Grapevine: Being careful of what we wish for

THERE WERE few signs of an academic boycott at last week’s international conference on “Geopolitics and Borders,” held at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

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December 16, 2014 22:04
Ben Gurion University

Ben Gurion University. (photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)

Jerusalem has the largest Jewish community in Israel; New York has the largest in the US and for that matter, any city in the world.

One of the common threads between the two locales is The Jerusalem Post, which less than half a year after hosting a Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem last week, will host its annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York towards the end of April. Based on the huge turnout last year, and the enthusiasm of the Big Apple and Eternal Capital audiences, Jerusalem Post Group CEO Ronit Hasin-Hochman is planning something bigger and better for both cities in 2015.

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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, addressing the Diplomatic Conference, was careful to steer clear of politics and not mention anything about embassies one day returning to the capital – much as he would like the diplomatic community to be located in Jerusalem.

Actually, at this stage, it would be very hard to find suitable accommodation for them in Jerusalem, although some of the consulates located in the capital are sufficiently palatial to be transformed into embassies. But then there would be the worry of where the consul, who is more often than not accredited to the Palestinian Authority, would live.

Peace might be a win-win situation for Israel and the Palestinians, but it would create a residential nightmare for the diplomatic community.

■ ITAL IAN AMBASADOR Francesco Maria Talo has come up with a more positive and pleasing alternative to the BDS Movement. Speaking as a panelist at the Post’s Diplomatic Conference, he said he would rather talk about PDS – which stands for Promotion, Development and Sustainability.

Talo went to Rome at the beginning of the week to participate in the first “European Symposium: Establishing a European Teaching Network on Shoah Education,” organized under the umbrella of the Italian Presidency of the EU, the Italian Education Ministry and Yad Vashem. The Italian government hosted senior representatives and experts of the EU member states, who discussed cooperation, common strategies and challenges on a topic regarded as particularly sensitive in the education of young Europeans – especially as anti-Semitism in Europe is on the rise.

The symposium was opened by Italian Education Minister Stefania Giannini, Italian Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mario Giro, International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem director Eyal Kaminka, Israeli Ambassador to Italy Naor Gilon and Union of Jewish Italian Communities president Renzo Gattegna.

■ KENYAN NAT IONAL flags were draped around the pillars and Kenyan tablecloths adorned the tables, as videos of Kenya and recorded Kenyan music played. Children of Kenyan Embassy staff wore T-shirts in their country’s national colors, with small Kenyan flags sewn on like badges.

All of this would have made even the most unknowing person aware this was a special day for Kenya.

Indeed, it was the 51st Independence Day celebration – hosted by Kenyan Ambassador Augostino Njoroge and his wife, Margaret, in the King David Hall of Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel. If there was still any doubt, the large portrait of President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta, flanked by the Kenyan and Israeli flags, said it all.

The Kenyan children sang the national anthems of both countries, and it was interesting to see the ambassador join in the singing of “Hatikva.” Njoroge also bravely began his speech in halting Hebrew.

Once he switched to English, he noted the long relationship between Kenya and Israel, which goes back to the era Golda Meir was foreign minister.

Njoroge spoke of the alliance of the five members of the East Africa Community – Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi – and was hopeful they would soon to be joined by South Sudan, whose Ambassador Ruben Marial Benjamin was present and surrounded nearly all night by people who wanted to meet him. He and his wife have quickly settled into Israel, and feel very comfortable here.

Both Njoroge and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, representing the government, spoke of the strong cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism – with Njoroge declaring that Kenya remains steadfast in its commitment to the war against terrorism and Aharonovitch saying that sadly, Kenya and Israel are tied by their common struggle against Islamic terror. Njoroge noted that terrorism has unfortunately found a home in Somalia, with which Kenya shares a border, describing terror as “a global war which we fight on behalf of all nations that embrace freedom and democracy.”

On a happier note, both the ambassador and Aharonovitch welcomed the introduction of direct flights between Nairobi and Tel Aviv. Aharonovitch also expressed appreciation for Kenya’s support on matters voted on in the UN, and said Israel looked forward to the visit next year by President Kenyatta.

Aharonovitch delivered his speech in Hebrew, even though he chatted with Njoroge in English. For the benefit of those who don’t understand Hebrew, Shlomo Morgan of the Foreign Ministry’s protocol department read an English translation.

■ IN SOME families, politics is in their DNA . In the Dayan family, for instance, there were three generations of MKS: Shmuel, Moshe and Yael, in addition to which Dayan family in-laws such as Ezer Weizman and Yossi Sarid were also in politics; both, like Moshe Dayan, also served as ministers. David Levy, who served three times as foreign minister in addition to other ministerial positions, had a younger brother, Maxim, who served as mayor of Lod and died 12 years ago of a sudden heart attack at age 52. David Levy’s son Jackie served as mayor of Beit She’an, and his daughter Orly Levy-Abecassis was elected to the 19th Knesset.

Jackie has now decided to run for Knesset and if he and Orly both succeed, it will mean that of two of David Levy’s 12 children are following in his footsteps. It’s not unusual for siblings to serve in the Knesset nor is it unusual for them to serve in different parties, but in the case of the Levy family, it’s the second generation of siblings – because Maxim Levy also served in the 14th and 15th Knessets.

Both Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog are second-generation MKs.

Following her rotation agreement with Herzog, Livni said that although their fathers came from different political backgrounds, their common denominator was that they were ardent Zionists committed to Israel’s well-being, regardless of their differences. It’s a shame Livni was less sensitive when badmouthing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the satirical TV show State of the Nation.

Even satire has its boundaries, and Livni should have realized that by denigrating the prime minister as she did, she was supplying fuel not just for Netanyahu’s political rivals, but for Israel’s enemies.

■ ONE OF the examples of a radical leftist, also a founder of Peace Now and a self-proclaimed super-Zionist – who despite his extremely controversial statements with regard to settlers, the disputed territories and what he perceives as the Israeli occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians, was awarded the Israel Prize for political science in 2008 – is child Holocaust survivor Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell. Later in 2008, Sternhell was the victim of a pipe bomb attack at his Jerusalem home, suffering light injures.

Despite his contention that fascism existed in France before finding a home in Germany, he was awarded the title Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1991, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to French culture. Last week, French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave presented him with yet another award, conferring on him the title of Officer of Arts and Letters.

Born in Przemysl, Poland, to an affluent Zionist albeit secular Jewish family, Sternhell was smuggled out of the ghetto by an uncle who had a permit to work outside. His mother and older sister were murdered by the Nazis, and his father died a natural death; at age seven, he was an orphan. His uncle managed to secure false papers, and Sternhell lived with his uncle, aunt and cousin as a Polish Catholic.

Anti-Semitism was still rife in Poland after the war, so Sternhell was baptized under the name of Zbigniew Orolski and became an altar boy in the Krakow Cathedral.

In 1946, under the auspices of the Red Cross, he was taken to France with a trainload of children. He lived there for five years with an aunt and in 1951, was brought to Israel as part of Youth Aliya and sent to the Magdiel boarding school, which had been established for child Holocaust survivors.

When the time came for army service, Sternhell joined the Golani Brigade and served as a platoon commander in the 1956 Suez Crisis.

He later fought as a reservist in the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War. In 1960 he graduated cum laude from the Hebrew University, where he studied history and political science and subsequently became a faculty member. He also holds a PhD from the Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris.

In an interview published in Haaretz in March 2008, Sternhell declared: “I am not only a Zionist, I am a super-Zionist. For me, Zionism was and remains the right of the Jews to control their fate and their future. I consider the right of human beings to be their own masters a natural right; a right of which the Jews were deprived by history and which Zionism restored to them. That is its deep meaning, and as such, it is indeed a tremendous revolution that touches the lives of each of us.

“I felt that revolution when I immigrated to Israel alone at the age of 16. Only then, when I disembarked at Haifa from the ship Artza, did I stop being an object of others’ action and became a subject. Only then did I become a person who is in control of himself, and not dependent on others.”

At the same time, Sternhell has had an abiding love affair with France for 68 years. Just as he loves Israel with all its flaws, he likewise adores France. At the ambassador’s residence, Sternhell spoke of what it had been like to come as a child to France after having outwitted the Nazis, the Stalinists and the Catholic Church, to attain what for him were two miracles: freedom and a secular lifestyle.

Maisonnave told Sternhell that he has an honored place in France, among historians and in political circles. The ambassador also praised Sternhell’s in-depth research into French society and its history, and his sharp analysis.

■ MAISONA VE PA ID his first visit to Bar-Ilan University last week, and was warm in his praise of what BIU is doing to promote French culture. He said he looked forward to continued cooperation between BIU’s department of French culture, the French Embassy and the French Institute.

He was proud, he said, to visit the home of Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan Speech, in which the prime minister acknowledged that a two-state solution is the means of ending the conflict with the Palestinians.

Maisonnave was accompanied by French Institute director Olivier Rubinstein. The two were primarily at BIU to award certificates to BA students from the French department who successfully completed the DELF French as a foreign language exam. “I’m almost certain that learning French and the French culture is very important in the modern world now and tomorrow,” Maisonnave told the students.

BIU president Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz noted that one of the many unique things about BIU is that it is the only university in Israel where French culture can be studied as an autonomous discipline. The university is proud of this distinction not only because of the special relationship between Israel and the Jews of France, but also because of the very important role French culture plays in the universal culture, he said.

Responding on behalf of student certificate and scholarship recipients, Maya Pecker and Daniel Rotem spoke of their experiences during their month-long stay in France. They joked how strange it was for them, coming from the endlessly hot summer days in Israel, to wear long sleeves in August, and how they nearly froze at the summit of a mountain they climbed. Thirdyear student Reut Koriat expressed great pleasure at the fact that due to her studies, she is now able to respond in French to her Francophone family.

■ ISRAEL’S BEST-KNOWN writer abroad is arguably Amos Oz, whose books have been translated into many languages. Oz is the subject of adulation, be it in a literary or a political milieu.

Last week it was primarily literary, when he spoke to the Diplomatic Spouses Club – whose members came together at the residence of Danish Ambassador Jesper Vahr and his wife, Ane. Oz came with his wife, Nili, and speaking impeccable English charmed everyone present, including hostess Ane Vahr; Julie Fisher, wife of the American ambassador; Maria Kuglitsch, wife of the Austrian ambassador; and Kaori Matsutomi, wife of the Japanese ambassador, who in the few months she has been here has been eagerly soaking up Israeli culture.

“It was definitely an unforgettable morning,” said Kuglitsch, who was very impressed with the way Oz discussed his book A Tale of Love and Darkness, the story of his unhappy family. “Although the tale is full of sadness, he always is trying to erase the line between comedy and tragedy.”

Explaining the source of his writing to his audience, Oz said: “Curiosity is the motor of my writing.”

In his case, at least, curiosity is not something that fades with age; at 75, Oz still has an enormous amount of curiosity. Moreover, he is not afraid to explore trails that may be emotionally painful. “Invite the dead! Talk about dreams – what you have left behind, what you were hoping for,” he said, almost by way of inspiring would-be writers.

Oz has roots in different parts of Europe, among them Russia, Poland and Lithuania. He commented that Jews in Europe were considered “intellectuals without roots; cosmopolitan, parasites.” He noted wryly that “the Jews loved Europe, but Europe never loved them back.”

Kuglitsch found more than a grain of truth in this when reading the book, realizing the longing of immigrants for the countries they left behind.

■ HANUKKA IS the season of miracles.

Israel Radio’s Liat Regev, who paid a shiva call on Rabbi Benny Lau following the death of his father Naphtali Lau-Lavie, was impressed by the number of dignitaries from many walks of life who came to express their condolences and share anecdotes about Lau-Lavie. In the course of her visit, she heard various stories about him, but she wanted to hear others as well.

Regev knew one of the best sources for such stories would be Lau-Lavie’s brother Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and she surprised him by telling him a tale he had never heard before – which she had heard from Rabbi Benny Lau, who heard it from former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy.

In 1978, then-foreign minister Moshe Dayan was scheduled to pay a secret visit to Iran; Israel still had diplomatic relations with the country, and he insisted on having Lau-Lavie accompany him. They were told not to take anything that would identify them as Jews, yet Lau-Lavie never traveled anywhere overnight without taking his tefillin.

This was still a time when Israelis did not go to Muslim countries; when the Mossad went through Lau-Lavie’s luggage, he was told to remove the tefillin. He said he would not go without them, whereupon Dayan said that if Lau-Lavie didn’t go, he wouldn’t go either. The Mossad therefore had to come up with some creative way to disguise the tefillin.

Lau then told Regev a story that began on the first night of Hanukka (which fell on Friday, November 28), 1944, in the Labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland. The brothers Lau had just arrived there when Lau-Lavie heard a familiar tune. A beardless man was singing “Mikdash Melech” from the Lecha Dodi prayer that ushers in Shabbat. Initially, Lau-Lavie did not recognize the singer, but then recalled the glorious voice he had heard many times when visiting his grandparents in Krakow.

The voice was that of cantor Yossel Mandelbaum. The melody, which was Mandelbaum’s own composition, carried echoes of the past, a distant memory of home.

When Lau-Lavie asked Mandelbaum how he could sing with such joy in so cold and dismal a place, where there were not even mattresses on the floor, Mandelbaum replied that it was Hanukka, a time of miracles – and one had to be happy. He then recited all the Hanukka blessings and everyone present, uplifted by Mandelbaum’s spirit, sang Maoz Tzur.

Lau-Lavie was so moved that he took out a Bible from his knapsack and gave it to Mandelbaum. Lau-Lavie had received the Bible for his bar mitzva from his uncle Rabbi Mordechai Fogelman, who was famous for the library he left behind when he succeeded in escaping from Poland.

When the Lau brothers subsequently came to Buchenwald, they saw at the entrance a pile of personal effects that were soon to be burned. At the top of the pile was the Bible. “Yossel Mandelbaum got here before us,” said Lau-Lavie. They did not come across him again in the camp, and presumed he had died.

Forty years later, when Lau-Lavie was Israel’s consul-general in New York, he decided to spend the first night of Hanukka with Bobover Rebbe Shlomo Halberstam, a cousin of his mother’s. Halberstam sat him at his side and the thousands of hassidim who were followers of the anti-Zionist Bobover Rebbe, unaware of the family connection, could not understand why he gave so much honor to a representative of Israel.

The Rebbe asked Lau-Lavie to recount a memory of Hanukka during the war, and Lau-Lavie spoke of that first night of Hanukka in Czestochowa, saying he was sorry he had lost track of Mandelbaum in Buchenwald. The Rebbe whispered something to an aide and within a few minutes, a short bearded man with a huge, beatific smile on his face appeared before them. “This is Yossel Mandelbaum,” said the Bobover Rebbe. Mandelbaum then sang “Mikdash Melech.”

In all the years, his voice had not changed. Listening to him, Lau-Lavie could not see the multitudes of Bobover Hassidim; he could only see the wretched Jews sitting on the ground in the Czestochowa labor camp.

■ THE FIFTH Commandment tells us to honor our parents, which is exactly what Liora Ofer – who inherited the bulk of her father’s fortune and business interests, on which she has expanded – did in hosting a festive concert of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. It was played at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center by the 120-member Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra, featuring the 150-member Ivan Goran Kovacic choir from Zagreb, Croatia, under the baton of Noam Sheriff – who was celebrating not only his 80th birthday, but the musical challenge of conducting the work for the first time.

The concert, part of a series of four concerts, was also in memory of Yuli Ofer, who together with his good friend Sheriff founded the Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra some 20 years ago. Ofer said she couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to honor her father’s memory than to support something he loved so dearly, and which he had continued to support during his lifetime.

Naturally, the audience included Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic.

■ THERE WERE few signs of an academic boycott at last week’s international conference on “Geopolitics and Borders,” held at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. More than 50 eminent scholars from around the world attended what was the fifth such conference to have been convened by Prof. David Newman, dean of the humanities and social sciences and recently appointed incumbent to the newly established university chair in geopolitics, following a 15-year period as the editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.

Among the prominent academic guests were Prof. Vladimir Kolossov of Moscow, president of the International Geographical Union, making his fifth visit to Israel; and Prof. Stanley Brunn of the US, who for almost a decade was the editor of the foremost scientific journal in the field, the Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

Other speakers in the opening plenary session included Prof. Emanuel Brunet-Jailly of Canada’s University of Victoria, chief editor of the Journal of Borderland Studies, one of the field’s leading international scientific journals; and Prof. Victor Konrad, also of Canada and an expert on North American borders.

Opening the four-day conference was Prof. James Scott of Germany and Finland, academic director of the large EU-funded research project EUBorderscapes, of which BGU is a consortium member.

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