Grapevine: Who will Rivlin choose?

February 19, 2015 20:22
President Reuven Rivlin

President Reuven Rivlin. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Many political pundits are wondering on what basis President Reuven Rivlin will select a candidate to form the next government after the March 17 election. Rivlin has publicly stated that he will follow the rules of Israel’s unwritten constitution.

Nonetheless, different people have different interpretations of what that means. In the wording of the Basic Law: The President, there is no mention of the leader of the largest party. In fact, the president can appoint any MK to form a government, following consultation with representatives of the parties in the Knesset.

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In general, this is interpreted as the MK who receives the most recommendations after each party’s delegation has met with the president; but that is not what is stated in the text. If he wanted to, the president could appoint an Arab or haredi MK to form a government.

While this may be out of the realm of probability, it is not out of the realm of possibility.

■ RIVLIN IS bringing his campaign to enhance relations between Jewish and Arab Israelis to the American Jewish community – and he has gone straight to the top. An 100-strong delegation of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations leaders visiting the (relatively) new inhabitant at the President’s Residence were surprised to meet and hear from a group of very special Israelis, handpicked by Rivlin to meet the important group.

Rivlin invited Israeli Arabs and Orthodox Jews to present projects that work to build bridges in Israeli society. The participants included Adel Badir, mayor of Kfar Kasim; Dr.

Sameer Kassem, head of the department of medicine at Carmel Government Hospital in Haifa; and Yitzhak Crombie and Racheli Ginat, co-founders of the Haredi Hi-Tech Forum. They were clearly hoping to gain favor with the organizational leaders, which could be very helpful to their projects from a fund-raising perspective.

They may indeed have gotten very lucky; Malcolm Hoenlein, the long-time Conference of Presidents leader, invited the guests to the US to make their pitches there.

In his speech to the organization, Rivlin spoke movingly of “the tragedy we are living with our neighbors,” but emphatically stated that “we are not at war with Islam.”

“We need to explain to the world that Judaism is not only a religion; it is the idea of the Jewish people as a nation in its homeland,” he said, noting that 1.5 million of Israel’s 9 million people are Muslims.

“It is our responsibility that Israel remains Jewish and democratic; the demographic and geographic situation won’t change between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. It is our destiny to live together in prosperity, and our Muslim neighbors need to understand that the Jewish people have returned to their homeland.”

■ UP UNTIL March 16, no institution should anticipate problems in putting together an event. Wherever one turns, organizations – including those that usually steer clear of politics – are having panel discussions or meetings with leaders of the various political parties.

Moreover, this time around, candidates are paying much more attention to Arab, English-speaking and French voters, and not quite as much attention as in the past to Russian voters – who apparently acclimatize faster than immigrants from other countries, and no longer need to be persuaded in their native tongue.

It’s not certain how many of the young professionals who attend meetings of the Tel Aviv International Salon actually have voting rights, but based on previous experience, they’ll be out in force on February 24 at Federation Hall in the Tel Aviv Port’s Hangar 11 to hear Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett. From his audience’s perspective, it helps that Bennett speaks English with an American accent – due to the fact that he was born to American parents and for several years, operated a security software company in New York City; he founded that company when he was 27 and sold it six years later for $145 million.

Prior to his stint in the Big Apple, Bennett served in elite IDF units and later returned to Israel from New York to fight in the Second Lebanon War. He served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 2006 to 2008.

It’s interesting that a decade earlier, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman served as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office – although not everyone who holds the position or its equivalent has an automatic guarantee of becoming the leader of a political party.

Inter alia, Bennett led a team which developed Netanyahu’s educational reform plan; he also ran Netanyahu’s primary campaign to lead the Likud Party in August 2007. In 2010, Bennett was appointed director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

In 2011, Bennett co-founded MyIsrael, a 90,00-plus-member network of pro-Israel activists committed to spreading Zionism online.

MyIsrael is dedicated to digital media work, from Wikipedia to Twitter to Facebook, to present what it terms a balanced online view of Israel. In 2012 Bennett founded the Yisraelim Movement, whose main goals include enhancing Zionism among Center-Right supporters and promoting dialogue between religious and non-religious communities.

After the 2013 election, Bennett joined Netanyahu’s coalition government and was personally given three ministerial portfolios. His “No apologies” campaign recently gained international headlines after its television launch, featuring Bennett dressed like a hipster on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. Both Bennett and Netanyahu have thespian urges, for which their respective campaigns provide an outlet.

Bennett lives in Ra’anana with his wife and three children.

■ ORIENT HOUSE in east Jerusalem, which has been closed for more than a dozen years, is to reopen as a hotel.

In the ’80s and ’90s, it served as PLO headquarters.

An impressive, palatial building, which was initially built in 1897 to serve as a family residence for Ismail Musa-al-Husseini and his kin, it is still owned by the Husseini family. It hosted important foreign guests such as Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Following the War of Independence, Orient House was in the area ruled by Jordan and for the first two postwar years, served as the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency, before being converted by its owner into a luxury hotel known as the New Orient House. With the reunification of Jerusalem due to 1967’s Six Day War, the hotel was closed and fell into a state of neglect.

In 1953, the PLO-affiliated Arab Scientific Association led by Faisal Husseini rented part of the building. Husseini was the son of Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini, who had been the commander of the local Arab forces in 1948; and was also related to Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem who had entered into an alliance with Hitler. Fasisal Husseini, who had served in several senior positions with the PLO, learned to speak Hebrew fluently and often appeared in Israeli public forums and on Israel’s electronic media.

He had a close relationship with writer Amos Oz and with other peace-seeking Israelis.

In 1988, Israel closed down Orient House in an effort to stem PLO activity, but it was reopened in 1992 as news of the Oslo Accords became public. Husseini renovated the building, which Ehud Olmert during his period as Jerusalem mayor tried to close again, by demanding the equivalent of $300,000 in back taxes. Husseini contended that Orient House was a diplomatic institution and, as such, was exempt from taxes – which he refused to pay.

Husseini died in May 2001. A few months later, during the second intifada, Israeli security personnel raided Orient House and found evidence of illegal Palestinian security operations, as well as other data that resulted in its closure.

In the not-too-distant future, the building will be restored to its former glory. Three new wings will be added, but the Jerusalem Committee for the Preservation of Historic Buildings will ensure the original structure is maintained.

■ ON A different level, Dov Elbaum – who hosts Welcoming Shabbat on Channel 1, in which he discusses the parsha with a different guest each week – last Friday hosted state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, which was completely appropriate considering the Torah portion was Mishapatim, dealing with the main body of Jewish law. Nitzan, who demonstrated his in-depth knowledge of the Bible by quoting chapter and verse by heart several times throughout the program, said he loves this portion because it so succinctly expresses laws on which legal scholars have written volumes.

His favorite, he said, was the injunction to love the stranger in your midst and treat him fairly. There are 36 references to this in the Bible, said Nitzan, whereas other laws may have only one or two references. The reason for this, he explained, is because laws that difficult to obey are repeated many times – whereas those that are easy to obey don’t need to be repeated as often.

Elbaum seized the moment to talk about African migrants, but Nitzan didn’t want to go there, beyond pointing out that even those detained in the Holot facility receive food, clothing and shelter. He was much more interested in talking about the Arab community – which in recent weeks has become a very hot subject in terms of Knesset projections, and equal opportunities in the job market.

■ LAST FRIDAY, February 13, was World Radio Day, commemorating the launch date in 1946 of the UN’s first call sign, “This is the United Nations calling the peoples of the world.” In the Jewish state, World Radio Day was celebrated by Israel Radio with snippets from old broadcasts, including the first Hebrew broadcast in 1936 by Hemda Faigenbaum-Zinder, the mother-in-law of well-known English-language broadcaster Leah Zinder.

According to Izzy Mann, the unofficial historian of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and its predecessors, anyone who thinks that radio is becoming obsolete is wrong; radio is more popular today than ever before.

He related that when the great Habimah actress Hanna Rovina came to the studio for the first time to give a reading over the air, she asked Faigenbaum-Zinder to hold her hand because she was so nervous. On stage, where she could look out at her audience, she was the queen – but on the radio, with an unseen audience, she was suddenly fearful.

In March 2006, Mann and Yoav Ginai, who is today the head of programming at Channel 1 in addition to hosting television and radio programs, put together a magnificent and memorable live program that was broadcast from the Palace Hotel, from where the first broadcasts of the Palestine Broadcasting Service – as it was originally known – were relayed. The Palace Hotel, today the Waldorf Astoria, was already under construction, and much of the interior of the building had been gutted. Nonetheless, Mann and Ginai, together with an impressive team, took listeners and viewers (seated on the ground floor of the building) back to British Mandate Jerusalem.

Several well-known figures, who had been child broadcasters but turned to other professions as adults, attended the 70th-anniversary celebration. Whether the Waldorf Astoria will be the venue for the 80th anniversary next year remains to be seen.

Lots of changes are anticipated in the interim.

The IBA, currently in the process of liquidation, was due to be dismantled by this March. There is little likelihood of that deadline being met, although there is still a possibility it may happen some time this year with the establishment of a new broadcasting entity.

Meanwhile, the IBA’s radio and television outlets are being frequently upgraded in preparation for greater competition than already exists. Television franchises are to be eliminated and as of next year, investors in communications can open new TV channels if they have the money for the license fee and running costs.

Mann recalled that the first radio station in what was then Palestine opened in Tel Aviv in April 1932, with a slight distortion of history.

Tel Aviv’s legendary, long-serving mayor Meir Dizengoff, in announcing the opening of Radio Tel Aviv, said it gave him great pleasure to launch the first broadcast in the Jewish homeland in 2,000 years.

With regard to Dizengoff, this year happens to be the 100th anniversary of his settling in Jaffa before moving to Ahuzat Bayit, which later became Tel Aviv.

■ THIS YEAR, World Radio Day also coincided with the ninth anniversary of the death of the great Israeli singing icon Shoshana Damari.

There was a long television broadcast dedicated to her memory on Channel 1, and several of her most popular songs were also played on various radio stations. Both she and Dizengoff are buried in Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery, where the names on the gravestones are synonymous with the development of the city.

On Friday, several of Damari’s close friends and admirers gathered around her grave and sang some of her best-known songs. What was wonderful about the Damari recordings was her clear enunciation and the fact that her voice was more powerful than the musical accompaniment, which is seldom the case with today’s singers – where the music tends to drown out the lyrics.

■ THOUGH BEST known for his role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Chaim Topol was not on the roof but in the chamber last week – when he took on the role of MC for the inauguration at Tzrifin’s Assaf Harofeh Medical Center of what is believed to be the world’s largest high-pressure oxygen chamber, in which victims of a large number of seemingly unrelated ailments can be treated. The chamber is large enough to allow for 150 patients a day.

It is the gift of Sami Sagol, who heads Keter Plastics; his philanthropy stretches across many varied projects, as well as to several institutions engaged in similar research, such as Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience, the Sagol Center for Applied Neuroscience at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and the Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center, which is named for Sagol’s father.

As is often the case when one of Israel’s leading industrialists launches a health, scientific, cultural, environmental or sports project in his or her name, most of the other leading lights in Israel’s industrial firmament came to lend moral (and sometimes financial) support. It’s almost like a hybrid game of musical chairs and monopoly, with Israel’s affluent sector forking out for hospitals, universities, schools, parks and museums.

Among the people from the business com- • By RABBI SHMUEL RABINOWITZ GRAPEVINE • By GREER FAY CASHMAN munity and elsewhere who came to do honor to Sagol were: Linda and Yitzhak Sagol, who are part of the Keter ownership; Keter CEO Tal Sander; Susie and Dan Proper of Osem; Irit and Moshik Theumim of the Gitam/BBDO advertising agency; Health Ministry director- general Dr. Arnon Afek; actor Alex Ansky; Discount Bank chairman Yossi Bachar; Amdocs co-founder Boaz Dotan; Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, head of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU; Eli Yones, former CEO of Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank; Israel Makov, chairman of Micromedic; former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit; University of Haifa president Amos Shapira; Assaf Harofeh director Dr. Benny Davidson; and Dr. Shai Efrati, director of the Sagol Hyperbaric Unit at Assaf Harofeh.

■ FORMER TOURISM minister Rabbi Benny Elon – known primarily as an activist for increased Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, as well as for his close relations with Christian Evangelicals who support the greater Israel movement – is seriously ill and has been hospitalized. He was diagnosed with throat cancer nine years ago, and his condition has deteriorated and is now critical.

Elon, 60, is the founder and chairman of the Israel Allies Foundation, an umbrella organization that coordinates the work of more than 30 Israel Allies Caucuses around the world, in the ongoing effort to mobilize political support for Israel based on Judeo-Christian values.

He was appointed minister following the assassination of his predecessor Rehavam Ze’evi, but was sacked by prime minister Ariel Sharon – who learned that Elon intended to vote against the Gaza disengagement.

Elon’s family and friends have asked that prayers be said for his well-being; he is to be referred to as Benyamin, the son of Ruth.

■ MEGA-PHILANTHROPIST Sheldon Adelson – who is the best-known supporter of Netanyahu and the owner of the freebie tabloid Israel Hayom, which promotes the prime minister – is involved in a number of Israeli and Israel-related projects. He and his wife, Dr.

Miriam Adelson, are the largest single donors to Yad Vashem and Taglit-Birthright.

They are also supporters of the Israeli-American Council, which recently held a conference in Los Angeles attended by Israeli American college students from 33 campuses in 10 states as well as Canada. Showcased as the inaugural IAC Mishelanu National Conference, the aim was to strengthen the national and cultural identities of participants and define new campus leadership voices.

Speakers included Israel’s Consul-General in Los Angeles David Siegel, who told the students they represent the “real, human face” of Israel across North America. “Developing a network such as the one through the IAC Mishelanu program will empower the growing Israeli-American community with the ability to capably deal with tomorrow’s challenges,” he declared.

The conference theme was “Meet your past, shape your future,” and the purpose was to equip students to meet the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel challenges that have surfaced on so many American college campuses. The twoand- a-half day conference was a joint venture of IAC Mishelanu, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Tzofim (Scouts). The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and the evolving identity of Israelis in America were among key topics of discussion. Speakers in addition to Siegel included Sheldon Adelson, IAC national board chairman Shawn Evenhaim and IAC Mishelanu co-founder Dadi Perlmutter.

Evenhaim urged the students to “do things for others,” and to stay involved in volunteerism and helping people in college and beyond. “That’s how you will make the world a better place and how you will ensure that Israel will always receive the support it needs from the US,” he said. Adelson called the students “Campus Maccabees” and advised them to have “a standard of morality that is unbreakable.”

IAC Mishelanu (which means “one of us” in Hebrew), maintains chapters on 45 campuses across America, with on-campus programs, off-campus seminars and an eight-week personalized internship experience in Israel geared toward Israeli-Americans.

■ THE PANTS suit, which 20 or so years ago became de rigueur for female business executives who wanted to be treated seriously, has become a little more sexy in style as women have continued to break the glass ceiling and take up executive roles in major companies.

Initially, the pants suits were black, charcoal gray or bankers’ stripes, but now they’re coming out in bright colors – as was seen in the classic-cut, brilliantly salmon-hued pants suit shown this week in Tel Aviv as part of the Golf spring-summer collection. Although the lowcut jacket worn without an undergarment was somewhat provocative, the pants were not suggestively tight and were sufficiently wide for comfort, without detracting from the smart look.

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