Mexico's ambassador to Israel Frederico Salas Lotfe has characterized the state
visit to Mexico by President Shimon Peres as “excellent.”
Lotfe, who was
in Mexico throughout the visit and attended all of the president’s official
engagements, told The Jerusalem Post while flying from Guadalajara, Mexico’s
second largest city, to New York to take a connecting flight to Israel, that the
visit had set a springboard for enhanced bilateral relations in many fields –
especially economic cooperation.
The highlight of the visit, said Lotfe,
was that it created an atmosphere of goodwill between the presidents of the two
countries, and also strengthened the bonds of the Mexican Jewish community
leadership with Israel.
Lotfe saw great significance in future economic
relations between Mexico and Israel, through the links created between the
members of Israel’s business delegation that accompanied Peres, and their
Mexican counterparts. It was a very positive step, he said, because it will lead
to new joint ventures.
As to Israel’s participation in the Guadalajara
International Book Fair, this was important not only for Mexico, said Lotfe, but
for the whole Spanish-speaking world – which can now perceive Israel in a
different and positive light. People who were previously unaware of Israel’s
contribution to culture and the arts, he said, will now perceive Israel
While members of Mexico’s business community do speak
English, it is difficult to get along in the country without Spanish – because
so few people beyond hotel front desks speak English. Anyone who starts Spanish
courses for Israel’s business community should be able to rake in a
Peres’s romance with Latin America is not confined to Mexico
alone. In 2009, he visited Brazil and Argentina, and next week he will be host
Otto Perez Molina, the president of Guatemala.
■ PERES, WHO was
“farewelled” at a military air base at Guadalajara by a mariachi band and a
group of flamenco dancers, returned to Israel on Monday afternoon after a week
abroad. He spent the first day away in New York, ostensibly to present Elie
Wiesel with the Presidential Medal of Distinction, but also took the opportunity
to meet with New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, with whom he was very
favorably impressed and who he described as “a wonderful man.”
met with Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor and Israel Consul-General in
New York Ido Aharoni, before flying to Mexico City. (There are no direct flights
between Israel and Mexico.) On the way there and back, in a plane put at his
disposal by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Peres made a point of walking
through the section in which the media entourage from Israel was sitting, and
greeting each person. On the way back to New York, he was understandably eager
to get the journalists’ impressions of the visit, and to discover whether it had
been tiring for them.
When asked whether it was tiring for him, Peres
replied that he didn’t have time to be tired.
■ AT ONE of the business
meetings in Mexico, Peres defended the tycoons, who he said are constantly
criticized by the media. Without such magnates, he argued, there would be fewer
jobs and less economically disadvantaged people would be able to extricate
themselves from poverty.
He did not add that there would also be far
fewer scholarships for people who cannot afford to pay for university
Among the tycoons who support educational projects is shopping
mall developer David Azrieli, who at a festive ceremony last month at the Rabin
Center in Tel Aviv presented scholarships to 30 doctoral and post-doctoral
In his address, Azrieli stressed the importance of maintaining
good minds in Israel and preventing brain drain, by creating better
opportunities for employment. This is the seventh year that the Azrieli
Foundation has distributed such scholarships. Altogether, it has contributed
some NIS 30 million – enabling 100 students to continue their research.
SPECULATION ABOUT the president’s health followed the cancellation of his
appearance at a business meeting at the Soumaya Museum owned by billionaire
Carlos Slim, which he built in memory of his wife.
All fears proved to be
groundless a few hours later, when at a state dinner hosted in his honor by
Nieto, Peres discarded his prepared five-minute speech in Hebrew, saying that
most of the people in the room understood English, and then proceeded to give a
45-minute address in English, touching on commonalities between Israel and
Mexico, plus many of the subjects that are dear to his heart.
delivered the address off the top of his head, in a fluid manner that had even
the cynics among the Israeli journalists gasping with pride and
■ THE PRIDE also extended to the president’s spokeswoman
Ayelet Frish, who had managed to secure invitations for the 17 journalists,
other than the camera and sound crews, which comprised the Israeli media
delegation. While it is customary all over the world to invite the most senior
journalists accompanying a head of state to the state dinner in his or her
honor, it is definitely unusual to invite the whole caboodle.
somehow managed to sidestep protocol, and have all 17 invited.
problem was that her counterpart had not been informed.
were always shuttled to places ahead of Peres. When they arrived at the dinner
venue in the magnificent National Palace in Constitution Square, which is the
seat of Mexico’s federal executive, they were told by Frish’s counterpart that
they could sit and listen to the speeches, after which they would be taken to
another room together with Mexican journalists, and would be served the same
menu. When the Israeli journalists demurred and said Frish had told them they
were invited to the state dinner, they were told in no uncertain terms that it
has never happened before, it would not happen now, and it will not happen in
the future. Frish was not the one who made the rules, the Mexican spokeswoman
Frish, with her willowy figure, looks like a fashion model –
but she’s a lioness of a fighter. When she learned that her group of journalists
had been sidelined, she became furious to the extent that it almost led to a
diplomatic incident. She emerged victorious.
The journalists were given
seats at various tables, and all but hailed Frish as their Jewish Joan of
■ FRISH IS also angry with those journalists who are publishing
material to the effect that Peres is plotting to get back into the political
arena, or alternately contriving to have the law relating to the president
reversed to what it was previously – namely, permitting the president to serve
two fiveyear terms. The latter would give Peres another three years in office,
but according to Frish, Peres is not interested in going back to politics, nor
does he want to remain in office. He can do just as much good at the Peres
Center for Peace, said Frish to all and sundry in Mexico.
likewise publicly indicated his willingness to step aside and make room for
■ APROPOS THE Peres Center for Peace, its director-general
Ido Sharir, who was previously the president’s chief of staff, was in Mexico for
Peres’s visit, but was not part of his entourage, and therefore took a
commercial flight from Mexico City to Guadalajara last Friday.
who had booked a morning flight, had to hang around Mexico City Airport for most
of the day, because all flights to Guadalajara had been overbooked. He finally
managed to get a seat on the third flight along with several members of the
Jewish community, who in addition to having invitations to the book fair, had
also been invited to a Shabbat dinner with Peres at the Westin hotel. The dinner
had originally been scheduled for 60 people, but as more and more people
associated with organizing Israel’s participation in the book fair clamored for
dinner invitations, the number grew to close to 200.
Only two of the
journalists traveling with Peres are religiously observant. The Israel Embassy
in Mexico arranged for kosher food to be sent to them daily, and Frish yet again
went to bat for the media, insisting on their being invited to the
The journalists had been accommodated at the Crowne Plaza hotel,
which is a 45-minute walk from the Westin. When locals and their colleagues
marveled that they had undertaken what was considered by others to be a
strenuous walk, Ma’ariv’s Ze’ev Kam replied airily, “We’re Jerusalemites. We’re
used to walking long distances for Shabbat dinners.”
There was a minor
snag. The two journalists together with other visitors who observe Shabbat had
thought to take the stairs to the second floor of the hotel where the dinner was
being held, but Mexican security personnel would not allow them past the first
floor. They all had to go downstairs again, and were nonplussed about how to get
to their destination – when someone had the bright idea that if a non-Jew
pressed the button in the elevator, it would be halachically acceptable for them
to get to the dinner that way.
A Spanish-speaking, non-religious Israeli,
overhearing the conversation, took the initiative, approached a bellboy and
asked him to get inside the elevator and press button 2.
looked a little incredulous, but did as he was asked – and thus yet another
religious problem was solved.
Kiddush was recited by Mexican
multimillionaire industrialist and philanthropist Marcos Katz, who was one of
the key sponsors of the Israeli pavilion, and has grandchildren and
great-grandchildren living in Jerusalem.
■ IF ALL the journalists in the
delegation had been invited to the Shabbat dinner, there would have been no
reason to ask anyone to press the button in the elevator.
CEO of Radio Ashams, is well acquainted with Jewish customs and traditions, and
integrated so well with his Jewish colleagues that a stranger would not have
realized that he is Arab.
He speaks Hebrew without a trace of an Arab
accent, and is well-versed in all things Israeli.
Karram is a gentleman
in the European sense of the word, and for that matter even looks European. He
is also a staunch defender of Arab rights, and while he acknowledges that United
Arab List-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi is a brilliant politician, it annoys him that the
Israeli media has decided Tibi is the essential spokesman for Israel’s 1.6
“We’ve got lots of other bright and knowledgeable
spokespeople,” he says.
It was heartwarming to see how smoothly Karram
fitted in with the rest of the group, especially bearing in mind the humiliation
suffered in February 2004 by senior Arab journalist Lutfy Mashour, who had been
scheduled to join the group of journalists traveling with president Moshe Katsav
to France. It was the first state visit to France by a president of Israel in 16
years, and everyone was excited.
Mashour, who was the editor-in-chief of
the Nazareth-based weekly Al-Sinnara, met up with the rest of the group at
Ben-Gurion Airport and stood in line with them for the usual security check.
People traveling with the president usually get a security clearance, without
having to go through all the hassles to which other passengers are subjected.
All the other journalists were waved through, but Mashour was taken aside, asked
many probing questions and his luggage was stringently searched. Had he been
traveling alone, this might not have bothered him. But because he was part of
the president’s entourage, and the only member pulled out of line, he decided
that his readers could live without a report on the presidential visit to
The experience had been humiliating both for him and for Katsav,
who had an excellent relationship with the Arab community and who later called
Mashour and apologized – although Katsav himself had not been at fault. Any
journalist who had been on that trip with Katsav was delighted to see that
Karram was on board with Peres. This time the journalists checked in
independently, but their luggage had been marked by members of the president’s
staff, and passed through without having to go through the X-ray
If Karram was subjected to additional scrutiny, he didn’t say
so. A gold mine of information on all things Arab, he was quizzed by colleagues
during bus rides from one presidential event to another, and it was a great
■ ALL OF the journalists, including the technicians
as well as members of the Israeli business delegation, were invited for dinner
to the palatial home of Mexico City textile and real estate tycoon Isaac Assa
and his wife, Alice, where the large crystal chandeliers, marble floors and
sweeping staircase exuded luxury. Some of the Mexican guests had sent exquisite,
eye-catching floral arrangements, which were strategically placed on the marble
stairs to prevent guests from entering the family’s private domain, while
simultaneously adding to the beauty of the house.
The superbly presented
kosher dinner was held on the evening prior to the official start of Peres’s
visit. At the end of the evening, each guest received a large bottle of
boxpacked, top-quality tequila. A card attached to the box read: “Home is where
love resides, memories are created, friends and family always belong and
laughter never ends.
Thank you for joining us this evening. It was an
honor to have such distinguished guests.”
■ AMONG THE distinguished
guests was Israel’s Ambassador to Mexico Rodica Radian Gordon, who said that for
her, this was a really special occasion – because she had been a diplomatic
cadet during the period when Peres served as foreign minister. She was now
delighted to be the Israel ambassador who welcomed him to Mexico.
IN the week at the huge Jewish country club in Mexico City, Peres was welcomed
by more than 1,000 people who had been waiting for him in great anticipation,
especially after it was announced that he was stuck in traffic and would be 20
minutes late. When Peres eventually arrived, the applause was
The entertainment line-up included Achinoam Nini, who paid
tribute to Arik Einstein and sang one of his songs, Zeh Hastav (This is the
Autumn). Nini, using her overseas stage name of Noa, also participated in the
Israeli cultural happening in association with the International Book Fair in
Guadalajara, where visitors got a taste of Israeli literature, cuisine, music,
dance, arts and crafts, academia and fashion.
Leah Perez, head of the
Fashion Design Department at Shenkar College, could be seen flitting around at
the opening, ensuring that the striking gowns designed by Shenkar students and
graduates – including Avshalom Rave, Mark Goldenberg, Lina Abas, Elinor Zino,
Karin Liecvich, Gustavo Matias Franco, Adi Hakimian, Liat Baruch, Chen Arie
Nachman, Ariel Taub, Aya Fleet and Liora Taragon – were all properly
■ THERE’S BEEN a glut of diplomatic candlelighting this
Hanukka. It comes as no surprise that US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who observes
the Jewish holidays, would be lighting candles with his wife, Julie, and their
Similarly, British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who is also
Jewish, has in all probability been lighting Hanukka candles with his wife,
Celia, and their two Sabra daughters – though the little girls are still too
young to appreciate the significance of the holiday. However, this year, Gould
had a very special guest for one of his candlelighting evenings: Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi David Lau. Although functions at the British Residence often include a
kosher table, this time the entire catering was not only kosher, but
■ ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR-designate Andrea Pasternac, who is due to
present her credentials in two weeks’ time, celebrated her country’s National
Day with a Hanukka candlelighting ceremony and a promotion of Romanian wines at
the Tel Aviv Museum, which is a popular venue for diplomatic events. The
government was represented by Health Minister Yael German.
ambassadors to Israel tend to be very closely involved with the country’s large
and close-knit Romanian community.
Pasternac, who previously served in
Israel in another diplomatic capacity and who speaks fluent Hebrew, is no
exception, and had known many of the guests in the huge crowd for
■ PHILIPPINES AMBASSADOR Generoso D. G. Calonge has developed a
very special relationship with ZAKA, the search and rescue organization whose
initial raison d’etre was to help identify the remains of victims of terror
attacks and road accidents, but has branched out into wider aspects of
humanitarian service. Calonge joined members of the ZAKA International
delegation, which recently returned from a humanitarian mission in the
Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, in the traditional Hanukka
ceremony, lighting candles together with ZAKA chairman and founder Yehuda Meshi-
Zahav at organizational headquarters in Jerusalem.
DISABILITIES Day this year fell during the Hanukka festival period, adding an
extra dimension to the candlelighting.
South African Ambassador Sisa
Ngmonbane lit a Hanukka candle of hope at Beit Issie Shapiro with Yoav, a child
with intellectual disabilities. The event afforded him the opportunity to see
the work being done for adults and children with physical and/or mental
The ambassador had warm praise for the Israeli therapeutic
innovation he saw. “Beit Issie Shapiro represents the thing that we cherish most
in South Africa: Ubuntu, an ancient African philosophy meaning human kindness,
interconnectedness and collective responsibility – ‘I am because you are.’ Beit
Issie Shapiro encompasses this value,” said Ngmonbane.
■ IRISH AMBASSADOR
Eamonn McKee and his wife, Mary, got together with Irish expats at the Dublin
Irish Pub in Herzliya Pituah for the annual Hanukka bash of the Ireland-Israel
For IIFL chairman Malcolm Gafson and his wife, Leah,
it was a double celebration – in that they were marking their 35th wedding
anniversary. The Gafsons were married on the fifth night of Hanukka.
the McKees, experiencing their first Hanukka in Israel, the evening’s
entertainment – which could be described as either a clash or a fusion of
cultures – was something of an eye-opener. Belly dancer Abigail Klein exuded a
sense of the exotic, whereas Yair Werdiger, who heads Irish Dance Israel, got
everyone present into foot-stomping mode. Refreshments also held an element of
fusion – jelly doughnuts washed down with Guiness.
The McKees went home
with a new acquisition – a hanukkia presented to them by the Gafsons. It has
become a tradition for the IIFL to present every Irish ambassador to Israel with
a hanukkia as a keepsake.
Also present at the event was Gershon Kedar,
senior policy adviser to Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev
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