Grapevine: Taking responsibility

Joining an organization in which ethics are high on the list of priorities means taking responsibility for misdeeds and misdemeanors.

By
March 20, 2014 23:26
Staff from the Israel Broadcasting Authority gather outside the Finance Ministry, August 2013

IBA protests Israel Broadcasting Authority 370. (photo credit: Arieh O’Sullivan)

One of the first things that anyone joining an organization in which ethics are high on the list of priorities learns very quickly is to take responsibility for misdeeds and misdemeanors.

In all the talk this week about the gross mismanagement of the Israel Broadcasting Authority by a series of incompetent management personnel, the real culprits, according to speakers at solidarity rallies, protest demonstrations and at Knesset meetings, are the members of government who time and again chose wrongly when they appointed non-professionals to iron out the wrinkles in the IBA. All these non-professionals did was to create more crinkles and chaos.

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Now, the workers are being punished for what essentially was the bad judgment of the politicians, and the lack of professionalism of the people they chose to run the IBA. The politicians – then MKs – were also to blame for the fact that a man who is now serving jail time for sexual offenses committed through abuse of power was elected president of Israel.

When the story of rape allegations against Moshe Katsav initially surfaced, reporters who had previously heard whispers from MKs in Knesset corridors said Katsav’s sexual proclitivities were wellknown.

If that was the case, why did MKs vote for him to become Israel’s No. 1 citizen? For the same reason that they appointed unsuitable executives to mismanage the IBA – they just don’t care enough.

It will be interesting to see if any of those MKs who were involved in appointing the IBA management will have the courage to take responsibility and say mea culpa.

■ AMONG THE newer politicians to whom none of the blame for the mismanagement of the IBA can be attributed is Labor MK Miki Rosenthal, who as a former investigative reporter can identify very well with the tribulations of IBA employees – especially the journalists. He was among the MKs who on Wednesday joined IBA journalists in the Rose Garden opposite the Knesset in their protest against the proclaimed shutting down of the IBA.

Rosenthal has good reason to support the continuity of public broadcasting.

While still working for Channel 2, he created The Shakshuka System documentary, which was directed by Ilan Abudi and focused on the links between corporate business and government. Rosenthal had chosen to investigate the influence of the Ofer family, one of the wealthiest in Israel, with wide-ranging and diverse business interests including media.

The Ofer family filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent the film from being screened – and lost. Although Rosenthal was a popular broadcaster, Channel 2 decided not to renew his contract. No commercial channel would touch the film with a barge pole, even though it won the 2009 Ophir Award for Best Documentary Film. Public broadcasting, namely Channel 1, refused to yield to pressures not to screen it, as did various cinematheques.

It is no secret that other commercial television productions have either been shelved or substantially reedited due to commercial considerations induced by pressure from tycoons, who did not want their true colors revealed to the wider public.

It was good to see that not all journalists working for commercial television are afraid to act in accordance with their conscience.

Ilana Dayan, one of the stars of Channel 2, was among those who stood with the IBA protesters in the Rose Garden.

■ WHAT PAINED the IBA journalists more than anything were the flippant attitudes of both Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who at a media conference two weeks earlier said they had come to bury the IBA and sign its death certificate. The latter comment had been made by a smirking Lapid, who had spent four years at the IBA honing his television career.

Israel Prize laureate Yaakov Ahimeir had taken him to task the previous day at an emergency rally at Beit Sokolow in Tel Aviv, and on Wednesday economics reporter and analyst Oded Shachar, speaking at the Rose Garden, addressed himself to Lapid and said: “How would you like it if I came and told you that I’d signed a death certificate for Yesh Atid?” ■ COINCIDENTALLY, IN the same week that three Knesset committees discussed the controversial Landes Report, which recommended closure of the IBA and replacing it with another entity, the Harpaz case, which has been relentlessly pursued by the IBA’s Ayala Hasson, erupted once again – partly because Hasson has kept it alive; and Israel Radio’s military reporter and unofficial ombudswoman for soldiers mistreated during their service was named one of the 14 beacon lighters at this year’s Independence Day celebrations.

■ THE OTHER 13 beacon lighters cover a broad cross-section of society, including former MK Geula Cohen, who is the mother of MK Tzachi Hanegbi and also features in a weekly current affairs discussion program on Israel Radio.

But perhaps the most controversial of the beacon lighters is Adina Bar-Shalom, the elder sister of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, and the daughter of late Shas mentor and former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. It’s a double honor for Bar Shalom, who was also named among this year’s recipients of the Israel Prize. Recognized as a pioneer in bridging socioeconomic gaps by providing a broader education for haredi girls, so that they can have the necessary qualifications to integrate into the workforce or pursue academic studies, Bar-Shalom, who has personally succeeded in finding her niche in Israel’s mainstream society, nonetheless sides with haredi draft dodgers, and says that edicts issued by rabbis must be obeyed.

■ ALSO AMONG the beacon lighters are actress and Israel Prize laureate Miriam Zohar; Technion-Israel Institute of Technology scientist Kira Radinsky; Ambassador to Ethiopia Belyanesh Zevadia; Israel’s first female Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai, who heads the Human Resources division of the IDF; Hindia Suleiman, entrepreneurial pioneer on behalf of women in her village of Bu’eina-Nujeidat; Rape Crisis Center in the Galilee and Golan director Tali Peretz-Cohen; Intel’s former CEO and current government liaison Maxine Fassberg; educator and paradigm of patriotism Miriam Peretz, who lost two army officer sons, Uriel and Eliraz, in the line of duty; tennis champion Shahar Pe’er; Paralympics medalist Pascale Noa Bercovitch; and National Students Council chairwoman Gal Yosef.

Credit for pushing the concept of an all-female representation at the beacon lighting ceremony goes to Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who urged that women achievers be in the limelight as a group – and not as token representatives of the distaff side of society.

A NEW era began this week for El Al, which though long privatized, is still regarded as Israel’s national carrier. Former Israel Air Force chief Elyezer Shkedy, who has been El Al’s CEO for the past four years, stepped aside to make way for his successor David Maimon.

Shkedy, whose Hungarian-born father Moshe is a Holocaust survivor who lost his whole family in Auschwitz, left his mark on El Al, by traveling the world to get Jews and non-Jews to contribute to the writing of an El Al Bible. In March of last year, Shkedy presented a copy of the El Al Bible to Dr. Norbert Kempe, director of the Wannsee Villa in Berlin, where the Wannsee Conference was held in 1942 to decide on the Final Solution to the “Jewish problem.” It is now a Holocaust memorial and educational site.

It is almost ironic that Shkedy’s departure from El Al coincided with the 70th anniversary of the mass murder of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

■ SANCTIONS IMPOSED by the workers’ union at the Foreign Ministry include non-issue of visas and diplomatic passports.

But it seems that when it comes to cancellation of diplomatic passports, it’s another story.

The diplomatic passports of three senior employees at the Prime Minister’s Office were canceled on Thursday – a factor that may also deprive them of VIP perks such as free refreshments and Internet use at Ben-Gurion Airport’s King David Lounge.

Then again, regardless of what passport they use, if they’re traveling with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the perks will be par for the course.

The three who now have to use their regular passports, providing they’re still valid, are Ezra Saidoff, deputy director-general, material and operational resources; Joseph Cohen, head of the National Security Council; and Edna Halbani, director of international visits. The three are being punished for undermining the sanctions by usurping the duties of Foreign Ministry personnel.

It hasn’t been an easy time for Saidoff, whose name is also linked to the suit which Menachem Naftali has brought against the Netanyahu family in Jerusalem Labor Court. No one knows how much truth there is in the mini-scandals that emanate from the Prime Minister’s household, but if one goes along with the old adage that where there’s smoke there’s fire, then it would seem that the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who is technically not the employer of those who complain of being mistreated by her, needs to take a course in labor relations.

Anyone who wants to check media files will quickly learn that the complaints in the first instance are almost always directed at her, and then the prime minister, who may passively support what she allegedly does.

■ REGARDLESS OF sanctions, Foreign Ministry staff respect the efforts and achievements of the ministry’s retirees, who held their annual get-together this week in the ministry’s auditorium, which easily converts into a banquet hall.

Ministry staff have been embroiled in a number of struggles over the years, in efforts to get proper remuneration and keep the Foreign Service free of domestic politics.

Whereas in many places it is customary to give retiring employees what is popularly referred to as the golden handshake – meaning a gold watch – at the Foreign Ministry they wait for people to get used to retirement, and give them the watch in recognition of their 80th birthday.

At this year’s get-together, there were 11 recipients of timepieces, who among others included: Yoel Sher; Lily Rahami, former ambassador to Georgia; Zohar Raz; Benny Navon; and Yoshua Karitman.

Invited to the podium to help distribute the watches was Sinai Rom, dean of the Foreign Service retirees, who is still spry, dapper and standing tall at 90.

Much was made of the state-of-the-art Museum of Israeli and Jewish Diplomacy, due to be set up at the ministry’s complex within the next three years. The experiences of many of those in attendance will be recognized in the museum’s database.

In the past, the foreign minister has either attended the retirees’ gathering or sent a message. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman did neither, but Yair Frommer, head of the Foreign Service Workers Union, came to greet the diplomats of yesteryear, and to tell them of the plight of present-day Foreign Ministry staff, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned in Hebrew with the words “Save the Ministry.”

Frommer was greeted with loud applause, an indication of encouragement from retired diplomats who understand exactly where he was coming from.

■ LITHUANIAN AMBASSADOR Darius Degutis, who read in this column on Wednesday about two books that had been written by a former ambassador and the wife of a former ambassador, hastened to send an email pointing out that members of the Israeli diplomatic corps are not the only ones who write books. His wife, Nida, has written a book in Lithuanian, Passion for Israel, which according to Degutis has become a popular read in his native country.

■ BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew Gould and his wife, Celia, will be hosting a spring fair at the British residence in Ramat Gan next Friday. The annual charity event will feature stalls, food baskets, embroidery, toys, ceramics, rugs and more from Israeli charities and nonprofits. The charities include those working with women, Holocaust survivors, the disabled and special-needs communities, at-risk youth and the Beduin community. The fair will be sponsored by Harel Insurance & Finance.

The Goulds have become intensely involved with Holocaust survivors and people with disabilities, inviting the latter to help decorate their succa, and creating centers for Holocaust survivors to ensure they have companionship and care. Gould, on various trips to England, raises funds among the Jewish community for the establishment and upkeep of these centers.

■ TO MARK the 10th anniversary of the pogrom on Kosovo, Metohija and other areas, Serbian Ambassador Milutin Stanojevic on Thursday hosted a screening at the Serbian Embassy in Tel Aviv of the documentary Crime Without Punishment, which attests to the suffering of the Serbian people, with vivid scenes of the destruction that took place on March 17, 2004, under the heading “The day it all went up in flames.”

■ NOWRUZ, THE new year springtime period observed in Persia and Central Asia, and by members of the Baha’i faith, is being celebrated in different parts of the world this week, including Israel. President Shimon Peres on Thursday conveyed Nowruz greetings to the Iranian population via Israel Radio’s Farsi broadcast, enunciating the traditional greeting in the language, after which he spoke of the long history of the Jewish and Iranian peoples, dwelling on commonalities of heritage and urging that both nations have a year of science and peace – free of threats and war.

Peres, who was interviewed on the program, reminisced about his visits to Iran in the days of the shah.

Without public broadcasting, it’s not certain he would be able to address the Iranian population and reach out for peace.

■ MAJ.-GEN. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, who recently retired from his positions as national security adviser to the prime minister and head of the National Security Council, has joined the BESA Center as the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow.

Amidror will give his first public address as a fellow of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies next Thursday, March 27, at a conference on the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The conference will be conducted in Hebrew with simultaneous English translation.

Also speaking at the late-afternoon conference will be Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, Prof. Uzi Arad, Prof. Efraim Inbar, and Dr. Jonathan Rynhold. The conference is co-sponsored by the Security Council for Israel, and is open to the public and media without advance registration.

Amidror, 66, served with the IDF for 36 years (1966-2002). During his long military career, he was commander of the IDF Military Colleges, military secretary to the defense minister, director of the Intelligence Analysis Division (responsible for the annual national intelligence assessment) in IDF Military Intelligence, head of a large-scale technology project, intelligence chief of the Northern Command, and head of the “Devil’s Advocate” branch of Military Intelligence. Since retiring from the armed forces, Amidror has published Reflections on Army and Security and Intelligence, Theory and Practice, both in Hebrew, along with articles on strategy and intelligence matters that have been published in various journals.

■ IT’S SOMEWHAT interesting that all the MKs who have given birth while serving as legislators have been politicians from the Right of the political spectrum. The most recent was Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who less than a year after her marriage to Or Alon gave birth to a girl this week.

Previous right-wing female politicians whose immediate families grew during their political careers were Anastasia Michaeli and Gila Gamliel.

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