Grapevine

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January 25, 2007 16:49

"Flowers are charming," said Peres, alluding to the famous Baha'i gardens in Haifa, "but if the trains aren't working..."

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THE NUMBER of Baha'is, in some 200 countries, is fewer than the population of Israel, yet the number of diplomats who attended the farewell for Murray Smith, the Baha'i International Community's deputy secretary-general, and his wife Miette would indicate that the Baha'i influence is far greater than its numbers, or alternatively it was simply a tribute to Smith, who for almost 13 years was the BIC's "ambassador" to Israel and to the foreign diplomatic corps. Smith estimated that during this time he met more than 400 ambassadors, plus many more diplomats of lesser rank, in the various embassies that he visited to create Baha'i awareness. Although it was generally well known that Smith had been a prominent political figure in his native New Zealand prior to coming here, what was not common knowledge but was revealed at the BIC farewell for the Smiths by BIC Secretary-General Albert Lincoln was that Smith had also been the chairman of the New Zealand Railways, a factor that prompted Vice Premier Shimon Peres to remark that had this been known before, Israel might have made better use of Smith. "Flowers are charming," said Peres, alluding to the famous Baha'i gardens in Haifa, "but if the trains aren't working..." Relating to the sensational news items claiming the attention of the Israeli media, Peres cited other much more positive elements such as his meetings earlier in the day with a world famous architect who wanted to make Tel Aviv dust free, a delegation of bishops on a quest for peace and an entrepreneur who wants to free Israel from dependence on fuel in favor of solar energy. "Better to depend on the sun than on the Saudis," commented Peres, adding that after spending the day in such positive meetings, he had come to the Baha'i who were dedicated to world peace and to the creation of beauty and harmony. In this context he read two poems - one by Zelda and the other by Yehuda Amichai, at the conclusion of which he said to Smith, "Don't go back to the railways, continue with the flowers." Smith said how extremely touched he and other BIC members had been by the number of phone calls they had received from Israelis and foreign diplomats during last summer's difficulties in the North, to ask how they were faring. One of the journalists covering the war had asked him if he thought that peace was possible, to which Smith had replied that peace was unattainable without education and recognition of the oneness of the human race. The occasion was also used to welcome Smith's successor, Anthony Vance and his wife Ladan. Vance, who previously spent 21 years working for USAID, is a Harvard and Cambridge graduate and a second-generation Baha'i. His late mother Juanita embraced the faith. During the latter part of World War II, she was employed at the Pentagon. Vance, who arrived here four months ago, during which time Smith eased him into his new role, said that he had been touched by his warmth and the steadfastness of his friendship. AT ONE of the many farewell parties held for Russian Ambassador Gennady Tarasov and his wife Elena, journalists paid somewhat more attention to one of the guests than to the guests of honor. The man they surrounded was controversial businessman and philanthropist Arkadi Gaydamak, whose views on a variety of subjects make daily headlines. This time reporters wanted to know who he thought would make the most suitable prime minister. Gaydamak declined to name any specific person, but said that it wasn't necessarily anyone who is currently in the political arena. "It could be someone like a school teacher whom the public doesn't know." Gaydamak had been previously reported in Ha'aretz as favoring Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. When reminded of this by Lily Galilee who wrote the story, he told her that she had misunderstood him. SOME PEOPLE need to have their memories jogged about anniversaries, but former Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Hadass does better than remember his wedding anniversary; he remembers the date when he first met his wife Stella 53 years ago. It was a propitious date that no Israeli could forget, he says - November 29. This year it will have even more meaning, as it will mark the 60th anniversary of the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine.


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