Herzliya Pituah home of Beverly and David Saffrin. It was the first function of its kind to be held by ESRA, with guests including the organization’s founder and honorary life president, Merle Guttmann, who maintains an active interest and edits the interesting and eye-catching ESRA magazine.

ESRA chairwoman Brenda Katten said that when Guttmann initially founded the organization, it was with the idea of making native English-speakers feel at home in Israel.

And indeed, among the approximately 70 people in attendance, there were quite a few who still haven’t mastered Hebrew and are unlikely to do so.

From its initial purpose, said Katten, ESRA has branched out to help immigrants from all countries, especially those from Ethiopia. Today, there are 800 ESRA volunteers in the field helping other new immigrants, she said, and ESRA operates 24 diverse projects to help those in need. Netanya, she noted, has some 15,000 Ethiopians, with one neighborhood, Heftziba, comprised of almost 100 percent Ethiopians.

This neighborhood used to have a very high crime rate, which ESRA has helped diminish by introducing Right Track Centers and Build a Neighborhood. These initiatives enable Ethiopian University students who do not have the financial means to pay for accommodations, to obtain free local accommodation throughout their studies, on the condition they act as mentors three times a week. Aside from being role models to youngsters still at school, they act as a bridge between parents who still cling to the norms of the old country, and their children who are the products of modern Israeli culture.

For its work in Netanya, ESRA has been granted a special award by the Netanya Municipality’s Volunteer Section.

Guest speaker for the evening was Dan Gillerman, a former Israel ambassador to the UN, who held his audience in thrall, deftly balancing serious issues such as terrorism and a nuclear Iran with witty anecdotes. Gillerman, who frequently appears on international television as a spokesman for Israel, is unabashedly admired by Katten, who said: “We wish we could clone you manifold. If we did, Israel’s image would improve overnight.”

■ ALTHOUGH THE UN consistently passes anti-Israel resolutions, this does not necessarily mean that Israel is without friends there. Canada has proven to be a great friend of Israel at the UN and in other forums.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on September 30, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said: “Today, September 30, is a dark reminder of the price of accommodation with evil. It is the 75th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, by which Czechoslovakia’s freedom was sacrificed to appease the Nazi regime. The appeasers claimed they had won ‘peace for our time.’ In fact, their abandoning of principle was a calamity for our world.

Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned in Auschwitz, has been even more blunt: ‘Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere when human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy. National borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.’” Baird went on to say that just as Canada is not silent about the crime being committed against the Syrian people, “neither is Canada silent on Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. There can be no bargaining over Israel’s existence.

While dialogue is a virtue, there can be no virtuous discussion with anyone wedded to Israel’s destruction.

“Today, the Jewish people are masters of their own fate, like other nations, in their own sovereign Jewish state. Like other nations, Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself.

Canada fundamentally believes peace is achievable. The Palestinians and Israelis and their neighbors can live side by side in peace and security.”

Baird continued in similar fashion until the conclusion of his address, bringing pride to many Canadians living in Israel as well as to Canada’s Jewish and Syrian communities.

■ MKS MUST put their other professional interests aside while serving as legislators. That doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally take a look at what’s happening while someone else is minding the store. Thus, it came as no surprise that Labor MK Erel Margalit this week hosted Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga, when the two visited Jerusalem Venture Partners, the highly successful venture capital firm founded by Margalit.

Randi Zuckerberg is a former marketing director of Facebook.

She and Pincus came to Jerusalem and JVP as part of a delegation of 20 leading Jewish entrepreneurs, organized by the San Francisco Jewish Federation.

The delegation also learned about JVP’s social initiative Bekehila, or In the Community, which likewise was founded by Margalit, together with his wife, Debbie. Bekehila has been active for more than a decade in six disadvantaged Jerusalem neighborhoods, working with 22,000 youth to improve their academic achievements while promoting personal and social growth.

Margalit and the visiting group discussed the meeting point between business and social and cultural entrepreneurialism, and how all three areas are joined in JVP’s unique, innovative ecosystem. They also focused on Israel’s role as an international hub of creativity and innovation, and the way that leading Jewish innovators in the Diaspora can work together with Israeli entrepreneurs for the betterment of both the Israeli and global economies.

■ JERUSALEM POST environmental reporter Sharon Udasin wed Ravid Shaniv at Kibbutz Netzer Sereni on Tuesday night, in the company of many of her friends and colleagues.

Sharon, the daughter of Iris and Gary Udasin, is from New Brunswick, New Jersey. She has a BA in English and French from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. She made aliya in 2010 and has worked for the Post ever since.

Ravid, the son of Ayala and Amnon Shaniv, is from Rehovot. He has a BA in physics and math from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and is in a graduate physics program at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The couple live in Rehovot and are spending their honeymoon in Italy.

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