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Grapevine: A hot reception

By
January 12, 2016 21:15

Were it not for the generosity of the Rothschilds, it is doubtful that Israel would have been able to progress in as many fields as it has.

Simon Plosker; Dan Diker; Rolene Marks; David Kaplan; Tova Ben-Dov; Steve Linde; Irwin Cotler

From left: Simon Plosker, recipient of the TbT 2016 Maurice Ostroff Award; Dan Diker; Rolene Marks; David Kaplan; Tova Ben-Dov; Steve Linde; Irwin Cotler; Harris Green and Tricia Schwitzer. (photo credit:DAVID BLOOM)

One would imagine that in a hi-tech era, especially in Israel, which is considered to be one of the world’s leading hi-tech hubs, Internet communication would have been sufficiently streamlined and advanced to enable organizations and institutions catering to similar audiences to coordinate their events in such a manner so as to not be in conflict with each other in terms of dates and times.

As has been previously published in this column, the prime minister’s annual press conference and reception, arranged by the Government Press Office and primarily geared to the foreign media and diplomatic press attaches, will be held at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem on Thursday, January 14. However, there are a few other events on that date that may prove equally attractive to journalists – perhaps even more so since what the prime minister may have to say about Iran, the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab population is old hat, and the journalists have heard it so often that they can recite it by heart. Of course, he might say something completely different, and if he does, any journalist who skips this event in favor of another will be shooting himself or herself in the foot.



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While many of the journalists enjoy networking with each other and sampling the hotel buffet, there is a degree of impatience and foot shuffling, given that the prime minister is almost always late.

By way of compensation, his address is not the only item on the program. A special guest will be Dr. Eviatar Matania, head of the National Cyber Bureau. There will also be some remarks by GPO director Nitzan Chen; the launch of the National Photo Collection, which represents an extraordinary documentary of the history of the state; and there’s a farewell to Ambassador-designate to the Court of St. James Mark Regev, who is better known as the prime minister’s international media adviser, and who has been one of Israel’s most visible spokesmen on television screens around the world.

In an interview Regev, 55, gave last August to The Independent’s Kim Sengupta, the latter described him as “a mixture of being polite and pugnacious, combative and charming,” and forecast that Regev “will be one of the most high-profile members of the London diplomatic circuit, especially following the media exposure he received in his previous job.”

Regev, who was on loan from the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office, was in 2007 appointed spokesman for thenprime minister Ehud Olmert and stayed on following Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to the Prime Minister’s Office. True to his Australian roots, the Melbourne-born Regev, whose former name was Mark Freiberg, was never afraid to call a spade a spade, nor was he hesitant about putting his name to anything he said. He was never a nameless source speaking on condition of anonymity. He believes that when people have something to say, they should put their name to it.

■ APROPOS NETANYAHU and the upcoming election for the Likud leadership in which he is the only candidate, what happens if the number of white ballot slips exceeds the number of votes given to Netanyahu? After all, anyone who takes the trouble to vote and casts a white ballot indicates a lack of confidence in the candidate.

■ THE KNESSET traditionally celebrates its birthday on Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees, but it’s getting in a little early this year, albeit in the correct month of the Hebrew calendar, and will celebrate its 67th anniversary on Tuesday, January 19. There will also be a special Knesset anniversary session on Tu Bishvat itself. This year’s anniversary is within the framework of the jubilee year of the Knesset’s permanent building in Givat Ram, with a series of events that will continue almost up to Rosh Hashana. Givat Ram is also the site of the Israel Museum and the Hebrew University.

Were it not for the generosity of the Rothschilds, it is doubtful that Israel would have been able to progress in as many fields as it has.

James de Rothschild, the son of Edmond de Rothschild, continued with his father’s Zionist activities and was a generous benefactor to Israeli causes. Among his many donations was a gift of 6 million Israeli pounds toward the construction of the Knesset on its permanent site. The building was completed nine years after his death, but his widow, Dorothy de Rothschild, who died in 1988, continued to be involved in Zionist causes. She oversaw the construction of the Knesset and attended its dedication ceremony in August 1966 along with some 6,000 people, including the heads of 44 parliaments and emissaries from 47 Diaspora communities.

Her own gifts to the State of Israel included the funding of the construction of the Supreme Court.

“The 50 years that passed in the current Knesset building include exciting, surprising and sometimes painful historic moments that belong to all Israelis,” said Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein. “More than ever, the values of democracy that the Knesset represents are significant to Israeli society.”

Edelstein added, noting that democracy will be the theme of the jubilee celebrations and voiced certainty that these events will place the legislature in a more positive light and give the public an enhanced understanding of its importance.

In addition to next week’s event, on Tu Bishvat, the anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the First Knesset, which falls on January 25, the Knesset will hold its regular open house, during which the public will be invited to the Knesset to take part in various activities and meet with Knesset members.

■ ON THE same day next week that the Knesset will be celebrating its anniversary, some MKs may be absent due to their attendance at the Institute for National Security Studies international security conference on “Security Challenges of the 21st Century,” which will be held on January 18 and 19 at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, with a star-studded lineup of speakers, including brothers Mike and Isaac Herzog, who rarely appear on the same program other than at events related to their father, Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s sixth president, or their grandfather Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, who was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the State of Israel.

Mike Herzog is a retired brigadier-general who has held senior positions in the office of Israel’s minister of defense under ministers Ehud Barak, Amir Peretz, Shaul Mofaz and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and is now an international fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; while younger brother Isaac Herzog is the leader of the Zionist Union and of the parliamentary opposition.

■ THE TWO women had never met before, although there certainly was a connection between them. In 1940 in the United States, Joseph A. Sutton signed an affidavit of support for Otto Perl, a Viennese Jew, who was plucked from Dachau and sent to New York City. The two men were total strangers. At the time of his internment in Dachau, Perl had been a political prisoner. Unbeknownst to him, a friend of his had put his name on a list of people to be sponsored for entry to the United States. Sutton was perusing the list, and for no apparent reason decided to sponsor him. It may have been that he was a tailor by profession, and Sutton thought that a tailor could make a living and not be an albatross around his neck. In fact, Perl was a very good tailor and many celebrities, including Leonard Bernstein and Bill Cosby, were among his clients.

Sutton and Perl struck up a friendship, but curiously their children never met. Sutton’s daughter Naomi Neustadter never met Perl until 18 years ago, when he attended her father’s shiva.

It took 76 years before Neustadter met Perl’s daughter Monica Perl Shavit in Jerusalem.

Shavit, whose home is in Kfar Vradim, has been living in Israel for 40 years. Her brother Martin, who lives down the block from where the Sutton family used to live on West End Avenue in New York City, is working on a genealogical project and contacted Neustadter, who lives in Jerusalem. She had previously made a futile attempt to find Shavit, and when Martin Perl got in touch with her, she mentioned this to him.

Although all the Perl siblings and all the Sutton siblings were aware of the affidavit, it had somehow never brought the two families together. With both their fathers deceased, Neustadter and Perl-Shavit decided to make up for lost time and lost opportunity, and recently met each other in Jerusalem, 76 years after the signing of the affidavit.

■ WHEN THE 26th World WIZO conference opens next week in Tel Aviv, the most veteran of the 700 WIZO members attending is likely to be Raya Jaglom, who is one of two honorary presidents of World WIZO.

Jaglom, 96, was World WIZO president for 26 years, during which time she traveled the world and raised enormous sums of money for WIZO projects and institutions. She was also active in the struggle for Soviet Jewry, and she sat on the boards of governors of the Jewish Agency, the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University as well as the executive of the World Zionist Organization, and the International Council of the Israel Museum.

She has also been actively engaged on behalf of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and personifies the history of the state in general and Tel Aviv in particular. She is one of the few WIZO members, if not the only one today, who worked with WIZO’s founding president, Rebecca Sieff.

The program for the conference states that Ruth Dayan will also be attending in her capacity as the founder of the original Maskit. Dayan is two years older than Jaglom, and both women are still active.

■ DESPITE ALL the criticism of the European Union and the general belief in this country that while not necessarily being anti-Israel, the EU is ill-disposed toward Israel, there is evidence to the contrary in the words and deeds of EU representatives.

As has previously been published in this column, both the present head of the EU delegation in Israel and his immediate predecessor were volunteers on kibbutz some 40 years ago.

Fast-forward: Carlos Moedas, the European commissioner for research, innovation and science, at a meeting on Monday with President Reuven Rivlin, said: “I love this country. I hope the cooperation between Israel and Europe will increase. For us, and for our scientists, it is extremely important.

During my tenure I hope to be here for you, because you have been here for us in terms of everything in science and innovation.”

Moedas underscored that it was very special for him to be in Israel in the 20th anniversary year since the beginning of collaboration between Israel and the EU. Over the past year, he said, he had been around Europe talking to researchers and scientists, and all of them voiced appreciation for the work of Israeli scientists and innovators.

“I want to be a little bit of your voice in terms of the great people I have met here and the many innovators and entrepreneurs.

The drive and energy that you have in this country to create businesses is unique and is an example to Europe. I am here to tell you that I hope this cooperation between Israel and Europe will increase.

For us and for our scientists, it is extremely important,” said Moedas.

There was an almost instant warmth between him and Rivlin, who invited Moedas to return to Israel later this year as guest of honor for the celebrations marking 20 years of cooperation and partnership between Israel and the EU, as part of the European Framework Programs for Research and Technological Development. “Cooperation between Israel and the EU benefits the whole world, and this cooperation speaks louder than any labeling or boycott,” said Rivlin.

■ COMING UP toward the end of this month is Australia Day, which is celebrated on January 26. The date marks the anniversary of the landing in 1788 of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the hoisting of the British flag by governor Arthur Phillip. Australia breeds excellent lambs, which, to the horror of many vegans and animal rights activists, have become the literal sacrificial lambs at Australia Day barbecues.

Every year in advance of Australia Day, Meat and Livestock Australia runs an advertising campaign to promote lamb as the meal of choice for Australia Day celebrations.

This year’s campaign features popular Special Broadcasting Service newsreader Lee Lin Chin, who is on a mission to rescue stranded Australians from around the world to ensure that they will be eating lamb on the national holiday.

The choice of presenter is particularly interesting in that Australia was not always the multicultural society that it is today and for decades practiced a semiofficial white Australia policy.

For the most part Australia Day festivities in Israel were private affairs, except when Ron Weiser, as president of the Zionist Federation, sponsored a couple of Australia Day get-togethers. Since the arrival in Israel of Ambassador Dave Sharma, there have been get-togethers in Tel Aviv bars. These have not been the traditional diplomatic receptions, but they have brought quite a few Aussies out of the woodwork. This year’s venue on Tuesday night, January 26, is Tosca, at 17 Ibn Gvirol, near the corner of Kaplan Street, with the first drinks at the bar at 7 p.m.

■ SHE HAD barely managed to say farewell to her country’s chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign and European Affairs, Averof Neophytou, when Thessalia Salina Shambos, the ambassador of Cyprus, had to turn her attention to the final arrangements for the visit this coming Sunday of Health Minister George Pamboridis, a young, well-known lawyer, who has been in office since last July, and is a visionary, hands-on politician who is spearheading a series of health reforms and examining ways in which to practically utilize Israel’s unique expertise in his efforts to improve the health sector in Cyprus.

For Shambos, there will be no letup after his four-day visit. She will then have to prepare for the second trilateral meeting of representatives of Israel, Greece and Cyprus, which is scheduled to take place in Nicosia on January 28.

■ HIS FRIENDS and colleagues in TbT (Truth be Told) decided to honor Maurice Ostroff, one of the most esteemed of immigrants from South Africa and a former Mahalnik (overseas volunteer who fought in Israel’s War of Independence), who died two months ago at the age of 90.

Since his aliya in 1980, Ostroff was involved on many fronts in fighting another war – the war of words in which he wrote articles in numerous national and international publications contradicting defamatory charges that had been leveled at Israel. He did this in a polite and rational manner and was always able to produce evidence to support his arguments.

He was a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV (star in Hebrew), a worldwide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias and in promoting the positive side of Israel. He was also a chairman of the Israel South Africa Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the board of governors of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

A uniquely prolific blogger and respondent to verbal attacks on Israel, his articles refuting falsehoods and commenting on current affairs were widely published in leading newspapers and magazines in Israel and abroad. An industrial engineer with degrees in mathematics, physics and industrial and electrical engineering, Ostroff, during the War of Independence, built a radar unit from scrap metal that had been left behind by the British.

Always a defender of Israel – though not necessarily of Israel’s policies – he always surprised people with the thoroughness of his research, the accuracy of his writings and his knowledge of law, even though he had no legal training. He was also a central figure in the creation of the Herzliya Medical Center and of Beth Protea, the impressive retirement facility that became his home and his office.

His website www.2nd-thoughts.org was widely recognized as a reliable source of information about the Arab-Israel conflict.

It was only natural that the memorial event be at Beth Protea and that it’s theme be the defense of Israel in the war of words. His son Danny was present, as was his grandson Yoni, who managed to get leave from the army. More than 200 people were in attendance, among them several passionate defenders of Israel and former Mahalniks such as Smoky Simon and Murray Greenfield.

Among the other defenders present were Doreen Gainsford, who rose to fame as a member of the 35s, Freda Keet, who is now a resident of Beth Protea but who for many years went on the international lecture circuit combating lies about Israel and was well known as the foremost English-language broadcaster on Israel Radio.

Also present was Simon Plosker of Honest Reporting, who became the first recipient of the Maurice Ostroff Award for services to Israeli public diplomacy.

Following tributes to Ostroff by David Kaplan, Harris Green, Judge Henry Shakenovsky, Smoky Simon, Hertzel Katz, Michael Horesh and Telfed chairman Maish Isaacson, a panel discussion moderated by Kaplan was held, with the participation of international human rights activist and former justice minister and attorney-general of Canada Irwin Cotler, Jerusalem Post Editorin- Chief Steve Linde, Yediot Aharonot columnist Ben-Dror Yemini, who authored the book Industry of Lies (Hebrew) and lectures abroad against anti-Israel propaganda; and Dan Diker, project director of political warfare at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.

The event was not without its trivia. Those whose knowledge of Cotler is only within the realms of law, academia and politics were surprised to learn that he had been a member of the Canadian team at the Maccabiah Games and had played Ping-Pong. And it wasn’t in his dim and distant youth. It was only 10 years ago, when he was 65.

Some people think that trying to fight anti-Israel propaganda is a pointless exercise, but Cotler quoted famed Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who said: “I do not know what will help human rights, but I know that human rights will be harmed by silence.”

Yemini emphasized the need to admit that there is a problem and that it has to be identified.

The first thing to do in dealing with it, he said, is to admit it. He lamented the fact that while students at universities in the US might know about Dir Yassin, “they don’t know about pogroms in Arab countries.”

Linde warned that the boycott against Israel is catching on like wildfire – “and that’s a dangerous thing.” Only Diker seemed to be optimistic about the future and more focused on Israel’s achievements than on the threats to Israel’s economy and security.

■ SOMETHING THAT most of the world’s tabloids have in common, and which possibly accounts for their high readership, is a fund of human interest stories. Yediot Aharonot is no exception, and ran a heartwarming story about nonagenarians Michael and Marion Mittwoch, who were among the founders of Kibbutz Lavi and who have just celebrated the birth of their 100th great-grandchild. That’s a wonderful thing under any circumstances, but much more poignant when one considers that each, before they knew each other, fled to England from Nazi Germany.

Imagine what the Jewish world would have lost had the Mittwochs met with the same fate as so many of their co-religionists in Germany. Just the thought is reminiscent of what Golda Meir used to say in relation to the Holocaust, that it was a fallacy to talk of the murder of six million Jews, because it was much more. It was also all the progeny they could have had for generations to come.

Michael and Marion each moved to Israel after the war and met in the Lower Galilee.

Together they produced five children: Hadassah, the widow of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman of Tekoa; a second daughter, who lives in Kiryat Shmona; a son, Eli Ori, who lives in Shilo and is the grandfather of the 100th great-grandson; a second son, who is a professor of astrophysics at the Technion who lives in Mitzpe Netofa in the Galilee; and a third daughter, who is the principal of a school for special needs children in Gush Etzion.

Eli and his wife, Ofra, made a point of going to Kibbutz Lavi with their son, Gadi, his wife, Noa, and their five children who live in Ofra, to present the 100th great-grandchild to great-grandfather Michael and great-grandmother Marion.

The boy was given the name Dagan Raz, after the late Maj. Dagan Wertman, 32, a Golani Brigade doctor who was at officers’ school with Gadi and was killed during Operation Cast Lead. “This is our answer to Hitler,” said Michael. “He tried to exterminate us, and here we have brought the 100th great-grandchild into the covenant of Abraham.”

greerfc@gmail.com

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