ALMOST EXACTLY 30 years to the day after former president Chaim Herzog left Israel on an epic tour of Asia and the South Pacific, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he intends to visit Fiji, Singapore and Australia some time toward the end of February 2017.
Although he is to some extent following Herzog’s route and will be the first prime minister of Israel to officially visit all three destinations, just as Herzog was the first Israeli president to do so, Netanyahu cannot afford the luxury of being away from Israel for three weeks as was Herzog in 1986 when his tour included the island of Reunion, Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia and Kenya.
While in Hong Kong, Herzog also paid a secret visit to the Chinese mainland. He had been scheduled to visit the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, but the latter two destinations were scrapped because of political unrest in the Philippines at the time, and because someone in the Foreign Ministry had voiced fears that Herzog might become the victim of cannibals, of which there were still a very small minority in Papua New Guinea.
However, despite strong protests from political groups in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, Herzog went ahead with his visit to Singapore, and continued to both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Townsville in Australia. While in Fiji, where he received a warm welcome, Herzog asked for diplomatic ties to be upgraded and that Fiji post a resident ambassador to Israel, but the request was denied.
That situation may change following the visit to Israel early this month by Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama who toured the Middle East with the aim of discussing United Nations peacekeeping in the region. Bainimarama also asked for Israel’s help in combating climate change and officially invited Netanyahu to visit his country. On the day that Bainimarama arrived in Israel with his wife, Maria Makitalena, the nonresident ambassador of Fiji had been scheduled to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, but the presentation never took place because the ambassador’s posting was canceled by Bainimarama. The Fijian PM and his wife were the guests of the Netanyahus in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem where the two couples spoke about the Bible and their families, and Netanyahu showed the visitors the archeological findings that are displayed in the residence.
■ REMEMBRANCE DAY, often referred to as Poppy Day in Britain and Commonwealth countries, is traditionally commemorated on November 11, the date in November 1918 that marked the end of World War I. It is called Poppy Day in remembrance of the blood that was spilled in Flanders (known for its poppy fields) during that war, and on November 11, and often for the week that follows, British men and some British women wear an artificial red poppy pinned to their lapel.
Moreover, at many memorial services, on this date and on other dates honoring the memories of soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice, it is customary to read a verse from the poem “In Flanders Fields” which was written by a Canadian physician Lt.-Col. John McCrae and has become a symbol of remembrance. Because Remembrance Day this year fell on a Friday, and because many people who would want to attend would hesitate, fearful that they would not be home in time for Shabbat if there was traffic congestion on the freeways, British Ambassador David Quarrey decided to hold the memorial ceremony on Sunday, and duly showed up this past Sunday at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Ramle for the ceremony honoring those who served with the British Armed Forces. Ambassadors and Defense Attaches from several countries, as well as soldiers currently serving, military veterans and other dignitaries attended the ceremony and paid their respects to the fallen.
Relating to the attack launched by the Allied forces at Ankara a century ago, which was to be the last offensive of that battle, Quarrey commented: “We who were not there can’t know but we must try and understand a little more, we must reflect and most importantly we must remember.
“We offer particular thanks and a warm welcome to the members of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen who are here today,” he said. “We are honored that you are here. We are grateful for your service,” Quarrey added.
The ceremony was followed by a reception at the Ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan in honor of the veterans and their families.
■ THE ISRAEL Broadcasting Authority is taking former stars out of mothballs and bringing them back to the microphone and the small screen. Well-known Francophile Emmanuel Halperin, who also happens to be the nephew of Menachem Begin, and who used to be a regular radio and television broadcaster on IBA, is returning to host a tribute series to Israeli films and television serials which were screened over the past fifty years. The series will premiere on Channel 1 on Thursday, November 24 at 10 p.m., under the title What a drama and will feature other former IBA personalities as well as actors, producers, directors and script writers who are or were once household names. Among them are Yaron London, Ram Levy, Yehoshua Sobol, Merav Michaeli, Makram Khoury, Nissim Dayan, Yona Elian, Uri Barabash, Sasson Gabai, Hai Davidov and more. The guests will also reveal some of the behindthe- scenes dramas that accompanied the productions.
■ BUT EVEN before that, on this coming Saturday night, November 19, at 10 p.m., actor Natan Datner, who was a television star on Educational Television when it was broadcast only via Channel 1, then known as Israel Television, will host a new four-episode documentary series called Filmed on a week day. Datner will take Channel 1 viewers on a journey of Jewish culture, more in the religious sense than in the secular, but dealing with more universal subjects such as kosher gourmet, religious feminism, female cantors and rabbis, alternative approaches to observing Shabbat, and other subjects of a religious nature that are viewed in different ways by different streams of Judaism. Not all of it will be strange to Datner who grew up in a religious home up until the time he was 14. He will also meet other people whose lives changed from religious to secular and secular to religious. The series is sufficiently wide ranging to enable every viewer to find a point of identification.
■ ON THE day of the announcement of the death of Leonard Cohen, MK Ahmad Tibi tweeted that few people know that one of Cohen’s most beloved songs Dance Me to the End of Love was inspired by the Holocaust. If it seems strange that an Arab MK whose current Knesset affiliation is through the Joint Arab List should remark on this fact, Tibi, who has great empathy for victims of the Holocaust, makes a point of sitting in on the Knesset session marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It should be remembered that when he delivered an address on the subject in 2010, President Reuven Rivlin who was then Knesset speaker, said that it was one of the best orations he had ever heard.
■ IT WOULD be interesting to learn how many synagogues spontaneously included Leonard Cohen tunes in their services last Shabbat. At Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael congregation, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary later this month, there is no permanent cantor, and regular and visiting congregants take turns in leading the services. Last Friday night, the person leading the service was Ariel Ben David who began singing “Lecha Dodi” to a different tune to that usually sung by the congregation.
After a few bars the tune was recognized and everyone joined in. The tune was Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah!” ■ RUMOR HAS it that following the visit here last week by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, that President Vladimir Putin will be here in February to dedicate a Russian project and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations, though in a sense it wasn’t quite renewal in that Israel prior to June 1967 had diplomatic ties with the now defunct Soviet Union. The Russians like to do things in a big way, and had hoped to take over the whole of the King David hotel, but there is a limit to the frequency with which the hotel can relocate guests, especially loyal guests who come back time after time. The hotel therefore allocated only two floors to Medvedev and his entourage, which in total comprised 274 people. The rest, in the final analysis, were distributed in five different hotels in the capital. Fortunately, they were all very close to each other.
■ IT’S THAT time of year again when people from all over the country, including many diplomats will be flocking to Jerusalem, not for a Jewish holiday, but for the annual diplomatic conference hosted by The Jerusalem Post. This year’s conference will take place this coming Wednesday, November 23, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with the participation of 16 speakers including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat. Who would have imagined 40 years ago, that an ambassador of Egypt would participate in a Jerusalem Post conference in Jerusalem, let alone anywhere else in Israel, at an event hosted by any Israeli institution or organization? With hindsight we can now appreciate the unprecedented leadership of giants such as Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.