‘Seize the moment” were the watch words of late US president Lyndon B. Johnson, and although he may not be using exactly the same terminology, it is also the sentiment of Dov Weissglass, who served as Ariel Sharon’s bureau chief.
In an address this week to members of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, Weissglass, who spent much of the time talking about the history and modus operandi of Arab terrorists, emphasized the importance of using the chance to reach a settlement with the current Palestinian regime, because he did not see any future Palestinian leader having the same degree of responsibility (towards peace and coexistence) as Mahmoud Abbas.
Weissglass credited Abbas with bringing about a change in Palestinian attitudes after taking over the leadership of the PLO in November 2004. Although Yasser Arafat talked peace with the Israelis, he continued to fund terrorist operations against Israel, including the recruitment of suicide bombers, said Weissglass.
Comparing the number of suicide bombers and the number of people they killed and injured, before and after the Abbas regime, Weissglass pointed to a sharp drop from 2005 onwards. Most of the suicide bombers he revealed were not so much ideological as social misfits, who could not find their place in Palestinian society for reasons of physical disfigurement, sexual orientation, loss of reputation and various other reasons that would make them outcasts. They were easy prey for the recruitment teams, who offered them not only a moment of glory, but a large sum of money to compensate their families.
Weissglass also went into the gory details of how they were trained and what they did. For instance, the pockets of the explosive vests they wore contained small metal objects. The bombers were instructed, for the most part, to stand at the back of the bus so that when they detonated the bomb, they could kill or injure as many people as possible. The force of the explosion sent the pieces of metal flying into the backs of the necks of seated passengers, often decapitating them. Weissglass then praised “the angels of ZAKA,” the instant-response search-and-rescue organization, for their valiant work in matching decapitated heads to bodies.
The former bureau chief also spoke of his relationship with Sharon, and said the late prime minister was the most courageous man he had ever known.
The event was held in the garden of British Ambassador Matthew Gould; it has long been an IBCA tradition to hold a summer event in the British ambassador’s garden. This year, however, the host was not the ambassador but Deputy Head of Mission Rob Dixon, who said the UK government and embassy were heavily focused on the abduction of the three yeshiva students, and that the foreign secretary had issued a strong condemnation of the kidnapping.
For all the trauma of the situation, Dixon described Israel as a resilient place, and later when speaking of happier subjects, said that Israel was a fascinating but complicated country.
■ THE REASON that Dixon was playing host was because Gould had been busy escorting British government ministers who were visiting Israel. In fact, arriving just ahead of the start of the event, he brought one of the ministers with him – Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, who said that before he ever became an MP or had an office or secretary, he had joined the Conservative Friends of Israel. He regarded himself as a staunch friend of the Jewish state, because “Israel gives stability, democracy and hope.”
When it was approaching 9 p.m., Gould excused himself and said he had to take the minister to dinner. Actually, they didn’t have far to go. The dinner was in the dining room inside the house, protected from prying eyes by a thick wooden sliding door that when closed, looked like part of the wall.
Earlier that evening, Weissglass, quoting from a Hebrew tabloid, congratulated Gould on becoming a knight and angled for an invitation to Buckingham Palace to watch his investiture. Gould demurred, saying one should not believe everything one reads in the newspapers. The fact is that he’s not a knight, even though Weissglass chose to elevate him in rank. He was named in the Queen’s Birthday honors as Companion of the Order of St Michael and St. George, in recognition of his efforts to promote trade and scientific cooperation between the UK and Israel.
One of the privileges of being ambassador, he said, was listening to some of the brilliant Israelis tell extraordinary stories; another was hosting high-ranking visitors from the UK coming to Israel.
■ JUST ABOUT everyone who is anyone in the capital came to the Jerusalem Theater to join the board of directors and management of the Bank of Jerusalem in celebrating its 50th anniversary. Seen at the reception, which allowed for a little mingling prior to the formalities, were central bank Gov. Karnit Flug; David Zaken, supervisor of banks; former justice minister Prof.
Yaakov Neeman; National Insurance Institute director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; and of course, the people most closely associated with the bank, such as controlling shareholder Zalman Shoval and his wife, Kena; Ze’ev Guttman, chairman of the board of directors; and Uriel Paz, the bank’s CEO.
Many of the bank’s clients, some of whom have been there since the very beginning, were also present. Had the celebration been held during Succot when the bank hosts its annual breakfast, there would have been many more overseas clients present, because many of them spend the holiday here in Israel.
The bank, which started out specializing in mortgages, flourished with the development of real estate, retailing and capital markets, but really broadened the scope of its activities in the 1990s after receiving a license to operate as a commercial bank.
The Bank of Jerusalem has expanded considerably over the past three years, incorporating many new technologies into its customer service. Responding to the public’s call for social justice in 2011, the bank paid out greater interest on term deposit accounts than most of its competitors.
The zig-zagging by different governments as well as the central bank from time to time put a strain on the Bank of Jerusalem, as well as its rivals, Shoval acknowledged, but in his eyes the bank has a mission of responsibility towards the public, and “we will continue to operate fairly and transparently.”
Paz commented that the Bank of Jerusalem is proof that when management and staff work together as a team, the results are supremely positive. Noting the bank title bears the name of the city in which it is headquartered, and in which it has earned a great deal of honor and witnessed a great deal of history, Barkat declared that he wanted to see the bank partner in the growth of the city.
■ THE APPOINTMENTS Committee for judges may have wanted to make a special gesture to President Shimon Peres, with regard to his final swearing-in ceremony for new justices last Wednesday.
Of the 23 judges and registrars who will take their places in magistrates’ and district courts across the country, 15 are women. Peres has been a consistent champion of women’s rights and women’s entitlement to education and equal professional opportunities, as well as leadership roles in every field.
■ PERES IS gearing up to transfer his office from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa.
He’s also getting to know his new neighbors.
Last week, he stopped off at I24 News for an in-depth interview and took a tour of the studios at the Jaffa Port.
Some people mistakenly believe that I24 stands for Israel 24, since the round-theclock broadcasts are generated from here.
Actually, it stands for a number of “I” words: namely international, information, independence, individualism, innovation and interactivity.
The owner is French-Moroccan telecommunications billionaire Patrick Drahi, who has visited Peres at the President’s Residence on several occasions. Drahi is also the owner of the HOT cable and TV company.
■ INTRODUCING ARGENTINA’S Mayor Mauricio Macri at a breakfast at the King David Hotel, hosted in his honor by the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, ICFR executive director Laurence Weinbaum mentioned that it was rare for the WJC and the ICFR to host mayors. The last mayor to have been hosted was that of Warsaw, the late Lech Kaczynski, who a month later, in October 2005, was elected president of Poland.
“That’s why I accepted your invitation,” replied Macri, who came to Israel for the Conference of Mayors, and is running for president of Argentina in the 2015 elections.
■ POPULAR SPEAKER, author and filmmaker Rabbi Berel Wein will launch his new book Teach Them Diligently: The Personal Story of a Community Rabbi at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue on Tuesday evening, June 24. The event will be jointly presented by the Destiny Foundation and Maggid Books.
■ IT’S NICE to have a mayor as a tour guide. Jerusalem Mayor Barkat took on the extra role this week, when he took 40 mayors from abroad who were attending the 29th Conference of Mayors on a nighttime tour of the capital, with the city’s Light Festival being the piece de resistance.
The group included the mayors of Beijing, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Nice and Panama City, among others. The main theme of the conference was urban innovation, with the focal issues being energy efficiency, water management and cyber security.
The conference was co-hosted by the Foreign Ministry, the American Council for World Jewry and the Union of Local Authorities.
■ PEOPLE OF many nationalities have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, but until last week, there had never been anyone from Peru. The first Peruvian to be recognized is Jose Maria Barreto; unfortunately, the recognition is posthumous.
Barreto served as a diplomat in Switzerland and used his position in an attempt to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. A ceremony honoring him will be held at an as-yet-unannounced date.
By 1938, the Peruvian government had given instructions to all of its consulates in Europe not to issue visas to foreign immigrants, with an emphasis on barring Jews in particular. Abraham Silberschein, the head of RELICO, a Jewish relief organization in Switzerland funded by the World Jewish Congress, originally approached Barreto, the consul-general of Peru in Geneva, asking him to issue Peruvian passports for Jews under German occupation.
In summer 1943, the Swiss police asked for clarification from the Peruvian Embassy regarding the issuing of a Peruvian passport to a German Jew by the name of Gunther Frank. Barreto responded in a letter to the Peruvian ambassador that he had issued 27 passports to 58 Jews (including 14 children) at the request of the “Intellectual Refugee Protection Committee,” in order to save the lives of people in German concentration camps.
After the incident came to the attention of the Peruvian foreign minister, the ministry ordered the cancellation of the passports and the closure of the Peruvian consulate in Geneva. In addition, Barreto was fired from his position and dismissed from Peru’s Foreign Service.
In a letter written on August 27, 1943, Silberschein described Barreto’s noble efforts: “Mr. Barreto, deeply moved by the suffering of millions of human beings in the occupied countries, wished to participate in helping to alleviate the plight of these innocent people, and decided to agree and provide us with a certain number of passports so that we could send them to different persons in the countries under German control. Barreto was convinced that by this highly humane deed, he would save a number of people” – and he succeeded.
■ IN ADDITION to handing out its annual journalism prizes for excellence in reporting on Diaspora Jewry, the B’nai B’rith World Center will this year present a special citation to Israeli musician and composer Nurit Hirsh, in recognition of her contribution to fostering Israeli-Diaspora relations through her works, which are sung throughout the Jewish world. The presentation will be made at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on Sunday, June 29.