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Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem
English lessons, java and a scary stare
By DAVID BRINN
03/05/2012
Reporter's Notebook: One trait Olmert apparently hasn’t picked up since leaving office is humility.
 
The allure of latte

Israeli coffee aficionados may boast of how local establishments like Aroma and Arcaffe bested the US upstart Starbucks when it tried to acquire a foothold in Israel. But while in at the Times Square Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York on Sunday for The Jerusalem Post Conference, Israeli dignitaries couldn’t get enough of the American java.

Former chief of staff Lt.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenzai stood in line like everyone else for his fix (grand latte, what else?). And Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, who had been called to the backstage area ahead of panel appearance on delegitimization efforts against Israel, sternly approached the production manager of the conference.

“I wish to issue a formal complaint to the conference,” he said with mock solemnity that turned into a broad grin. “I was in the middle of ordering coffee at Starbucks when you called me. I had to run out, so now, you owe me a cappucino.”

After brief negotiations, Prosor agreed to go onstage with the promise of a steaming cup waiting for him when the session ended.

How do you say that in English?

While most of the Israeli speakers at the conference possessed good to fluent English, there’s always a level of insecurity when speaking in a non-native language, even if you’re a government minister.

As the first speakers of the morning said their piece, Environment Minister Gilad Erdan was sitting in front of me with his speech, making last-minute adjustments.

More than once, he turned around and asked about a particular English idiom or phrase.

“Is there really a word that sounds like rain,” he asked, referring to a ‘reign’ of terror.”

When Erdan got up to speak, and later during his panel appearance, he did just fine – both with his English, which was as good as most of the other speakers – and with his nationalistic message, which appealed to many in the audience.

Whither Talansky?

Amid the morning registration and the general tumult in the conference area, reporters received an announcement that Morris Talansky, the Long Island businessman who testified against Ehud Olmert, was going to hold a press conference in the hotel during the lunch break to allegedly set the record straight about his relationship with the former prime minister.

With all the newsmakers already scheduled to speak, it was a development that only added to the stress level of the dozens of media representatives gathered at the conference.

It turned out that the announcement was a hoax, perhaps intended to ruffle Olmert’s feathers. Nevertheless, representatives of the Israeli media, such as Gil Tamary, Channel 10’s Washington correspondent, were still roaming the halls in the early afternoon trying to determine if Talansky was going to show.

High noon showdown

Olmert may have had lots of time to reflect on his prime ministership and to work on improving himself since leaving office. But one trait he apparently hasn’t picked up is humility.

During his afternoon panel appearance, which also included Ashkenazi, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Post columnist Caroline B. Glick, Olmert took offense to a question from the Post’s diplomatic reporter, Herb Keinon – the moderator of the panel.

All Keinon did, after asking his question and having Olmert acknowledge it and say he was going to talk about something else, was to ask lightheartedly, “Are you going to answer the question too?"

That initiated a long, uncomfortable silence in which Olmert stared at Keinon with a look that could only be described as scary. He finally responded, saying that while had agreed to be the keynote speaker at the conference, he had never agreed to answer every question posed to him by the Post.

The incident passed, and the session went on to include the already-reported fireworks between Erdan and Dagan. But for many, Olmert’s questionable behavior overshadowed the discussion. For the unflappable Keinon, it was just another day at the proverbial office, made more palatable after the conference by a pleasant evening stroll through Time Square.
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