Economics and waste

Liberman took six aides to the US with him and Livni one. The cost of their airfares could have been saved had they all traveled on the prime minister’s plane.

September 30, 2014 22:49

Airplane (Generic). (photo credit: REUTERS)

With details on the national budget still murky, TheMarker reported this week that the round-trip flight to the US by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his delegation cost the Israeli taxpayer $1.4 million. Netanyahu flew in a privately commissioned El Al plane, which remained at his disposal for the flight from New York to Washington.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who also flew to New York, traveled several hours earlier on a scheduled El Al commercial flight – and because ministers enjoy the comforts of business flights, the cost for them was approximately $5,000 each, the report continued.

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Moreover, Liberman took six aides with him and Livni one. The cost of their airfares could have been saved had they all traveled on the prime minister’s plane.

Liberman and Livni are due back in Israel today, Netanyahu tomorrow. With some coordination, they could have saved several thousand dollars. And of course, ministers usually stay in the best hotels, which only serves to add fuel to the fire.

In addition, Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri paid a working visit to Canada, with the cost factor presumably in the same price range.

Considering that ministers are not traveling at their own expense, and that Israel’s economy is not in the best state, it wouldn’t have hurt them too much to sit in economy class, with perhaps a special arrangement with commercial airline companies that they be seated in the front row between economy and business where there is more room for them to stretch their legs. It would also indicate responsibility to the public if they paid for accompanying spouses and other family members out of their own pockets.

■ AT A recent meeting with the presidential press corps, President Reuven Rivlin was asked about the special plane being purchased for use by the president and prime minister. Who will get preference when both have to leave the country on the same date? Rivlin unhesitatingly replied that the work of the prime minister is more important than that of the president, and that he therefore would take a commercial flight – and leave Israel’s “Air Force One” for the prime minister.

■ ON THE first night of Hanukka, following the candle-lighting ceremony at his official residence, Rivlin will launch a project conceived by Rabbi Benny Lau, in which the aim is for the national Facebook and Twitter discussion to be the day’s verse from the Bible. Everyone will be free to interpret and discuss it from his own perspective – be it religious, ideological or simply at face value – but in essence, the whole country will be on the same page.

Lau came up with the prospect during a plane ride in which he was seated near the air hostesses and three young passengers who were talking about the latest developments in the Big Brother television series. It was impossible not to eavesdrop, but Lau felt like a total outsider because he doesn’t watch the show and didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. But it got him thinking about a common denominator: Why are Jews living in Israel? Because the Bible states it’s the Promised Land. Of course, not everyone is religious nor does everyone believe in the Bible from a religious or even historical point of view, but it is generally acknowledged as the handbook of the Jewish people.

Acutely aware of the diverse strains and streams within the Jewish people, Lau hit on the idea of the Bible as a vehicle for a “separate yet together” form of unity.

■ AT THE annual pre-Rosh Hashana presidential reception for the diplomatic community, Rivlin, in proposing the toast, said he hoped to see all the ambassadors again next year – unless, of course, some of them got promoted.

To which a voice from the crowd responded: “After Israel, there is no promotion.” Actually, there is: Several ambassadors who have served in Israel have been appointed foreign minister of their respective countries. Some have actually been recalled for precisely that reason.

■ RIVLIN MADE an excellent impression on congregants at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue and the Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue, which is five minutes’ walk from his official residence, when he attended Rosh Hashana services.

Accompanied by two of his grandchildren, the folksy Rivlin on Thursday shied away from pomp and ceremony, and at the Great Synagogue refused to sit in the seat reserved for presidents alongside the Ark, insisting on sitting with the congregation. There was also no doubt, said Great Synagogue vice president Zali Jaffe in a private conversation, that Rivlin is knowledgeable about Jewish tradition and thoroughly familiar with the prayer book.

Rabbi Avigdor Burstein of the Hazvi Yisrael congregation on Friday publicly praised Rivlin as a native son of Jerusalem, and said what a joy it was to have a president who knows how to pray. He also noted that Rivlin had prayed from a prayer book he had received for his bar mitzva, and wished him many more years in which to use it. When called to the Torah, Rivlin recited the blessings by heart and indeed, many of the prayers by heart as well.

Although he wears a suit when receiving guests at his residence, he came to both synagogues wearing an open-necked shirt without tie or jacket, and also schmoozed with congregants, many of whom not only shook his hand, but warmly embraced him.

In Rosh Hashana interviews with Dana Weiss of Channel 2 and Oshrat Kotler of Channel 10, Rivlin was asked about any improvement in relations with Netanyahu, who all but torpedoed his effort to be elected president. Rivlin replied: “I did not turn a new page with Mr. Netanyahu, I turned a new page with the prime minister.”

To a question as to whether he will continue the custom of his predecessor Shimon Peres and have regular dinners with Netanyahu, Rivlin replied: “Peres used to meet with his friends. I can assure you, I meet with mine.”

Nonetheless Rivlin made the point that there is a close and frequent working relationship between the president and prime minister.

Rivlin also said he was not bothered by Peres continuing to occupy center stage internationally and locally, wishing him well and saying he is in almost daily contact with him.

Just as Peres did not change his political views when he became president, Rivlin said that he did not change his – meaning he still does not accept the concept of a two-state solution, even though he personally has a 20-year relationship with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom he converses in both English and Arabic.

Rivlin’s greatest sacrifice to public office, both as Knesset speaker and president, is his inability to attend matches of his beloved Beitar Jerusalem football team held on Shabbat.

He hasn’t been to a match in 10 years, he said, but avidly follows Beitar’s progress on TV.

■ IN MOST media outlets, the editorial and advertising departments work entirely independently of each other, which is why on both radio and TV, the most incongruous commercials disrupt programs. Just before Rosh Hashana, for instance, the glorious rendition of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer by Angela Warnick Buchdahl, the Korean- American cantor and rabbi who sings the service at New York’s Central Synagogue, was interrupted by a commercial that was definitely undignified in both content and presentation. A little sensitivity wouldn’t go astray.

■ DURING HIS visit to the US last week, Peres was honored together with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt at a gala dinner in New York hosted by the Anti-Defamation League. Peres received the Distinguished Statesman Award and Schmidt the International Leadership Award.

Both awards were presented by outgoing long-term ADL national director Abraham H.

Foxman, who listed some of the impressive achievements of each man and noted that both are global standard-bearers whose leadership has changed the world for the better.

Peres, aware that Foxman is a child Holocaust survivor, reflected on the miracle of survival of the Jewish people despite anti-Semitism and persecution throughout the ages, while other great movements and civilizations have faded into the dust of history.

Back in Israel this week, Peres joined the efforts for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and together with Israeli supermodels Shiraz Tal and Shirley Bouganim, Israel Cancer Association director-general Miri Ziv, and Estee Lauder Israel CEO Itay Zamir bathed the Jaffa-based Peres Center for Peace in pink for the entire month of October. Other parts of Jaffa have also been bathed in pink, as have Jerusalem’s Bridge of Strings and Tower of David, and Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Towers. Tal and Bouganim, who are leading the current campaign, were not the only models present; there were several others, including Liraz Dror.

Peres called on all women to undergo breast examination, so that those who may unknowingly have cancer can nip the dreaded disease in the bud. Breast Cancer Awareness Month has generally been highlighted by wearing pink ribbons and selling “pink” T-shirts, mostly in white with a pink logo. This year, they also come in black and in a range of sizes large enough for men.

The Estee Lauder cosmetics and fragrance company has long been associated with breast cancer awareness and research. The pink ribbon was the brainchild of the late Evelyn Lauder, who overcame her own breast cancer but died of ovarian cancer in November 2011.

She was the wife of Leonard Lauder, the eldest of Estee and Joseph Lauder’s two sons, who is chairman emeritus of the Estee Lauder companies, and has continued his wife’s work in cancer awareness and research.

Leonard Lauder, when launching the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month, wears a lipstick pink tie and matching pocket square.

Peres, who prefers darker shades, wore a strawberry pink tie for the Israeli launch.

■ EVERY YEAR, orphaned children of deceased members of the IDF and other security branches who fell in the line of duty are given a group bar and bat mitzva celebration organized by the IDF’s Widows and Orphans Organization, together with the IDF’s Family and Perpetuation Branch and supported by other organizations and philanthropists.

Usually, the surviving parent is the mother, who may not always be in the financial position to foot the bill for a regular bar or bat mitzva celebration. But the IDF’s annual joint event more than makes up for what mothers may not be able to give their children.

The youngsters, together with their surviving parent and sometimes siblings as well, are brought to Jerusalem where they spend a day touring the sites, getting loads of gifts, food and entertainment, and having a good time. There is also the religious aspect, which takes place at the Western Wall – where the boys put on tefillin and the girls say prayers in the women’s section.

The day’s festivities usually culminate with a gala performance at the Jerusalem Theater, which is also attended by top brass from the army and police. This year, it was also attended by Rivlin.

In previous years, the day’s activities included a reception at the President’s Residence, but in the absence of that, Rivlin along with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz went to the Jerusalem Theater to address the youngsters and give a big hug to as many as he could. What was particularly poignant and painful this year was the inclusion of children whose fathers fell in Operation Protective Edge.

Ori Greenberg, who said at the funeral of his father Maj. Amotz Greenberg (res.), “Once you only seemed like Superman; now you are Superman”; and Neta Etzion, one of the five children of Ze’ev Etzion, the security chief of Kibbutz Nirim who was killed in a mortar attack, were warmly embraced by Rivlin, as were other children – some of whom were so young when their fathers were killed in action they have no memory of them. In his address, Rivlin made particular mention of Greenberg, who was posthumously promoted to Lt.-Col., and of Etzion.

Neta’s bat mitzva ceremony was originally supposed to have taken place at the kibbutz.

The invitations had been sent out, but the date coincided with the entry of ground forces into Gaza, and the celebration was therefore postponed. Ironically, her father was killed only a few hours before the ceasefire went into effect.

Unfortunately, this remains the story of Israel – a blend of joy and sorrow.

■ COMPETING WITH the prime minister on the one hand and performers at Beit Avi Chai’s liturgical festival on the other, was a somewhat daunting prospect for Rabbi Ari Berman – who delivered his annual Shabbat Shuva lecture at Jerusalem’s Yeshurun Synagogue on Monday. Berman also delivers the annual Shabbat Hagadol lecture at the same venue just before Passover, when he gets a huge crowd, despite the fact that he has no microphone.

This year’s address should have brought in more people because he was able to use a microphone on a weeknight, but it coincided not only with the liturgical festival next door, but also with Netanyahu’s address to the UN General Assembly. Nonetheless, there was a very good turnout at the synagogue, though not quite as large as anticipated.

Berman devoted much of his lecture to the religious divide between Jews and Muslims, and disclosed he had become much more sharply aware of this while studying for his doctorate at the Hebrew University – where he had stopped to look at an exhibition on east Jerusalem, and introduced himself to an Arab woman also viewing the exhibition. In the course of their conversation, the Arab woman said she was scared to walk in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, which amazed Berman, who is afraid to walk in the Muslim Quarter. When he asked her why she was afraid, the reply was because there are too many people walking around with guns.

The woman said she could understand this because Israelis are concerned about security; what she couldn’t understand was what it is that brings American, Russian and Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

■ NO ONE enjoys being rejected or ejected, and one particular rejection and one particular ejection over the past few days pose food for thought.

Muhammad Hajibrahim, coordinator of the multimedia department of the much-acclaimed Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, was invited to participate in the 2014 Malmo Arab Film Festival taking place this week in Sweden. Much as he would have loved to attend – especially as he had been scheduled to participate in one of the festival workshops, and also had a series of events lined up for him by Swedish partners of the Freedom Theater – he was unable to go because the Swedish Consulate-General rejected his visa application on the grounds that Hajibrahim is considered a “threat to public policy, internal security or public health.” Yet there is no talk of canceling the screening of the film he directed.

Hajibrahim is one of several Palestinian filmmakers who have been denied entry visas both to Israel and countries abroad.

Not only Palestinians are facing rejection in this part of the world. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who for many years has taken a pro-Palestinian stance in her writings, was ejected from a conference at Birzeit University, though she has visited the university many times and reported on previous conferences. But this time it was different: Hass was ejected on the grounds she is both Jewish and Israeli – factors she has never denied.

Apparently, there is a regulation that students of the university should have a safe space free of Israelis and Jews. Hass had been unaware of such a regulation and wrote she would not have attended, had she known she was unwelcome. She understood the emotional need of Palestinians to create a safe space that is off-limits to citizens of the state which denies them their rights and has been robbing them of their land, Hass continued. Meanwhile, the university administration has denied that Hass’s attendance was problematic, saying it distinguishes between the friends and enemies of the Palestinian people.

■ IN A remarkable case of slam-dunk coincidence, Euroleague basketball champions Maccabi Tel Aviv will next week open their US Euroleague Tour against the team of their former coach David Blatt, in his first game as coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

The drama of the event will be heightened by LeBron James, for whom this will be his first return game back in a Cleveland Cavs uniform.

Blatt commented that he could not think of a better scripted story in this new chapter of his life than a friendly game against his Maccabi Tel Aviv family, which he led to Euroleague victory last June. Even though Peres, who was still president at the time, asked him to remain in Israel, Blatt opted to return to the US and become the first Euroleague coach to move to the NBA. In the same week, LeBron James announced his return to the same team.

Blatt is unlikely to fade from Israeli consciousness; he is supplementing his income by being the presenter for Dove men’s hair care products, in a commercial frequently featured on Israeli TV screens.

Maccabi’s international tour began on Friday, September 26 against South America’s Liga de las Americas champions, Flamengo, in the 2014 FIBA Intercontinental Cup in Rio de Janeiro. The game against the Cavaliers is scheduled for October 5, and will be followed by a game against the Brooklyn Nets on October 7.

■ HAIFA READER Marion Gold took yours truly to task for having erroneously written in a previous column that there is not one woman hospital director in Israel.

Gold pointed out that “not only is Dr.

Chen Shapira the very successful director- general of the Carmel Government Hospital in Haifa, but she was also elected by Israel’s Forbes magazine as one of the 50 strongest women in Israel.” Apologies are due to Dr. Shapira for having overlooked her accomplishment, as well as to Prof.

Orna Blondheim, director-general of Afula’s Emek Medical Center; and Dr. Osnat Levzion Korach, director-general of Hadassah University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus.

■ IN THEIR meetings with world leaders, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder and Latin American Jewish Congress president Jack Terpins have brought some valuable gifts with them. When they led a delegation of 40 international Jewish leaders to a meeting with Pope Francis at the Santa Marta guesthouse in Vatican City just ahead of the Jewish New Year, among the gifts they brought was the most traditional of Jewish presents, and something the pope could really enjoy: a honey cake.

The discussion was not limited to increased incidents of anti-Semitism throughout the world, but also included the mass slaughter and persecution of Christians in the Middle East. “Just as you Jews suffered in the past,” the pope told the delegation, “Christians today are suffering in many parts of the world.”

■ JEWS WERE scattered in communities large and small throughout prewar Poland. One of the smaller communities was Rajgrod in the north, which like several other devastated Jewish communities has been commemorated by a monument erected in partnership with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.

What was once the Jewish cemetery in Rajgrod is now covered in forest but descendants of the area’s Jews, in a desire to commemorate the community that once was, last month dedicated a monument on the site – at the initiative of Avi Tzur, who lives in Israel though his family initially migrated to Brazil.

Karen Kaplan, an American descendant of the Rajgrod community, published a book about the descendants and also helped raise funds for the monument, which was designed and fashioned by Chen Winkler in Netanya, then shipped from Ashdod to Gdansk, from where it was taken to the cemetery site 200 km. away and reassembled on-site by local workmen. The project took two years to complete. (Solomon Wolfson, the father of Sir Isaac Wolfson, was born in Rajgrod from where he migrated to Scotland, but the Wolfson Foundation was not interested in contributing to the cost of the monument.) A Jewish community existed in Rajgrod from the 16th century until some time during World War II. In 1857, the Jewish population numbered slightly in excess of 1,500; in July 1941, the Nazis established a ghetto to which all Jews were confined. During this period some 100 Jews were murdered in Rajgrod.

The ghetto was liquidated in 1942, and the remaining Jews were sent first to Grajewo, then to Bogusz transit camp and subsequently to the Treblinka extermination camp, from which there were no Rajgrod survivors.

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