Preparing for the jubilee
■ German Chancellor Angela Merkel had no time to do any shopping during her brief visit to Israel this week, but she did have souvenirs of the visit.
Aside from the Presidential Medal of Distinction awarded to her by President Shimon Peres, she also received a bathrobe from the King David Hotel with her name embroidered on it.
All over the world, it’s not unusual for luxury hotels to present robes to VIP guests, but very few guests are held in sufficient esteem to receive one bearing their name. It should be remembered that the Federmann family, which controls the Dan Hotels chain of which the King David is the flagship, is of German background and has been active in promoting ties between Israel and Germany.
On the day prior to Merkel’s visit, workmen were busy putting up a large security tent outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. While it is not uncommon for world leaders visiting Israel to meet the prime minister at his residence, there was special meaning in Merkel’s visit – in that the house was designed by German- Jewish architect Richard Kaufman, who together with fellow exponent of the Bauhaus school of architecture Erich Mendelsohn left a lasting legacy in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where their architectural imprint is still visible.
Within the framework of her visit to Israel, Merkel together with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu unveiled the logo for the 50th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.
Part of the year-long activities will include lectures about the Bauhaus influence on Israeli architecture.
■ TWO OF the most vocal of American Jewish leaders are Abe Foxman, 73, the longtime national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who has announced that he will be stepping down in 2015; and Malcolm Hoenlein, 70, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Shortly before boarding a plane last Saturday night to return to the US following the Conference’s annual mission to Israel, Hoenlein was interviewed at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue by reporters Gil Hoffman of The Jerusalem Post and Haviv Rettig Gur of The Times of Israel. Hoffman, noting Foxman’s announcement and the fact that Hoenlein has also been at the forefront of Jewish causes for a very long time, asked what will happen when both leave the stage.
Who will speak for American Jewry? Who will speak for world Jewry? Hoenlein noted that he, Foxman and others had replaced a previous generation of leaders, but acknowledged that the American Jewish scene is changing, and that a lot of American Jewish organizations will have to reinvent themselves and reassess where they’re going. “We have to do a serious reassessment and see how to revamp and revive,” he said.
Unlike some others, Hoenlein was not pessimistic about the future of American Jewry.
There are a tremendous number of young people who are willing to give up better-paying jobs and come to work for American Jewish organizations, he said.
The hour-long, wide-ranging interview, with Hoffman and Rettig Gur taking turns to ask questions, was too short for many in the audience –as both the interviewers and the interviewee were rivetingly articulate.
One of the more important statements made by Hoenlein with regard to an attempt to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, as well as the recent derogatory characterization by elements in Israel of the efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve a Israeli- Palestinian peace agreement, was: “We have to be c a r e f u l how we characterize people.
We have to call them out when they’re wrong, but we can’t allow it to become a partisan issue.”
Hoenlein was also questioned about Iran, and warned that Iran is buying time while building up its nuclear and military capacity. “We need more sanctions, not less,” he said.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE affairs of state, Israel’s ministers and parliamentarians still manage to find time to catch up with entertainment and other extracurricular pursuits.
For instance, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is a great fan of Yiddish theater, and last Saturday night was seen in the audience at the Arison Auditorium in Tel Aviv, where Yaakov Bodo and Dov Glickman were starring in the Yiddishpiel production of Dzigan and Shumacher, based on the story of the two much-loved comedians who had survived the Holocaust and come from their native Poland to Israel. It transpired that Ya’alon’s mother, who was also a Polish Holocaust survivor, and his Ukrainian-born father spoke Yiddish to each other while Ya’alon was growing up. When they realized that he could understand what they were talking about, they switched to Russian.
Ya’alon is not the only minister who enjoys Yiddish theater; another is Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. Incidentally, the heavily guarded Ya’alon arrived without prior notification, taking his seat like any regular member of the audience.
■ BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew Gould has asked for and received an extension of his term, and barring any unforeseen recall or transfer to another posting, will remain in Israel with his wife Celia and their two Sabra daughters until September 2015.
Gould and Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, who is a former editor of the Post and The Jerusalem Report, were the guest speakers at the Balfour Dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton hosted by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association. Horovitz was asked by someone at his table whether he was a Zionist, and said that he could not compete with the woman who had posed the question because she sends Israeli cornflakes to her daughter in London.
In a more serious vein, Horovitz spoke of the need to facilitate more towards grassroots interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. There was interaction 20 years ago, he said, but there is very little now. “We want a real accord with the Palestinians,” he said, “but not one that threatens the existence of Israel.” Horovitz also made the point that people talk too much about the challenges facing Israel, and not enough about the achievements.
In Israel since 1983, the former Londoner has not lost his British accent, but his personal history is typical of the multinational roots of many Jews.
His grandfather fought for Germany in World War I, his father fought for Britain in World War II and his two sons are currently in combat units in the IDF.
He predicted that his daughter, who is still at school, will eventually be the chief of general staff.
Even though he was joking, that is no longer an impossible dream. Gould spoke of the commonalities between Britain and Israel, and several times reiterated Britain’s “unwavering, non-negotiable support” for Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist, and Britain’s “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.” He also said Britain understands the meaning of a targeted terrorist campaign, and believes Israel is Britain’s strategic friend and partner. He pledged that Britain will stand by Israel whenever its peace, stability and existence are under threat.
Iran should know that Britain will never countenance their possession of nuclear weapons, Gould said, adding, “We understand why Iran is a fundamental concern to Israel; it’s a fundamental concern to us as well.”
With regard to the peace process with the Palestinians, Gould said: “We believe that peace is not only possible, but urgent. The creation of a Palestinian state is essential for the future.” At the same time, he continued, Britain understands that Israel has real and legitimate security concerns.
The ambassador also took pains to stress, as he often does, that the British government is firmly against boycotts of Israel, and that for all the talk, cooperation is thriving.
Among those attending the dinner was Ruth Dayan, who will celebrate her 97th birthday next month but looks nowhere near her age. Dayan lived in England from the age of two to 10, and her younger sister, Reuma Weizman, the widow of Israel’s seventh president, was born in England.
Dayan told people sitting at her table that while in London, she was the only Palestinian child in her school, “and no one there knew where Palestine was.”
■ “YOU SEE, the Netherlands is not boycotting Israel,” Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp whispered to a journalist this week, when he accompanied international football legend Johan Cruyff to a meeting with President Peres.
Veldkamp was summoned to the Foreign Ministry last month to clarify his country’s position on divestment from Israeli banks. Cruyff, whose foundation has inaugurated some 190 sports fields in 22 countries, including Israel, had come to tell Peres that he was inaugurating another in Acre in September.
Members of the president’s staff meet so many famous personalities that they have become blasé about the visiting dignitaries and celebrities.
But they are not entirely immune – there was a buzz of excitement last Sunday morning prior to Cruyff’s arrival, and one staff member, a dedicated football fan, declared: “The man’s a genius – a living legend.” Later, following the meeting, staff, along with journalists and photographers who had covered the event, jostled with each other to be photographed with Cruyff.
■ ONE OF Israel’s key proponents for the development of science and technology is President Peres, who was one of Israel’s early advocates for nanotechnology and who this week, during a visit to Bar-Ilan University, was thrilled to see the breakthrough in this field achieved by BIU researchers.
At BIU’s Laboratory for Bio-Design, Peres met Dr. Ido Bachelet, who enthused about the benefits to nanotechnology by students of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering, who are all studying together and are engaged in multidisciplinary research. Bachelet showed Peres an example of robotics made from molecular DNA, which can help epileptics, check when people with diabetes need insulin and how much, identify 12 types of cancer and kill cancer cells without affecting healthy cells.
Bachelet has given three demonstrations to the US Food and Drug Administration, and is hoping to be able to start clinical tests within a year. Initially the FDA was incredulous, he said, but after seeing proof of what robotics can do, asked Bachelet to focus on illnesses which are thus far incurable, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.
Bachelet has many interests related to nanotechnology, including music, but what he is currently advocating is that all students from eighth grade onward study nanotechnology and biology, so they can begin working on robotics at an early age. In fact, he has already started such classes on a small scale.
During the visit, BIU president Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz recalled that in his previous capacity as science and technology minister, he accompanied Peres three years ago on a visit to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva. While they were being shown around, the head of CERN took Herschkowitz aside and told him that CERN had been visited by many politicians and statesmen, but none asked questions as intelligent as Peres. Based on the nature of the president’s questions, the CERN executive wanted to know what degrees he held in physics, and was more than a little surprised when the answer was “none.”
■ ONE CANNOT help but wonder whether the Jerusalem Municipality’s city planning and building committee has any kind of coordination with the people at the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). One of the key duties of the Shin Bet is to protect the prime minister and members of his family.
The size of the security detail which gathers each morning outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, and accompanies him day and night on his various engagements, is incredibly large and conscientious. It frequently curtains off the two streets that intersect on the corner of the residence, in order to conduct security maneuvers out of sight of the public eye.
However, directly opposite the Prime Minister’s Residence are two five-story apartment blocks, whose construction is in the process of completion and whose upper floors overlook both streets and the open areas behind the fence surrounding the residence. This, of course, deprives the prime minister’s family of a major degree of privacy, and also forces either constant closure of curtains or installation of windows with a one-way view, which can never be opened for fear that neighbors can actually see what’s going on in the house.
To make matters worse, the owner of the property next door to the residence is just one step away from constructing over and around the historic Schocken House, which for many years served as the Rubin Academy of Music and after that as a branch of the Shuvu education network. The municipality has put up notices detailing the developer’s plans for a six-story structure, which it must do in case neighbors raise objections. Neighbors did raise objections in the past, but these were eventually thrown out of court.
Sometimes organized objections are successful, but most of the time they are not – as in the case of the construction of a hotel on Emek Refaim Street.
People in the German Colony strenuously objected to such a cardinal change in the character of their neighborhood, but the hotel is going up anyway.
Similarly, there were many objections to the extension of the light rail, which will pass through Kiryat Moshe and Givat Shaul as far as the entrance to Har Nof. The protests fell on deaf ears, and the light rail extension is going ahead.
The Prime Minister’s Residence, which is officially known as Beit Aghion in respect to its original owner, is nearly 80 years old, and was designed by architect Kaufman. The property was purchased by the Israeli government in 1952, for the purpose of making it the official residence of the Foreign Ministry.
Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, following his election the first time around, moved in there in 1974 because his wife Lea refused to live in the Ramban Street residence of previous prime ministers. That house had originally been the home of Julius and Nechama Jacobs, but had been leased to the Jewish Agency by the Jacobs family after Julius was killed in 1947, in a skirmish between the Arabs and the British. The house was in a sorry state of disrepair, and not really fit for a prime minister.
The house in which the prime minister lives now is not exactly to his liking, but it certainly has historic value. However, it will soon be dwarfed on all sides.
According to articles in The- Marker as well as in other publications, the Jerusalem Municipality recently passed an updated Tama 38 plan. The original Tama 38 is a national plan which calls for all buildings constructed prior to 1980 to be fortified against earthquakes.
Developers who are engaged in strengthening the foundations of buildings to make them earthquake-resistant can add an additional floor to the building, without paying improvement tax. The idea behind the plan is for apartment owners to give developers the roof rights, in return for which they not only get the strengthening of foundations but also a 25-sq.m.
increase in the size of their apartments.
When weighing the costs, developers decided that this scheme was not profitable and opted for the Tama 38a plan, which allows them to completely demolish an existing building and put up a new, larger one in its stead. Thus, two other buildings adjacent to the building next door to the Prime Minister’s Residence are in line for being torn down and replaced by five-story structures.
Disagreement among the residents, the residents’ lawyer and the developer have held up this process with regard to one of the buildings, which is ironic since Hanan Rubin, who owns two apartments in that particular building, sits on the municipal council and is a member of the local planning and building committee. In the second building, the residents have not yet reached the point of having to deal in detail with the developer.
Once upon a time, no alteration whatsoever could be made to an apartment building if one of the owners objected.
With regard to Tama 38, the project can go ahead if 60 percent of residents agree. However, for 38a, namely demolition and new construction from scratch, which in Hebrew is known as pinui binui, 100% agreement is required.
There are many pitfalls, one of which not all lawyers care to tell their clients. The promise of a 25-sq.m. increase is a farce, because today balconies are included in the size of apartments.
This was not always the case, certainly with regard to buildings that went up 40 years ago or more. Thus, the registration of the apartment does not coincide with size of the floor space, for which owners of old apartments pay arnona (municipal tax). There are many other pitfalls, some of which are listed on the website of the Law Offices of Shoval-Yosha and appear in both Hebrew and English.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat made Taba 38 part of his election platform, and much of the bureaucratic red tape which impeded progress in the past has been removed, but apartment owners are becoming more wary of the consequences of what might prove to be a bad deal.
■ FOR MANY years now there has been talk of reforming the Israel Broadcasting Authority, drastically reducing its staff and cutting back on the perks of those employees who are highly paid. It should be noted that the bulk of the IBA staff earn less than their counterparts in commercial television.
For more than quarter of a century, there have been attempts by various communications ministers, Finance Ministry officials, and IBA chairmen and directors-general to reach agreements with the Histadrut labor federation and the Jerusalem Journalists Association.
There have been countless meetings that seemed to indicate that change was on the way, but in the end agreements fell by the wayside before they were actually signed.
Finally, under the previous Netanyahu administration, compromises were made and agreements were signed, and the much-vaunted reforms appeared to be in sight. But then a new government arose, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, once a star of the IBA’s Channel 1, froze the reform agreements. Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, for his part, decided that if his predecessor Moshe Kahlon could make the enormous changes he introduced to mobile phone communications, he too could leave his mark on the ministry – by closing down the existing public broadcasting structure, and setting up a new body in its place.
Understandably, there were objections from many quarters.
So in September 2013, Erdan set up a 10-member committee headed by Ram Landes, who owns the Koda production company, to spend three months looking into the matter and make recommendations.
Again there were objections, because Landes had a conflict of interest – in that his company could gain considerably from recommendations made by the committee, which includes among others Yair Aloni, a former IBA director- general, plus people who had been involved in the establishment of television channels 2 and 10.
Erdan ignored the objections.
The committee, which like most committees of this kind in Israel, took longer than the allotted three months to complete its deliberations, is in the process of winding up its investigations but has made no secret of the fact that it will recommend the dismantling of the current structure of the IBA, and its replacement with a new public broadcasting administration.
There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved, and here too, if implemented, the recommendations involve the loss of jobs for hundreds of people, though not necessarily under the same favorable terms as contained in the previous frozen agreement.
It’s possible that the government may change in the interim or that the cost factor in dismantling the IBA will be too high, and employees who are currently in limbo will receive yet another reprieve. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, Israel Radio journalists are shooting themselves in the foot and playing right into Erdan’s hands, by imposing sanctions that have resulted in severe program disruptions.
Erdan believes that public funds are being wasted in allowing the IBA to continue to operate under its current structure, but the journalists are complaining about low salaries and unsatisfactory working conditions.
French newscasts were curtailed for much of this week due to staff shortages. The department for French-language broadcasts lost its former head, Maurice Efergan, when he went to I24, and their youngest and newest recruit has accepted a temporary position with AFP. Two other people who were brought in left because they were not paid.