At the annual Jerusalem Day reception it hosts for its Christian and Jewish friends – at its impressive premises that once served as the Ivory Coast Embassy, when foreign embassies were still located in the capital – the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem ordered strictly kosher catering, to ensure that all of its Jewish guests could eat without qualms.
Unfortunately, most diplomatic embassies on the coastal plain don’t do this – although some do have a somewhat meager kosher table, which is almost immediately rendered non-kosher by unknowing or uncaring guests placing utensils that have been in non-kosher foods from other tables inside the dishes with kosher offerings. It seems illogical, if a caterer is already being ordered, not to hire a kosher caterer.
In any case, ICEJ executive director Jurgen Buhler was in high demand during Pope Francis’s visit, even though Evangelicals follow a completely different stream of Christianity from Catholicism, and are far more aligned with Protestants than with Catholics. But to many Jews ignorant of the differences in Christian theological teachings, any Christian is qualified to comment on the pope – and thus Buhler was invited to spend a considerable part of the day in a television studio.
However, it was his comment to the chief rabbis that he chose to quote at the reception. Discussing with the rabbis the speeches given immediately upon the pope’s arrival in Israel, he found them all ears when he commented on how strange it was that both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had quoted scriptures in their welcoming remarks – whereas the pope, in responding to their welcome, had made no reference whatsoever to the scriptures.
■ ONE MUST always be ready for the unexpected. When Peres went to Norway earlier this month, it was thought to be his penultimate trip abroad in his role as president of the state. But then the pope, while in Israel, invited him to come to Rome and pray with him for peace in Israel and the rest of the Middle East. Though very little time is left of Peres’s tenure, even this may not be his penultimate trip before he goes to America on June 25.
The pope has made it clear that he will not make any attempt at political mediation between Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, when towards the end of next week the two join him at the Vatican in praying for peace. It will be a purely spiritual coming together. The interesting question is whether Peres and Abbas will travel to and/or from Rome in the same plane, and if so, whether they will seated in the same section.
When in Rome, Peres may also offer a private prayer for imprisoned Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard, whose release he will request yet again when he meets with US President Barack Obama in Washington later in the month.
Obama will have nothing to lose by being gracious.
As there is broad consensus – including among former US officials who helped to put Pollard behind bars, or keep him there – that his sentence was unfair in relation to much lighter sentences imposed on people who committed similar crimes, Obama can afford to make a magnanimous gesture to Peres as he leaves office. In doing so, the US president would also demonstrate he is not bereft of the milk of human kindness.
■ HOWEVER, BEFORE Peres goes abroad again, he will this week attend the laying of the cornerstone for the new Museum of the Jewish People, which will mark the renewal and enlargement of Beit Hatfutsot on the Tel Aviv University campus.
Meanwhile, the chairwoman of Beit Hatfutsot’s board of directors, Irina Nevzlin Kogan, condemned Saturday’s murderous attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium, where victims included Israeli couple Mira and Emanuel Riva, who were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Europe.
Nevzlin Kogan wrote to the museum’s President, Philippe Blondin, to “offer her sympathies and support at this difficult time.” Noting that the Rivas were Israeli tourists from Tel Aviv, Nevzlin Kogan stressed that “this attack was aimed at the entire Jewish people, who need to respond to such incidents with unity and solidarity.”
She also made the point that “museums by their very nature serve as symbols of tolerance, openness and dialogue, in the face of violent extremists who wish to see these values eradicated.”
“While we wish to celebrate the historic contribution of the Jewish people to humanity, we are also reminded at times like these of the challenge our people face in expressing their identity in safety and security,” wrote Nevzlin Kogan.
She urged all members of the European Association of Jewish Museums to increase their collaboration on security matters.
■ ON SUNDAY, June 1, Peres – who during his seven-year tenure has participated in many prize-giving events – will for the last time as president present the prestigious Wolf Prize, at a festive ceremony in the Chagall Hall of the Knesset. The event will be moderated by one of the people who hopes to succeed Peres by becoming Israel’s 10th president. Nobel Prize laureate Prof.
Dan Shechtman will be doing the honors, unless for some reason it is decided that it would be inappropriate, given the proximity of the presidential election. Also sharing the podium will be Education Minister Shai Piron.
■ APROPOS THE presidential elections, of the six candidates, two women stand at opposite ends of the chronological scale. At 61, former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik is the youngest, whereas Press Council president and former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner is the oldest at 80. Age-wise, the other candidates range from Meir Sheetrit, 65; Shechtman, 73; Reuven Rivlin, 74; to Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, 78.
Itzik and Rivlin, in addition to being former Knesset speakers, have other commonalities. Both were born in Jerusalem and served on the Jerusalem City Council before becoming MKs. Shechtman, for his part, was born in Tel Aviv and the other three candidates were born abroad – Sheetrit in Morocco, Ben- Eliezer in Iraq and Dorner in Turkey.
Of Israel’s nine presidents to date, only two were Sabras: Jerusalem- born Yitzhak Navon and Tel Aviv-born Ezer Weizman, who had he not passed away, would be celebrating his 90th birthday on June 15 – five days after the election of Israel’s 10th president.
While according to law, the Knesset speaker fills in for the president when the latter is absent from the country or for some other reason is unable to fulfill their duties, Itzik is the only one who has actually taken over the President’s Office for more than a few days. She did so during the period in which president Moshe Katsav suspended himself while under police investigation for rape.
However, neither Itzik nor Dorner are the first women to compete for the role of Israel’s No. 1 citizen. In that respect, it was former MK Colette Avital who broke through the glass ceiling, and made it acceptable for a woman to run for president in Israel.
■ STATE ATTORNEY Shai Nitzan is on an anti-corruption crusade and at the annual Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat this week, lashed out at those who seek to defend the reputation of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who has been convicted on a string of corruption charges. It is untenable that anyone convicted of taking bribes should be a celebrity, declared Nitzan, who wants to take even harsher measures against public servants convicted of corruption than did Judge David Rozen, who passed sentence on Ehud Olmert.
Nitzan wants to apply a high public and social price tag to people convicted of severe corruption crimes, in addition to any sentence meted out by the court. Only when such people are ostracized will there be a proper deterrent against corruption, he posited.
■ THOUGH PRIMARILY known to the general public as the chairman of the Dan Hotels chain, Michael Federmann is also chairman of the board of Elbit Systems, which produces defense electronics. It is in the latter capacity that Federmann has been honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who has appointed him an Honorary Commander of the British Empire (CBE), in recognition of the key role he has played in promoting business cooperation between the UK and Israel.
Federmann said in response to the Buckingham Palace announcement that he felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to contribute to the safety and security of Great Britain, and expressed confidence that business ties between Israel and the UK would continue to flourish – and thereby support and strengthen the friendship between the two nations. British Ambassador Matthew Gould was delighted for Federmann, and credited him with contributing a great deal to the prosperity of both countries, including the creation of hundreds of jobs in the UK.
Federmann is actually a somewhat global creature. Among his many public roles are those of honorary consul of the Ivory Coast, and president of the Israeli-German Chamber of Commerce.
■ IT’S NOT often that anyone receives two honorary doctorates in the span of a week, which makes actor, singer, artist and Jordan River Village head Chaim Topol an exception to the rule. Topol last week received an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University, and another this week from the University of Haifa.
■ TRIVIA QUESTION: Aside from the fact that they’re Sabras, what do Topol and presidential hopeful Rivlin have in common? Both were born on September 9 – Topol in 1935, and Rivlin in 1939.
■ IN THE midst of intensive preparations for the arrival of the pope, Peres – who sent the pope a message of welcome via the cockpit of the plane in which the pope was traveling – nonetheless found time to meet with old friends and admirers, singer Carla Bruni and her husband, former (and possibly future) French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who landed in Israel on Saturday.
Peres had initially promised to attend Bruni’s concert in Tel Aviv on Sunday, but had to cancel due to the papal visit. Instead, he invited Bruni and Sarkozy to dine with him at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night, where they were joined by Yona Bartal, the president’s deputy bureau chief, who has previously met the couple both in Israel and in France.
Sarkozy embraced Peres in a bear hug, and told him he loves coming to Israel because he feels so at home here.
The French celebrities said they were pleased to be back in Israel, and were happy to be able to freely roam around like regular tourists – instead of being fettered by security considerations and pomp and ceremony. Both said they wanted to come back for a vacation that would include Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and Eilat; Bruni was also keen to visit the Galilee wineries.
Whereas previously Bruni used to accompany Sarkozy on his presidential trips abroad, since her return to her singing career, Sarkozy accompanies her on concert tours.
■ DETAILS, HOWEVER seemingly insignificant, are often very important and serve to make a statement.
Thus, when Pope Francis landed at Ben-Gurion Airport after having previously visited Bethlehem, both Peres and Netanyahu wore blue ties with their white shirts. Peres chose a deep marine blue in more or less the same shade as that on the national flag, whereas Netanyahu opted for a pale azure blue – while nonetheless delivering the blue-and-white message.
The strains of Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” could be heard wafting across the tarmac as the pope and Peres inspected the guard of honor. Given the pope’s ultimate destination in Israel, it was the most appropriate of musical works, but taking into account the extent to which the wind was whipping the pope’s cape into his face, what might have been even more appropriate was Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.”
■ DESPITE ALL the media hype related to the papal visit, not everyone was glued to a screen on their TV set, PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone to catch every moment. There were numerous events all over the country during the 28 hours he spent in Israel.
In Jerusalem alone, events included inter alia: the Van Leer Awards for outstanding academic theses on subjects in the humanities category, distributed at the Van Leer Institute by MK Amram Mitzna, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee; Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson in a Jerusalem Day tribute at the First Station to Prof. Alice Shalvi, innovative educator and founder of the Israel Women’s Network, poets Prof. Michal Govrin and Sivan Har-Shefi, and Dr. Carmella Avdar, researcher of Yemenite women; a glimpse with hindsight at Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and his effect on Israeli society at Beit Avi Chai, with Rabbi Benny Lau, former Shas leader Eli Yishai and Neri Horowitz, who is researching the story of Shas, with moderator Sivan Rahav-Meir; and on Monday, the Rabbinical Council of America together with the World Zionist Organization, hosting Rabbi Benji Levine and Avraham Duvdevani at WZO headquarters, in a discussion about their Jerusalem; a Christian Embassy Jerusalem Day reception; and the Vidal Sassoon Center gala dinner to kick off its conference at Beit Maiersdorf – and that’s just a short list.
■ LAST WEEK, billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg came from the Big Apple to Jerusalem to receive the inaugural $1 million Genesis Prize, endowed by the Genesis Philanthropy Group and presented by the prime minister.
By coincidence, on the same day the prize was officially awarded, an interview with Netanyahu by controversial journalist Jeffrey Goldberg was published in Bloomberg View, which was launched three years ago as an editorial division of Bloomberg News. Considering that Bloomberg really does not need anything from Netanyahu, including a million dollars, and Netanyahu may not want anything from Bloomberg, it may have been just that – coincidence.
Forbes has ranked Bloomberg in 16th in its rankings of the world’s richest billionaires. Although Bloomberg’s own philanthropic foundation gave away $450 million last year, he’s not overly enthusiastic about either giving to or investing more in Israel than he has done already.
At a press conference at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Bloomberg, in a brief address prior to the Q&A, said that his family had a strong connection with Jerusalem, and mentioned that in 2003, he and his sister had come to Israel with their mother to dedicate a wing at Hadassah University Medical Center in her name. It was something in which she took pride, and spoke of often. The family came back in 2007, to inaugurate a Magen David Adom emergency response center in Bloomberg’s father’s name.
Until 2000, no member of the Bloomberg family had ever been to Israel. His parents’ generation could not even conceive that there would be an Israel, said Bloomberg. Asked, in view of the predicament in which Hadassah finds itself, whether he would be prepared to help resolve the Hadassah Medical Organization’s problem. Bloomberg declined to become involved.
To another question, as to whether he planned to expand his media interests in Israel, Bloomberg – who maintains a spacious, well-equipped office in Tel Aviv as part of his global media empire – emphatically said “No!”, then followed up with his own question: “Which letter don’t you understand?” Sitting in the front row at the press conference was Jerusalem’s cinema icon Lia van Leer, who seldom misses any major event at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, and attends every film festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque – which she founded with her late husband, Wim van Leer. She is often seen at events at the Israel Museum, and is a frequent guest at diplomatic events on the Coastal Plain, especially at the French ambassador’s residence.
Just as Bloomberg traveled from New York to Jerusalem to be honored, Lia van Leer – who will be 90 in August – will be traveling from Jerusalem to New York to be honored. She and Jerusalem-born stage and screen star Yehoram Gaon will be honored at separate events at the Israel Film Center Festival, presented by the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
The festival, which runs from June 12-19, will feature New York premieres of the best of the new Israeli films.
On the opening night, Gaon will receive a life achievement award; and on the Friday night of the festival there will be a dinner in honor of Van Leer and a screening of the documentary Lia, which tells the story of her life. A fine documentary, the film has already premiered in Berlin.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING DIVESTMENT threats and policies, rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and occasional suggestions that Israel may find herself isolated from the rest of the world, high-level representatives of many countries continue to arrive in Israel daily on official and unofficial visits.
For instance, Netherlands Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis- Plasschaert was in Israel last week to enhance bilateral relations. In addition to having a working meeting with her Israeli counterpart, whom she invited to visit Holland, she also met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and paid working visits to the headquarters and production facilities of Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries. Both companies are involved in the production of the new F-35 fighter jet, which have been purchased by both Israel and the Netherlands for their air forces.
Among foreign dignitaries who came on private visits to Israel was Fijian President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, who was accompanied by his secretary of state, Mosese Tikoitoga.
The two stayed at the Jerusalem Dan Hotel, where they were given the red carpet treatment, but because the hotel is on Mount Scopus and not in the central tourist area of the capital, they were able to maintain a higher degree of privacy than dignitaries who stay at the King David.
The Fijian guests were given a tour of the hotel and an explanation of the spectacular views, still visible despite the number of high-rise buildings going up in Jerusalem, by hotel general manager Yehuda Kraus. The Fijian president could not keep an entirely low profile, because after the tour of the hotel, there was a festive reception in his honor.
■ INDIAN AMBASSADOR Jaideep Sarkar, speaking at the Israel Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv last week, said that economic ties between India and Israel are thriving, but have much room for growth. “Israel has wowed the world with its start-up culture,” said Sarkar. “It’s a model that starts off well but ends too early… So I believe India offers Israel a new business model.”
Sarkar highlighted three areas that India offers Israeli businesses: markets, manpower and manufacturing capacity. “If I look at the India-Israel relationship, I think the future is here.
Both our governments agree we must concentrate on building a vibrant and strong hi-tech partnership that our two knowledge economies not only deserve, but need.”
The chief scientist in the Economy Ministry, Avi Hasson, told the audience that the potential for cooperation between Israel and India in the R&D and hi-tech sectors is not even close to achieving its full potential.
Hasson noted that the Chief Scientist’s Office is expanding its robust framework for Indian and Israeli companies to get to know one another, including significant funding.
“This is our main role, to create success stories,” said Hasson. “I strongly believe that the most important word in R&D is collaboration. By definition, you need to work with other companies in other countries. We are complementary economies, we have joint values – the combination of which can be very powerful.”
Ohad Cohen, deputy director of the Economy Ministry and director of its Foreign Trade Administration, said Israel has put two countries at the top of the list of its objective markets: India and China. Conference participants did not have to be told about China. The strong Chinese presence at the conference was clearly indicative of the efforts that had gone into promoting expanded economic relations with Beijing. Cohen even stated that the ministry is allocating significant resources to make sure that target is being met.
As far as India is concerned, Cohen said Israel has three commercial offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, which work to bring Israeli companies to India in search of opportunities and vice versa. Cohen added that the Foreign Trade Administration manages a special fund supporting Israeli companies opening marketing offices in India. Cohen also pointed to a comprehensive free trade agreement between the two countries, still under negotiation. “Once we accomplish that, it will be a very significant milestone for the strategic alliance.”
The Israel Innovation Conference took place just as the controversial deal was being concluded for the sale of Tnuva to China’s Bright Food.
Tnuva was previously owned by a UK-based private equity company, which sold an intrinsically Israeli cooperative to a Chinese company, which in turn could sell it to an Iranian company or a company in one of the Arab states. One could then ask: What was the point of Israel fighting seven wars?