An Indian coup

At her meeting with Rivlin on Monday, Swaraj condemned the murder by a Palestinian terrorist of Otniel resident Dafna Meir, who was killed on Sunday as her children watched in horror.

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January 19, 2016 21:21
Israel India

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‏. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

For every ambassador, the high point of his or her service in any particular country is the visit by the head of state or government or that of a senior government minister from the ambassador’s home country. For outgoing Indian Ambassador Jadeep Sarkar, who is completing his term at the end of the month and moving on to his next posting in Bhutan, it was a double whammy in less than a three months’ period. In October he escorted Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, the first-ever Indian president to visit Israel, and this week he escorted his country’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

During his historic visit to Israel last October, Mukherjee invited both President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit India. A sitting Indian prime minister has yet to visit Israel, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indicated his willingness to be the first and is expected to come some time this year. Prime minister Ariel Sharon traveled to India in 2003. In January 1997, president Ezer Weizman visited the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin within the framework of his seven-day state visit to India as the head of a 24-member delegation. Weizman was no stranger to India. He had served there during World War II as a pilot in the Royal Air Force and had been stationed at Bangalore.

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At her meeting with Rivlin on Monday, Swaraj condemned the murder by a Palestinian terrorist of Otniel resident Dafna Meir, who was killed on Sunday as her children watched in horror. Swaraj expressed condolences to Meir’s family.

Although this was her first visit abroad in 2016 and her first visit to Israel as foreign minister, Swaraj clarified that this was not her first visit to Israel per se. She had been here previously as chairwoman of the India-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, and said she was glad to be here again. She said that she and Mukherjee were looking forward to Rivlin’s visit to India.

In greeting the foreign minister, Rivlin made a point of welcoming her not only to Israel but to “the united capital of Jerusalem.” Swaraj had met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah the previous day.

In referring to the terrorist attack in Otniel, Rivlin said: “Terror is evil. Terror is a threat which faces the whole world. There is no good or bad terror. Terror is terror is terror.”

Rivlin also expressed his condolences over the death last week of Gen. Jack Jacob, the highest-ranking Jewish soldier and statesman in India. Rivlin described Jacob as “a proud Indian, a proud Jew and a good friend of Israel.”

In speaking of relations between India and Israel, Rivlin said that both are strong countries and it was important to both to formulate a free trade agreement. There was no better occasion to do that he said, than to celebrate 25 years of the exchange of ambassadors which will be marked next year.

India officially recognized Israel in September 1950, but diplomatic ties remained at consular status till October 1992, when Pradeep Kumar Singh became India’s first ambassador to Israel and presented credentials to president Chaim Herzog. Relations between the two countries have flourished in recent years.

The best way to enhance this friendship, said Rivlin, was through cooperation in security, cyber, hi-tech, medicine, agriculture and water management.

Sarkar will be succeeded by Shri Pavan Kapoor, who has been a member of the Indian Foreign Service since 1990 and most recently served as high commissioner of lndia in Maputo.

■ KAPOOR WILL be one of at least a dozen new ambassadors taking up their posts in Israel this year. The one who will receive the most attention will undoubtedly be Egyptian Ambassador Hazam Khairat, whose appointment was announced many months ago, but whose arrival was delayed. While the Egyptian Embassy has continued to function, there had not been an Egyptian ambassador in Israel for three years prior to Khairat’s arrival. Khairat’s predecessor Atef Salem was recalled in 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense.

There has been such a glut of new ambassadors that, in February alone, there will be two ceremonies for the presentation of credentials.

Generally speaking, such ceremonies are conducted throughout a morning, with up to five ambassadors presenting credentials one after another. After the formal presentation, each new ambassador spends time chatting with the president, after which the president proposes a toast to the ambassador’s country and its leader and to the ambassador’s successful tour of duty in Israel.

■ SOME PEOPLE dream of retirement so that they can do at least some of the things they’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to devote to them. Others are not really happy about retiring and just want to keep on doing what they’ve been doing for years. Entertainers keep appearing on stage and screen long after so-called retirement age, and journalists keep writing well after retirement age, but there are other professions in which retirement is mandatory, especially among state employees.

When Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry and before that an ambassador, reached retirement age, he hated the thought of leaving the diplomatic service, and in January 2010 he founded the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, with the aim of strengthening the connection of foreign diplomats to Israel.

Eldan arranged numerous events that would give diplomats stationed here a broader understanding of the diversity of cultures in Israel, meetings and conferences with influential personalities, and activities in which Israelis could meet diplomats in whose countries they have business, academic or cultural interests.

Such meetings were held in a social milieu, as was Diplocoffee Tel Aviv, an international coffee-tasting event that was held last February with ambassadors from 18 coffee-producing countries participating. This event was such a success that it will be held annually.

There’s also Diplo Ulpan, a kind of crash course in Hebrew that enables speedy acquisition of sufficient vocabulary to follow the gist of a Hebrew conversation.

Last week Eldan, the executive members of the Ambassadors’ Club and several honorary consuls got together at the Dan Accadia Hotel on the Herzliya beach to celebrate the club’s fifth anniversary and to plan some future events for the year ahead. Among the honorary consuls who attended were: Ruth Amit-Fogel, Paraguay; Yoram Naor, Belize; Ehud Rassabi, Sri Lanka; and David Ben Basat, Nauru and Sierra Leone. The hotel provided an anniversary cake replete with the club logo.

■ AT THE ANNUAL Prime Minister’s Press Conference for the foreign media – which is hosted by the Government Press Office but is also attended by local journalists, former GPO employees, representatives of various government offices, public relations executives and foreign diplomats – were several ambassadors, among them Russian Ambassador Alexander Shein, Slovak Ambassador Peter Hulenyi, Thai Ambassador Angsana Sihapitak, Nepal Ambassador Prahlad Kumar Prasai, and Gustavo Antonio Otero, Max Haber and Nester Alejandro Rosa, the ambassadors of Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay, respectively.

GPO director Nitzan Chen announced that this year there would be a special treat in that not only the prime minister would speak but also the foreign minister. As he mounted the stage, Netanyahu quipped that he had coordinated his remarks with those of the foreign minister. “We speak often,” he said. For those who may need to be enlightened, Netanyahu’s various portfolios include that of the foreign minister.

Despite negative trends toward Israel at the United Nations, Israel’s relations with individual nations have changed dramatically, said Netanyahu, explaining that representatives of other countries come to Israel because they want to have a part in the promise of the future. He said that he was flooded with requests from ministers who want to come to Israel or who want to welcome Israeli ministers to their countries.

■ IF CHEN had announced that the entertainment for the evening was to be provided by Sharon Cohen, it would not have resonated with most of those in attendance. Sharon Cohen is the legal name of Dana International, who was born as Yaron Cohen and whose entertainment career began as a drag queen. She is arguably Israel’s most famous transgender personality, and her triumph in the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest did a lot toward wider acceptance for Israel’s LGBT community.

For most of the time Dana International projects a truly sexy, feminine personality, not to mention a feminine physique that includes a Venus waistline. But this time she decided to be more than a little camp when talking about how much she loves journalists, especially when they want to interview her – but she also made it very clear how much she loves Israel and how proud she is that Israel recognizes that gays are fit to be parents, because “children are a gift from God.”

■ ALSO ON the GPO program was a presentation by Dr. Eviatar Matania, the head of the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, whose projection over the control that cyber will have over out lives, and in fact does already, reduced Julian Assange’s Wikileaks to small potatoes. Anyone addicted to technology- based spy thrillers and detective dramas should know that while the characters may not be real, the near impossible invasions of hidden bank accounts, telephones, homes and anything else that may be considered private can easily be transferred to the public domain. What used to be fiction is now unfortunately fact.

■ LAST BUT far from least on the GPO program was a farewell to one of Israel’s most eloquent and unflappable spokesmen, Mark Regev, who in March will take up the position of ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Regev has been on loan from the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office for several years now, and possibly because Netanyahu is now at the helm of both, he realized how valuable Regev would be as an ambassador, particularly as an ambassador succeeding Daniel Taub. Regev was welcomed back to the fold by Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon, who spoke of Regev’s influence in the shaping of policy and said that he was proud to be part of a ministry that has seen Regev grow as a diplomat.

Regev’s son Yuval spoke of his father’s “profound love” for Israel and said that when he wasn’t working, Regev liked to take his family on trips around the country. Earlier in the evening, Netanyahu made several complimentary remarks about Regev, who in turn said that the prime minister always keeps his team on their toes. “We learn something new every day.”

Regev also had some appreciative comments about the dedication of his sidekick David Baker (a former Jerusalem Post journalist), who he said has been at his side for many years.

Being a spokesman is a unique challenge, said Regev. Being a spokesman for Israel is even more so, and being the prime minister’s spokesman is an even more unique challenge.

The international media is not bashful about criticizing the State of Israel and the prime minister, he said, “and I haven’t been bashful in defending my country and my prime minister.”

■ IN ITS weekend edition last Friday, Haaretz ran two memorial tributes to mark the first anniversary of the passing of its former editor David Landau, a brilliant and controversial journalist who for many years prior to joining Haaretz was the political and diplomatic reporter and news editor of the Post. The tributes were written by Jonathan Freedland, the executive editor, opinion, of The Guardian, and Shira Philosof, who for more than a decade worked as Landau’s personal assistant.

Both tributes were extremely well written and both dealt with Landau’s dual personality as an Israeli and as a Brit, who still had a strong affinity for the land of his birth and who for this reason could look at Israel from the inside out and from the outside in.

“In Landau, outsiders got an inkling of the dizzying complexity of Israeli society,” wrote Freedland. “Here was a leftist in a black kippa, instantly putting the lie to the simplistic equation of ‘Right’ and ‘religious.’ “Indeed, Landau was not a leftist despite his faith, but because of it. During Operation Protective Edge, in 2014, Landau cited Halacha, Jewish law, to argue that when it’s certain that civilians will die as a result of one’s actions, the distinction between what is intended and unintended becomes meaningless and is ‘nullified.’ “Such reasoning made Landau a much more formidable advocate than the usual peacenik suspects. When he would speak before synagogues in London or New York, often confronting audiences hostile to his dovish message, he would soon have the upper hand: It was clear he was as frum, and steeped in Jewish knowledge, as the most hawkish hawk in the room. Anyone thinking of branding him a self-hating Jew would not get very far....”

This excerpt is extremely relevant in the current political climate of Israel, in which so much hatred and contempt are hurled at individuals and organizations that are left of center and openly critical of Israel’s policies and what they perceive as the misdeeds of Israel’s security establishment. It isn’t because they despise Israel that they are being critical. It is because they love Israel, and have not found a platform at home on which those in authority are willing to listen.

Landau’s ability to love and criticize at one and the same time may well be his legacy. Landau was an avowed Zionist who nevertheless retained a passionate interest in the Jewish Diaspora. In 2012, The Economist devoted one of its extended Special Report supplements to Landau’s analysis of the state of “Judaism and the Jews” under the headline “Alive and Well.” In an earlier Haaretz piece, he called for the creation of a global Jewish parliament, so that the Diaspora might have its say in the Jewish future, rather than leaving all the big decisions to Israel.

■ IT’S QUITE astonishing to realize how many famous personalities springboarded their careers from the Post. Former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Makovsky, who was also a former diplomatic correspondent, and who several years ago returned to the US, where he is a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process, was one of the speakers this week at the 9th annual conference of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, and tweeted that he was looking forward to speaking at the conference with Yossi Beilin, Moshe Arens, Hiba Husseini and Gilead Sher.

Although the conference was top heavy with Israelis and Americans, it also included participants from the Palestinian Authority, India, Russia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Among the Americans were US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who created something of a hornets nest with the claim that there’s a difference in legal standards in the West Bank for Palestinians and for Israelis; Gen. (ret.) David Petraeus, a former head of the CIA; James Jeffrey of the Washington Institute; former US undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman; David Ignatius, associate editor of The Washington Post; John Allen and Jean-David Levitte of the Brookings Institute; and Michele Flornoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, and currently co-founder and president of the Center for a New American Security.

Even among the Israelis, there were those such as Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold and former foreign and Defense minister Arens who made aliya from the US, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who spent his adolescence in the US. Arens was also ambassador to the US, as was another participant, Prof. Itamar Rabinovich.

■ THE MILD heart attack suffered by Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres was front page news last Friday in almost every daily paper published in Israel. Yona Bartal and other close aides of the former president, as well as members of his family were on the phone for most of the period of the former president’s hospitalization, answering questions about Peres’s health and his general demeanor.

The secret of Peres’s stamina and longevity is that he is forever a man with a mission, said Bartal, adding that he is currently branching out from being the elder statesman of a “startup” nation to that of a “start-up” region.

Almost immediately after leaving office, Peres and his son Chemi set up an investment fund called Amelia for investments in ventures anywhere in the Middle East. Chemi Peres, who is chairman of the Peres Center for Peace, is a founding partner of Pitango, a highly successful venture capital enterprise.

Shimon Peres has long been a strong believer in sharing Israel’s know-how with other countries in the region. Chemi Peres and his associates in Amelia have agreed that any profits made through Amelia from exits or other sources will be donated to the Peres Center for Peace.

When he left the hospital on Tuesday, Peres sent condolences to the Meir family and said that he wanted to embrace the children of murdered Otniel resident Dafna Meir. He was also appreciative of the medical treatment that he had received, but was happy to be returning home so that he could get back to work.

When it was initially reported on Thursday that Peres had made a quick recovery following the catheterization procedure which he had undergone, a cartoon of a green-costumed Super Shimon started doing the rounds of the Internet.

■ ACCORDING TO a Knesset vote that was passed last year, the Israel Broadcasting Authority is due to be terminated in just over two months – ironically coinciding with the 80th anniversary of public broadcasting in Israel. Will the closure of the IBA signify the end of public broadcasting in this country? Veteran Reshet Bet broadcaster Arye Golan, who has been in the forefront of the battle to save the IBA and public broadcasting per se, will give his take on the future of public broadcasting at a conference on Thursday, January 21, at the Jerusalem Center for Ethics at Mishkenot Sha’ananim.

Among the other participants are Moshe Negbi, the veteran Israel Radio legal commentator; Press Council president Dalia Dorner; MK Eitan Cabel, who chairs the Knesset Economics Committee and is a former minister without portfolio responsible for the IBA.

Together with other speakers they will discuss issues such as the importance of public broadcasting vis-à-vis the danger of capitalists having control over broadcasting; the implications of reforms in legislation on freedom of expression and journalistic ethics; public broadcasting and democracy in Israel; parliamentary oversight with regard to the establishment of a new entity to be known as the Israel Broadcasting Corporation; the need to distance politicians from public broadcasting; attracting the general public to public broadcasting; and public broadcasting in a digital age.

■ ON THE same date that the future of public broadcasting is being discussed, Slovak Ambassador Hulenyi will host a prescreening at his residence of a Channel 1 documentary about Slovakia and a thousand years of Slovakian Jewry. It is one of those strange coincidences in which the IBA as a last hurrah is living up to its mandate more or less on the eve of its demise.

■ PLAYERS IN Israel’s Super League women’s basketball team have a new sponsor – the Altman Natural Pharmaceutical Company, whose CEO, Gali Nir, showed up at a recent game in the Athena League Winner series.

Altman said she is happy to be associated with the team for the coming season, and promised to support the advancement of women’s empowerment in sport in Israel. Athena League Winner CEO Iris Shterek told the players, who have come together from a number of teams, that in addition to being Super League team’s sponsor, Altman will also send experts to deliver lectures on proper nourishment, different aspects of health and the quality of life.

■ AMERICANS BUYING Psagot wines online pay between $10 and $102 per bottle. In fact, the United States is Psagot’s main export market.

However, there are some people who are consistently willing to pay well above market price. Among them are Mercedes and Manny Ivcher and Lawrence Friedman of Miami.

Mercedes Ivcher happens to be the founding president of WIZO USA. Last year, the Ivchers and Friedman paid $8,000 each for a magnum of Psagot wine, and this year they each parted with $10,000 for the privilege of toasting relatives and friends with a blend from the settlement of Psagot, situated not far from Ramallah.

The Psagot Winery, founded by Nama and Ya’acov Berg, participates in the annual WIZO-sponsored Kosher Food and Wine Festival in Miami, which was held for the third consecutive year. The festival is attended by thousands of people, and its high point is a $1,000-a-plate gala dinner for approximately 100 people, at which Psagot wines are auctioned.

The auction is preceded by Ya’acov Berg’s presentation of an overview of kosher wines.

This year, Ya’acov traveled from Israel with famed Jerusalem chef Marcus Gershowitz, one of the proprietors of the capital’s Angelica and Grand restaurants. Following the meal and the presentation, two double magnums of cabernet sauvignon 2009 were auctioned and acquired.

According to Berg, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions notwithstanding, Psagot is actually doing more rather than less business, possibly because it has a niche market, and also because of the EU’s decision to specially mark products that originate from Jewish companies operating in the West Bank. Not only are American and European Jews buying more of these wines, but Psagot is actually entering into new markets.

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