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Quiet diplomacy in a raging storm
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
29/03/2011
The Council on Foreign Relations remembers David Kimche, International Women’s Day is still being celebrated, and leading chefs cook up a kosher storm.
 
THE PUBLIC is sometimes unaware of quiet diplomacy with Arab states, but there are and have been contacts at different levels throughout all the years of Israel’s statehood.

Even now, with all the turmoil generated by uprisings across the Middle East, these contacts continue. At a memorial discussion on perspectives on the current maelstrom hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in memory of its founding president, former Foreign Ministry director-general and deputy director of the Mossad David Kimche, current Foreign Ministry Director-General Rafi Barak disclosed that in recent weeks Israel has received a lot of calls from Arab countries – “those with which we have relations and those with which we don’t have relations” – to see where things are heading.

Many of Kimche’s former colleagues were present at the discussion at Beit Belgia on the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus.

Council president Avi Primor welcomed Palestinian peace activists Profs. Munther and Muhammad Dajani of Al-Quds University.

The Dajanis are co-founders and leading figures in “Wasatiya” – the Arabic word for “moderation.” Wasatiya advocates negotiations and a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and a democratic and tolerant Palestinian society. Primor also welcomed Dan Diker, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, which is the council’s sponsor.

Diker, who previously served as the WJC’s director for strategic affairs, was recently named a member of the plenum of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Also in the audience were members of Kimche’s family, including his widow Ruth, who were told by Primor that Kimche’s name has been incorporated in perpetuity in the council’s logo.

■ INTRODUCING HIS former boss Shlomo Avineri, who was director-general of the Foreign Ministry from 1976-77, Primor, a career diplomat before he switched to academia, described him as “the greatest political scientist in the country.” Avineri, professor of political science at the Hebrew University, was one of the three panelists along with Egyptian born David Sultan, who served as ambassador to Egypt, and Shmuel Bar, professor of Arab affairs at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, where Primor is the director of the Trilateral Center for European Studies.

Avineri paid tribute to Kimche as an expert on the Middle East, who had an understanding of and empathy with the Arab world “and knew a lot about international relations.”

Avineri, whose area of expertise is Europe, acknowledged that the Middle East was not his field but made the pint that, given the turmoil, many of those who are supposed to be expert “were not exactly prescient.”

■ IT’S NO secret that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is a marathon enthusiast, but aside from being a runner, he apparently knows a thing or two about cooking. At the opening this week of the Old City Flavors food festival, Barkat and city manager Yossi Heiman joined chef Asaf Granit of the Machneyuda Restaurant in preparing a fish dish of lebrak cooked in yoghurt, tehina and burgul. The business suit belied the chef inside.

■ LIKE EVERY other holiday, with the possible exceptions of Tu Bishvat and Yom Kippur, International Women’s Day has been stretched to its maximum and is still being celebrated more than three weeks after its actual date. Ken (Koach Nashim), the women’s empowerment organization that trains women for leadership roles, particularly in the political arena, is celebrating International Women’s Day by emulating the Scouts movement and being prepared for the 2013 municipal elections. Ken has invited all women sitting on local councils to a March 31 gala dinner which, in addition to celebrating International Women’s Day, is designed to get more women into local government.

Although women represent more than 50 percent of the population, only 12% of the members of local government are female.

Between courses at the dinner, the women attending will start to plan strategies for the elections. MK Orit Zuaretz, a former head of the Kadima regional council, will talk about membership on a local council as a springboard to public life and political activism, and Sigal Moran, who heads the Bnei Shimon Regional Council and is the only woman heading a regional council, will talk about the challenges and rewards of mounting an election campaign.

■ SEVERAL OF the country’s premier chefs, at the initiative of master chef Israel Aharoni, make a point of placing their combined talents at the disposal of organizations and institutions which seek to make the world a better place for people who have been dealt a cruel blow by fate. Thus Aharoni along with Mika Sharon, Yaron Kestenbaum, Omer Miller and Ezra Kedem this week cooked up a kosher storm on behalf of Tishkofet-Ma’agan at the elegant Villa Mazal Tale tropical garden restaurant in the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.

More than 600 people, the vast majority of them religiously observant, paid NIS 350 to participate and those who wanted to be patrons paid NIS 500. The event, which was headlined “Cooking with Soul,” referred not only to what the chefs gave of themselves in terms of gastronomic creativity, but also to the empathy that they feel for the people whose lives would be far more depressing without the benefit of Tishkofet and Ma’agan.

Tishkofet – or Life’s Door, as it is called in English – was founded by Dr. Benjamin W.

Corn, a professor of oncology, and his wife Dvora, an expert in rehabilitation and family therapy. The two were interested in replacing the distress of people with chronic and life threatening illnesses, with physical, spiritual and mental activity and support services that would add quality, spirituality and strength to their existence, and in cases of people with terminal illnesses would enable them and their families to face closure in a state of tranquility rather than fear.

Tishkofet-Ma’agan operates patient and family programs that include music, photography, meditation, yoga, aerobics, chi kong and tai chi in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, Beit Shemesh, Zichron Ya’acov and the northern Sharon. A brief documentary film in which patients share their feelings on being diagnosed with cancer, their not knowing where to turn, and their finding Tishkofet which welcomed them with warmth, love and understanding, was one of the more heart-rending aspects of the event.

Auctioneer Amram Elnekaveh had difficulty in auctioning off a dinner for 10 by each of the five chefs in the home of the lucky bidder. Sharon initially proved to be the most popular chef scoring a bid of NIS 8,000, and no wonder, because of all the dishes, her sirloin roast and forked pumpkin puree was pronounced by many to be the tastiest of all the offerings.

Elnekaveh was helped along by Aharoni, who sang the praises of all the other chefs and said that each had unhesitatingly agreed to participate in the gala event. However, when it came to auctioning off a meal prepared by Aharoni himself, he couldn’t very well blow his own trumpet.

The highest bid was NIS 8,000. Elnakeveh announced it going once, twice – and then suddenly there was a bid for NIS 9,000 and eventually for NIS 10,000 and Aharoni’s honor was saved. The highest bid was for a day with NBA basketball star Omri Casspi, who is so popular that the winner paid NIS 12,000 for the privilege. The lowest bid, NIS 3,000, was for actor and comedian Zvika Hadar, who hosts A Star Is Born. Try as he might, Elnakeveh could not persuade anyone to fork out more for a day on the set with Hadar.

■ FOR A brief period it looked like a reunion of Jerusalem Post veterans. The occasion was the launch last Friday at Tel Aviv University of Israel Short Stories, the third in a series of short story anthologies published by Ang-Lit Press, which was founded by journalist Shelley Goldman, who wrote a weekly column in the original Metro weekend supplement of The Jerusalem Post and for a decade edited the paper in its reincarnated version City Lights, before it reverted to its original title.

Ang-Lit cofounders were Wendy Geri, former public relations manager of the Tel Aviv Sheraton, and her husband Jeffrey Geri, who was a lawyer in South Africa and worked as a real estate agent, financial planner, travel agent, advertising agent, novelist and travel writer here.

The 70 stories by some 50 writers were chosen from close to 800 submissions. Most of the writers are native English speakers from England (like Goldman), the US, Canada, India, South Africa and Australia. A few were born here, but grew up in Englishspeaking families or were taken abroad in infancy, and returned as adults, or studied abroad in English-speaking countries.

Goldman, the mainstay of Ang-Lit Press, would have liked to have published more stories, but a book with well over 500 pages was as far as she was prepared to go. Ang- Lit’s previous publications were Jane Doe Buys a Challah and Other Stories, published in 2007 and containing 33 stories; and Tel Aviv Short Stories, with 52 stories published in 2009, Tel Aviv’s centenary year. Since then, several writers have submitted novels to Goldman which she might publish eventually, but certainly not in the foreseeable future.

“We’re in the short story business,” she said, explaining that in an era in which people have very little time in which to read because they are so busy with other things, the short story, which they can skim through quickly without having to remember characters and the threads of the plot, is an ideal genre. Goldman has received many compliments on the book, which she has brushed aside, saying that they belong to all the talented writers, many of whom are also journalists. Through their fiction they present the diversity of the country and far different images than those portrayed in the media.

Editing the book involved a lot of work, which in this case was particularly difficult because Goldman spent 18 months in the US with her husband Itzhik Wolf, who was undergoing heart and kidney transplants, and who is now a picture of health.

Among the writers in the book whose bylines have appeared in The Jerusalem Post are Joanna Yehiel, Hannah Brown, Judith Colp Rubin, Helen Schary Motro, Michal Yudelman, Carol Cook, Judith Sudilovsky and of course Goldman herself. Among others at the launch whose bylines have appeared in the Post, but who did not contribute to the book were Margery Greenfield, Tom O’Dwyer and Diana Lerner. Ang-Lit’s next venture to be published in 2013 is tentatively titled Israel Short Love Stories in celebration of the 65th anniversary of the state.

■ ALTHOUGH THEIR shrines and beautiful gardens are in Haifa and Acre, members of the Baha’i community always choose to celebrate their New Year in Jerusalem, and did so again last week at the David Citadel Hotel, where special guests included Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, Acre Mayor Shimon Lancry, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, former minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, Hebrew University president Menahem Ben-Sasson and Prof.

Moshe Sharon, who holds the chair in Baha’i studies at HU.

As always, the entrance to the hotel’s ballroom had been transformed by Baha’i volunteers into a garden area, and several volunteers, dressed in the national costumes of their countries, greeted guests as they arrived.

Dr. Albert Lincoln, secretary-general of the World Baha’i Center, expressed the hope that countries experiencing a move towards democracy would attain greater freedom. In particular, he hoped that the oppressive regime in Iran, where the Baha’i community is being persecuted, would come to an end.

■ FORMER AUSTRALIAN prime minister John Howard, who has a well deserved reputation for being among our best friends in the Australian political hierarchy, is currently visiting. Howard, who was the second longest serving prime minister after Robert Menzies, is also extremely well disposed to the Australian Jewish community.

He has been here on previous occasions – the first time as a young backpacker in 1964. At that time his budget did not allow him to stay in a fancy hotel and he stayed at the Jerusalem YMCA. The second time was in 1988 as leader of the opposition, at which time he moved across the street to the King David Hotel. The third time was as prime minister in 2000, when he came with his wife Janette and brought pride to the hearts of Australian expats when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bar-Ilan University. In 2007, Australian Jewry presented him with the Champion of Israel Award in appreciation of unwavering friendship and goodwill.

■ SOME 1,500 people last week attended the 30th anniversary Friends of the IDF national gala dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Star attractions were former IDF chiefs of General Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Ya’alon, Dan Halutz and Gabi Ashkenazi, along with Ehud Barak, who was the keynote speaker. There were also several soldiers and senior officers who are currently serving, as well as the IDF Orchestra.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz couldn’t make the trip to the Big Apple, but he was able to speak to the crowd via live satellite facilitated by Jerusalem Capital Studios, whose mobile broadcast van, replete with television crew, arrived at the Palmahim army base in the wee small hours and beamed the broadcast at 3 a.m. so as to be in sync with the event. Despite the economic crisis, more than $23 million was pledged to the IDF.

Past animosities seemed to have disappeared as Barak publicly thanked Ashkenazi for his service and praised his contribution to the IDF and wished him well in civilian life.

Another speaker was Miriam Peretz, who declared that a mother should not be put in the position of having to decide which of her sons’ graves to visit first. Her eldest son Uriel was killed in Lebanon in 1998 and another son Eliraz was killed in a Palestinian ambush in March 2010.

Funds raised at the dinner provide services such as financial support for soldiers in-need and lone soldiers from around the world, academic scholarships for former combat soldiers, weeks of rest and recreation for entire IDF units and cultural, educational and sports facilities.

■ BRITAIN’S ZIONIST Federation was ahead of the calendar this week, holding a Gala Awards Dinner to celebrate Israel’s forthcoming 63rd Anniversary. The 350-plus guests at London’s Marriott Hotel included a larger proportion of younger people than is the norm at such events. Four guests of honor was presented with crystal statues in recognition of their work for Israel: lawyer and historian Anthony Julius, MP Louise Ellman, politician Lord David Trimble, and Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, who is soon set to relocate to New York as ambassador to the UN. The ZF has taken a prominent pro-Israel role in the UK and, reported its chief executive Alan Aziz, its membership levels have never been higher.

■ IT IS amazing how many Israelis have been awarded the French Legion of Honor in recent years – especially during the term of Ambassador Christophe Bigot. The latest recipient is Prof. Michael Sela, a world renowned immunologist and former president of the Weizmann Institute. Sela is due to officially receive the award tomorrow at a reception at the ambassador’s residence in Jaffa. Among those who have indicated that they will be present are Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath, who is also associated with the Weizmann Institute, current institute president Daniel Zajfman and leading businessmen Alfred Akirov, Dan Proper and Sami Sagol. Contrary to usual practice, Sagol received his Legion of Honor medal last year not from the ambassador but from Industry Minister Christian Estrosi at a gala celebration in Paris.

■ EVERY CLOUD has a silver lining. Kadima MK Nachman Shai was scheduled to be the speaker at the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association luncheon on April 4, but when he realized that he would be unable to attend, he recommended his Kadima colleague Majallie Whbee, who will talk about his life and his experiences as a Druse MK. Whbee served in the IDF during the First Lebanon War and rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He has served as deputy foreign minister and is currently deputy Knesset speaker. He is the only non-Jew to have held the position of acting president, on two occasions, when both the president and the speaker of the Knesset were out of the country. This will be the first time that IBCA will be addressed by a member of the Druse community.

greerfc@gmail.com
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