AS ONE of his last official acts before completing his tour of duty, outgoing British Ambassador Simon McDonald gave Dov Lautman, founder and CEO of Delta Galil Industries, a relatively unique 70th birthday present. He informed him that he is to receive an honorary OBE (Officer in The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in recognition of his contribution to Anglo-Israeli commercial relations and his tireless efforts to advance the peace process.
However, McDonald will not be around to confer the order on Lautman on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. This will be one of the initial tasks of McDonald's successor, incoming British Ambassador Tom Phillips.
The honor comes to Lautman just a little after the 30th anniversary of Delta Galil, which he founded in 1975. The company has grown to be one of the world's leading producers of intimate apparel, socks and leisure wear. Delta, whose British office employs close to 200 people, is one of the key suppliers to Britain's famous chain of department stores, Marks & Spencer.
A prominent figure in a number of institutions and organizations, Lautman is a member of the Israel-Britain Business Council, serves as Chairman of the Peres Center for Peace, Honorary Chairman of Dor Shalom, Deputy Chairman of the Abraham Fund, Chairman of the Development Committee of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, Chairman of the Association for Industry's Community Relations, Chairman of the Executive Council of Tel Aviv University, member of the Board of Governors of Ben-Gurion University and a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency. In addition, he's past president of the Israel Manufacturers Association and served as chairman of the Coordinating Bureau of Economic Organizations and as former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's Special Envoy for Economic Development.
RECOGNITION BY foreign countries seems to be the order of the day. Israel Museum director James Snyder last week received one of Italy's highest accolades in appreciation of his efforts in promoting exhibitions and special events focused on Italian art, deriving from his own deep interest and expertise in Italian art and culture.
Italian Ambassador Sandro De Bernardin conferred the honor at the opening of "An Encounter with Titian," celebrating the loan from Galleria Borghese in Rome of "Venus Blindfolding Cupid," circa 1565.
In noting Snyder's endeavors to bring Italian creativity to the Israel Museum, De Bernardin underscored how actively Snyder had pursued his goal of bringing the first display in Israel of a painting by Titian as a visiting masterpiece to the Israel Museum. The ambassador also commended the strong relationship that Snyder had cultivated with the Association of Italian Friends of the Israel Museum, thus paving the way for granting greater visibility to Italian artworks in the Museum's collection.
De Bernardin characterized the loan of the Titian as "a meaningful diplomatic gesture" and said it was the explicit wish of the Italian Minister of Cultural Treasures and Heritage that the loan be facilitated as a sign of Italy's desire to intensify its cultural relations with Israel.
De Bernardin, who is generally in a jovial mood, was even more so on the night that he named Snyder a "Commendatore" of the Star of Solidarity of the Republic of Italy, but not just because it signified the cementing of bilateral cultural ties. It just so happened that the event took place a night after the final match in the World Cup series, and like all ecstatic Italians who had roared in joyous triumph when Italy won the cup, De Bernardin was still walking on air.
Snyder commented that he had often wondered why, in Israel, the Ministries for Culture and Sport are so often combined. The celebration of the World Cup victory for Italy and the Israel Museum's pleasure in hosting Titian's "Venus Blindfolding Cupid" helped him understand the connection.
"Both in sports and in culture, we are engaged in a kind of international engagement - a kind of international diplomacy - which brings people together and lifts them up," he said. "And so, we are lucky to celebrate culture and sport, and how both fields really do offer unique opportunities for the most positive kind of interchange worldwide."
TO BE honest, Bastille Day celebrations in Israel, though often enhanced by some very famous dignitaries from the realms of politics, academia and the arts, are almost always marred by the weather. Rather than hold the festivities in an air-conditioned hotel banquet hall, where several ambassadors of other countries have chosen to hold their national day events, a series of French ambassadors have opted for the lawns of the French residence in Jaffa. Even in the winter, the air at the residence is heavy with humidity. In the summer it is almost unbearable.
This year there were two additional problems. Bastille Day actually fell last Friday, but if the atmosphere is stifling in the evening, it is even more so in the day time, so any thought of having a daytime celebration was promptly quashed. Thursday was the 17th of Tammuz, so there was no way of moving the festivities back by one day, and Saturday night was equally out of the question because Shabbat did not end till around 8:30 p.m., and that was a little late for Ambassador Gerard Araud to start receiving hundreds of guests.
So the Embassy staff settled for July 12, which turned out to be an unfortunate date in more ways than one. The security situation in the north led to a series of emergency meetings which precluded the attendance of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or any members of the government. Members of Knesset also stayed away, and the event lost much of its momentum. Noting how developments of the morning had influenced a change of plans, Araud said: "We live in Israel and we share the country's joys and sorrows. Today, Israel is once again mourning her sons."
Araud expressed condolences to the state and to the families of the fallen soldiers, and noted that in French there is a saying that what counts is the intention. That being the case, he said, the intention had been to celebrate the excellent relations between France and Israel with the participation of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Chief of General Staff and several government ministers in the aftermath of Olmert's highly successful visit to Paris. "I was a witness to the warmth of the meeting between the prime minister and President Jacques Chirac," said Araud. Unfortunately, a couple of days later Chirac was not so well disposed to Israel and charged that it was trying to destroy Lebanon.
JAPANESE PRIME Minister Junichiro Koizumi adapts instantly to every new environment. A couple of weeks ago, he was imitating Elvis Presley in the US. In Israel, he got President Moshe Katsav to explain to him the meaning of Boris Schatz's Tisha B'Av at the Wailing Wall. Two days later, while touring Petra during his visit to Jordan, he donned a red and white kafiya. One can only presume that when he was in Russia for the meeting of the G8, he did a Cossack dance. Or maybe he challenged President Vladimir Putin, who has a black belt in judo.