Grapevine: Coming up Trumps? Not necessarily

By
July 27, 2017 21:32

Israel gets a Trump, but it's not who you think.




Israel Hayom newspaper

Israel Hayom newspaper. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Though not related, they share the same surname, they’re two years apart in age, they both list New York as their permanent place of domicile, though one is temporarily in Washington, they’re both real estate tycoons with properties inside and outside America – and they’re both very rich.

The surname they share is Trump.

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But Jules Trump, who arrived in Israel this past Sunday, did not come to reaffirm the America-Israel alliance. In fact, if anything, he might be somewhat disgruntled with the Israeli government.

South African-born Jules Trump and his brother Eddie are the main shareholders of Haifa Chemicals, which for several years has caused grief to environmentalists, and which some Haifa residents have charged has inflicted severe illnesses on people living near the chemical plant. Trump has come to decide whether to close down Haifa Chemicals or to try to find an alternative solution that will enable it to continue operating, though not necessarily at its present site.

■ SUNDAY, JULY 30, will be the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first issue of the controversial freebie Israel Hayom (Israel Today), which is generally believed to have been established by American tycoon, political string-puller and mega philanthropist Sheldon Adelson to boost the image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Wikipedia, “In 2016, Adelson’s attorney announced that although it is commonly believed that he owns the newspaper, he does not, it is owned by a relative of his.”

Be that as it may, Israel Hayom has almost consistently taken a pro-Netanyahu stand – until this week, when political correspondent Mati Tuchfeld wrote a piece that was headlined “Removal of metal detectors signifies Netanyahu’s weakness.”

Not only was this story on the front page, but it was the lead story at the top of the page, causing Reshet Bet’s early-morning current affairs anchor Aryeh Golan to chortle that there had obviously been a falling out between Netanyahu and the publication. It has yet to be determined whether the falling out has been between Netanyahu and Adelson or between Netanyahu and Boaz Bismuth, the paper’s former foreign news editor who at the end of April was appointed editor-in-chief, succeeding founding editor Amos Regev, who resigned following several disagreements with the Prime Minister’s Office.

Actually, Tuchfeld’s article did not spell the first time that Netanyahu had been criticized by the tabloid, which has been a thorn in the side of Yediot Aharonot, which for decades enjoyed the highest readership of all daily publications, but was eventually surpassed by Israel Hayom.

In January 2013, veteran journalist Dan Margalit who used to have a daily front-page column, was relegated to the deep inside pages for daring to criticize a decision by Netanyahu. More recently, reporter Shlomo Cesana also dared to write something that irked the people close to the prime minister.

Bismuth, after taking over his new position, wasted little time in getting rid of Margalit, who now writes for Haaretz, for which he worked some 40 years ago. Bismuth fired him in the first week of June, and ever since then, there has also been diminished positive coverage of Netanyahu – so much so that while other newspapers ran photographs of Netanyahu speaking by phone to members of Israel’s Embassy in Jordan after they crossed the Allenby Bridge and returned to Israel, and/or of Netanyahu embracing security guard Ziv when he and Ambassador Einat Schlein visited Netanyahu the following day, neither photograph appeared in Israel Hayom, which is apparently going from one extreme to the other.

Yet for all that, it is unfair, just because it happens to be a free newspaper, to say that it is not a legitimate newspaper. On the whole it reports on the same political, economic, cultural, religious, sports and other issues as most other newspapers in the country, but has its own political slant, as do the majority of publications.

Happily, Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz gets complaints on the one hand that the paper is too right-wing, and on the other that it is too left-wing. His conclusion: “We must be doing something right.”

■ THE RESIDENCES of ambassadors are usually quite luxurious because they are not only the places in which the ambassadors live while serving abroad, but they are also the showcases of the countries they represent. The paintings hanging on the walls are the works of artists from their countries; the food served at receptions is often the traditional cuisine of their countries; and of course many of the receptions hosted by ambassadors are in honor of high-ranking political visitors, cultural figures and fashion icons of their nations.

One of the most impressive residences is that of the ambassador of Colombia, Fernando Adolfo Alzate Donoso. The beautifully designed house in Kfar Shmaryahu is set against the backdrop of a tropical forest garden. The house itself features geometric alcoves where clusters of guests can sit and chat in an almost intimate environment.

There is also a proper bar for those who want to sit around on bar stools. A large patio surrounds most of the house and also leads to a curve-shaped swimming pool.

Alzate and his wife last week hosted a triple-purpose reception marking Colombia’s 207th anniversary of independence, the celebration of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Israel, which were established in July 1957, and the signing last November of a peace treaty with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – a guerrilla movement that described itself as the People’s Army. Relating to the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and FARC, Alzate said that it means more than the laying down of arms by the guerrillas. It also means combating illegal crops and drug trafficking, and decreasing poverty and unemployment.

Representing the government of Israel, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, in greeting the many guests, used the Spanish “Buenas noches.” His Hebrew, by the way, is just as fluent as his Arabic, and unlike some Jewish ministers, he has no problem singing “Hatikva,” which he does with gusto. Kara spoke of the important strategic relationship that exists between Israel and Colombia, and the close cooperation in business, culture, tourism, academia and security.

He congratulated Colombia on what he called “an outstanding peace agreement,” which he said was an important example for the whole world, and offered Israel’s help in the implementation of the peace process.

■ IT WAS an interesting coincidence that Georgian-born businessman and philanthropist Michael Mirilashvili was elected president of the Euro-Asiatic Jewish Congress at a time when Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the prime minister of Georgia, was visiting Israel.

Mirilashvili, who is also a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, was born in Kulashi, Georgia, in 1960. He studied at Saint Petersburg Medical School in Russia and graduated as a pediatrician in 1983. With the gradual collapse of the Communist regime, he turned his attention to business and proved to be most successful with investments in many parts of the globe. His business interests currently include several hi-tech companies, as well as the development, maintenance and management of commercial and office real estate. In August 2003, he was imprisoned on false charges and given a 12-year sentence. He was released in 2009 and exonerated by a Russian court. Although he continues to have business and philanthropic interests in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, his home base is in Israel.

He contributes huge sums for the revitalization of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, through support of communal institutions and restoration of synagogues. He also encourages the Jewish communities in these countries to have a strong connection with Israel. He has been the president of Maccabi- Russia for 25 years, the vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, the vice president of the Euro-Asiatic Jewish Congress, the president of the Jewish Congress of Saint Petersburg, among other executive positions. His international philanthropic activities are carried out through United Israel Appeal.

In Israel, Mirilashvili supports Yad Vashem projects, particularly the Center for Research on the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. He is also a keen supporter of ZAKA, of which he is a past chairman.

His son Yitzhak is the owner of Channel 20.

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