Jewish ecumenism at the President’s Residence

Rivlin has made both Jewish and national unity a feature of his presidency.

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July 21, 2015 21:42
SHIMON PERES with last year’s ‘MasterChef’ winner Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, from Baka al-Gharbiya

SHIMON PERES with last year’s ‘MasterChef’ winner Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, from Baka al-Gharbiya. (photo credit: PERES CENTER FOR PEACE)

In an attempt to set an example of respect for one’s fellow human being regardless of differences of opinion or the manner in which anyone identifies with Judaism, President Reuven Rivlin will Thursday host a pre-Tisha Be’av study circle under the heading of “Jewish Unity and the Destruction of the Temple.” The event is a joint venture by the President’s Office and the Jewish People Policy Institute, with the focus on the importance of unity and the need to work together to encourage mutual understanding and respect.

Rivlin, who has made both Jewish and national unity a feature of his presidency, will of course be one of the speakers. It is of great significance that one of the other speakers will be Rabbi Meir Azari of Tel Aviv’s Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism, considering that some years ago Rivlin had an unhappy run-in with the Progressive Movement in the United States and was not exactly complimentary in his comments in the immediate aftermath. Since then, the sides have taken a more positive attitude toward each other.

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Rivlin likewise had reservations with regard to the Conservative Movement, but here, too, he began mending fences early in his presidency, though he did have a certain misunderstanding a few weeks back. Nonetheless, there will be a Conservative – or rather, in Israeli terms, a Masorti – speaker in the person of Rabbi Chaya Rowen Baker of Jerusalem’s Ramot Zion congregation.

Also among the speakers will be Dr. Moti Zeira, a founder and CEO of Hamidrasha – Educational Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Israel – at Oranim Academic College.

Rabbi Uri Sherki, an Orthodox rabbi who is chairman of Brit Olam – Noahide World Center dropped out of the speakers list this week and Rabbi Benny Lau graciously stepped in to replace him. The event will be moderated by former Labor MK Dr. Einat Wilf of the Jewish People Policy Institute.

■ IT’S IRON IC that, as Beitar Jerusalem’s No. 1 fan and former club manager, Rivlin cannot exercise any influence on members of La Familia, the Beitar supporters group, which is causing greater grief to Israel, to Jerusalem and to the team itself than Cosa Nostra has done to Sicily. Cosa Nostra at least has an honor code.

Two weeks ago, following a tour of the South to mark the first anniversary of Operation Protective Edge, Rivlin stopped off at the Wassermill Municipal Stadium to meet with soccer players from Hapoel Beersheba, within the framework of the Shield of Honor project that he launched in March as part of a campaign to do away with racism and violence in sports arenas. Rivlin met with team owner Alona Barkat, members of the Hapoel executive and leading members of the team as well as junior players and explained to them the importance of keeping sport free of violence.

Representatives of the youth team and Youth at Risk told him about what Beersheba is doing in this regard, especially through the establishment of Lev Adom (Red Heart) and Atid Adom (Red Future) for youngsters in special education and those who are considered to be youth at risk. Rivlin was impressed and commended Hapoel Beersheba as a wonderful club in which the youth are a guiding light against violence. He was also full of praise for Barkat, who he said is an exceptional woman.

Rivlin also made the point that Beersheba, as the capital of the Negev, has to set an example for the rest of the southern region.

For the second time in less than a month, Rivlin donned a red shirt. He was presented with his very own shirt with “Rivlin 1” across the back. He had previously worn the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball shirt following that team’s State Championship victory last month.

■ AS FOR Rivlin’s favorite team, according to a report in Haaretz Beitar Jerusalem will be called to account for the fact that it refuses to employ Arab players. The management of the team has received a request from Tziona Koenig-Yair, the national commissioner for equal employment opportunities, to explain its bias against Arab players. Just over two years ago, when Beitar Jerusalem was owned by Arcadi Gaydamak, he signed on two Muslim players from Chechnya, against the vociferous objections of Beitar fans, who made life for the two players utterly miserable. While not all Beitar fans display racist tendencies, those who do have given the team a bad name and ruined the fun for other spectators.

In a recent radio interview Beitar coach Guy Levy said that, out of respect for the fans, he would not employ Arab players.

Now the club also has to contend with the problem of weeding out the troublemakers and inciters to racism as well as get rid of racist players on the team. Owner Eli Tabib, who has announced that he’s washing his hands of Beitar and of Israeli soccer, will have a hard job selling the team, unless a racist wants to buy it. If that should happen, it would signify the “End of Days” for Beitar, because penalties imposed by the Union of European Football Associations and local football authorities, coupled with the falloff in fans who do not want to be tarnished with a racist brush, would make it financially impossible for the club to continue, and it would cease to exist.

Former Beitar star Eli Ohana along with former Beitar managers Danny Neuman and Itzik Kornfein have expressed disgust with the behavior in Belgium of the hooligans who claimed to be Beitar fans. Many fine people are ashamed, appalled and outraged – but the key question is: What are they going to do to prevent such incidents in the future? Meanwhile, Tabib suffered another blow when the Registrar of Non-Profit Enterprises notified the Israel Football Association that Tabib can no longer sit on its board, because Tabib was convicted last year of assaulting a minor and early this year was given a sentence of six months community service. The IFA was told that if Tabib does not resign, he must be dismissed. In addition, his right to own a soccer team is also being brought into question due to the fact that he’s been convicted of a crime. On top of all that, he was deeply hurt when Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, seemingly ignoring the huge sums that Tabib has invested in Beitar, proposed that he give the ownership away rather than sell it.

But first things first. The return match against Belgium’s Charleroi takes place Thursday, and it remains to be seen to what extent the police will be able to control the racist ruffians among the fans.

■ EMPLOYEES OF the Israel Broadcasting Authority have found a new champion in Economy Minister Arye Deri, who believes that the bulk of the workforce for the new public broadcasting entity which will replace the IBA should be culled from the ranks of the IBA. At the cabinet meeting this week, Deri said that it is unfair to fire all 1,500 employees and proposed that the 400 personnel can be recruited by the acting director-general for the yet to be established Israel Broadcasting Corporation.

The amendment to the legislation calling for the dismantling of the IBA and the establishment of the IBC was proposed by Minister-without-Portfolio Ophir Akunis.

In effect, it creates a one-year extension for the demise of the IBA and the launch of the IBC, which was supposed to come into existence in March of this year but, if all goes according to plan, instead will go on air at the beginning of April 2016.

The cabinet approved the abolition of the broadcasting license fee, which will not be reinstated during the remaining term of the IBA nor will it be introduced into the budget of the IBC.

There is speculation that Yona Wiesenthal, the former vice president for content at the YES satellite broadcaster, who was appointed by the state’s official receiver David Hahn to be the IBA’s editor-in-chief during the liquidation and transition period, may step down because his wings are being clipped. As it was, his authority was severely limited with regard to hiring and firing. Under the amended legislation, more clout has been given to Eldad Koblentz, who is the acting director-general of the IBC.

Even though the amendment calls for the IBA to be funded in the interim by the Finance Ministry, there is no guarantee that this will happen. Previous resolutions and signed agreements involving the ministry and the IBA have not been honored, so very few people are holding their breath.

■ MEANWHILE, WITH or without the ructions at the IBA, the legendary power of the media is having effect. Veteran IBA reporter and anchorwoman Ayala Hasson, who just under a year ago became the first woman appointed to head the Channel 1 News Division, has been waging a campaign to reopen the hit-and-run case in which 16-year-old motor scooter cyclist Gal Beck was killed by a reckless woman driver 10 years ago. Although Hasson has taken care not to mention the name of the woman, who is now married and a mother, her name and influential family connections have been widely circulated on the Internet, and there have been demonstrations calling for the case to be reopened despite the lapse of the statute of limitations.

Hasson, Beck’s parents and friends all claim that there was a cover-up, false evidence and failure to investigate real evidence, which collectively contributed to the failure to bring the perpetrator to justice.

The campaign has frequently been aired on Israel Radio and Channel 1 and has been reported in the print media.

■ MOVE OVER Yafit Greenberg, here comes Rafi Ginat. Yafit Greenberg, better known as G. Yafit, is the Bnei Brak-born businesswoman who built up an advertising empire by personally promoting the products advertised by her agency and completing the commercial with the word “nekuda,” which leaves no room for argument.

In Hebrew punctuation, nekuda means “full stop” or “period.” Greenberg tends to draw out the syllables in the word, as if to give definitive weight to the text preceding it. She has done so well, firstly in print commercials and subsequently in radio and television, that she was financially able to put in a bid for Ronald Lauder’s share in Channel 10, which eventually she retracted because she was unwilling to take on Channel 10’s debts and instead headed an investment group that a year ago bought out the veteran Steimatzky bookstore chain, with 54 percent of the stock going to her own G Group.

Steimatzky this year celebrates the 90th anniversary of the opening of its first store on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road. The building was destroyed together with neighboring stores to make way for the construction of the Hamashbir department store that dominates Zion Square. Needless to say, Greenberg’s is the face and the voice behind Steimatzky commercials.

Ginat has had a multimedia career.

Though best known for his secret camera consumer program Kolbotek, which went through a name change to Kolbodek when he switched channels, Ginat actually started out as a singer, and later worked as a producer, director and presenter of television programs. He had a sideline as an announcer at major sporting events. He has worked in executive capacities and as a presenter for TV channels 1, 2 and 10, and also had a brief stint as editor-in-chief of Yediot Aharonot.

Because of his deep voice and authoritative manner, almost anything he said on the small screen was taken as gospel.

But now he’s switching sides and going to start presenting commercials – but only for products that he has tested and sincerely believes that they will do what the advertisers claim they do, and in the case of food products he will make sure that ingredients conform exactly to what is printed on the label. Ginat approached PR companies to inform them of his new venture and received enthusiastic feedback. He will buy the products himself and send them to a laboratory for examination. Either the PR company or the client will remunerate him, but everyone knows that the rule is that Ginat will advertise only those products that pass the test. His endorsement under those circumstances may have just a little more weight than Greenberg’s “Nekuda!”

■ DURING HIS visit to Israel last week, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders instructed his embassy to find a way to express the close relations between the Netherlands and Israel while simultaneously giving expression to his country’s opposition to BDS. Given several options, Koenders chose cultural exchange as a positive example. Last Thursday, he visited the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where two Rembrandt paintings are currently being exhibited side by side: one on loan from Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum and the other which belongs to the Israel Museum.

Both paintings are similar in composition and were painted somewhere around the year 1630. They portray Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the apostle Peter in prison, and were painted with Rembrandt’s stunning reflections of light and shades.

Koenders was welcomed by Yitzhak Molcho, the chairman of the museum who is also the personal envoy to the Palestinians for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and museum director James Snyder, who took him on a tour that of course included the impressive collection of Dutch masters, but went well beyond that.

The artworks are not the only ties that the Israel Museum has to the Netherlands. The museum’s founding chairman was Dutchman Willem Sandberg, who also directed Amsterdam’s museum of modern art, the Stedelijk Museum. Sandberg had been a resistance fighter in the Second World War and was recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. He became a groundbreaking typographer and curator in the postwar period. Another Dutchman, Martin Weyl, was Snyder’s predecessor in office and was director of the Israel Museum from 1981 to 1996.

Koenders was accompanied by Ambassador of the Netherlands Caspar Veldkamp, who is winding up his tour of duty prior to taking up his new posting in Greece.

Veldkamp noted the readiness of the Netherlands not only for cultural exchanges but also for exchanges of views – “even when we disagree.” he said. “We want to engage with Israelis and not turn our backs.”

■ AFTER ALL the good work done by former British ambassador Matthew Gould to enhance relations between the UK and Israel, it would seem that British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and the British Embassy itself are intent on throwing a wrench in the works. Even if Britain does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the seat of its government and parliament, there was no need to say that Tel Aviv would not have accepted any deal with Iran. He could have said that Israel would not accept any deal, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quite correct in pointing out that Jerusalem is the capital – especially taking into consideration that they were giving a joint press conference in Jerusalem. But afterward, in the photographs published on the British Embassy’s Facebook page, the photograph of Hammond and Netanyahu was dwarfed by a huge photo of the foreign secretary with opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who not so long ago was in danger during a visit to London of being arrested as an alleged war criminal. Two serious diplomatic gaffes in so short a space of time is unbecoming to the British.

■ TA KING SECURITY considerations into account, the prime minister is precluded from traveling by public transport. But this week he made a late night exception when he and his wife, Sara, joined Mayor Barkat and his wife, Beverly, on a light rail journey from the Mount Herzl terminus to Jaffa Road and through the center of town. The ride followed a reconciliation dinner at the Barkat family home in Beit Hakerem. The decision by the prime minister to appoint Ze’ev Elkin as the minister for Jerusalem affairs caused a rift between Barkat and Netanyahu, and Barkat made it clear at the time that he would brook no interference from Elkin. Mutual political interests tend to take precedence over personal animosities, so the hostilities between Barkat and Netanyahu didn’t last very long, and the two couples had a fine time doing something that is commonplace for most Jerusalemites but different for them.

■ AS WAS his custom when he was president, Shimon Peres last week hosted an iftar dinner, only this time instead of doing it at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, he presided over the dinner at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, where the guest of honor was microbiologist Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, from Baka al-Gharbiya, who won last year’s MasterChef contest and said she would use the prize money to open a culinary school for Arab-Jewish cuisine. This week Peres was in Congo for the Forbes-sponsored Digital Africa Conference.

Peres, as a great proponent for technology, was asked to lead one of the plenum sessions.

■ ONE OF the most popular Israeli interviewees in the wake of the Iran agreement was Iranian-born Israeli broadcaster Rani Amrani, who operates a 24/7 Persian music radio station, RadioRan, which broadcasts news and music from Israel to Iranians all over the world and has quite a following in Iran itself. A regular guest on RadioRan is Iranian-born singer Rita, who speaks fluent Farsi, and whose songs both in Farsi and Hebrew are well known to Iranian listeners. Rita’s aunt is a famous Iranian actress who sometimes appears on the program speaking to Amrani from Iran.

■ MATA V, A leading Israeli caregiver association for people of the third age, has opened a facility in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.

Altogether, Matav manages 12 centers of this kind throughout the country.

On hand for the official opening of the center were Jerusalem Mayor Barkat, Mifal Hapayis chairman Uzi Dayan, National Insurance Institute director Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Jerusalem Foundation president Johanna Arbib, lawyer Itzik Sabato, who is responsible for the special funds department within the NII; Avi Bergman, the chairman of the Matav directorate; and Matav CEO Lior Strassberg. Bergman stressed the importance of organizations and institutions working together to provide services that improve the quality of life for senior citizens.

■ PEOPLE ON the left and right of the political spectrum, religious and secular cannot remain immune to the 10th anniversary of the Gaza disengagement, its effect on the people who were displaced and on the erosion of the nation’s confidence in its elected leaders. Whether disengagement was a good idea or bad idea, what most people will agree on is that the way in which it was done was irresponsible, insensitive and unforgivable. People were uprooted from their homes without being immediately transferred to a permanent home in Israel. They lost their jobs without alternative employment being provided for them and, worst of all, many of the youth, having lost the anchor of a permanent home, went off the rails.

Among the many conferences and lectures examining what exactly happened and why it happened and what the implications are for the future is the Begin-Sadat Center’s conference taking place from 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22, at the Senate Hall in the Feldman Building at Bar- Ilan University. Speakers include generals Gershon Hacohen, Uzi Dayan, Yaakov Amidror, and Yossi Kuperwasser, along with lawyer Dov Weissglas, Israel Maimon, Dr. Anat Roth, Anita Tucker and Prof. Uzi Arad, but the highlight will be a debate between Rabbi Yaakov Medan, head of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva, and novelist A.B. Yehoshua. The two hold distinctly different viewpoints.

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