Judging by the cheers, the roar of the crowd and the standing ovation, one would
have thought that the group entering the auditorium was a bunch of rock stars.
But President Shimon Peres, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former
British prime minister Tony Blair and the dignitaries who accompanied them don’t
quite fall into that category. Yet they proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that
even though the world may belong to the young, it can still be swayed by the not
Ebullient and irrepressible sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer,
who just this month celebrated her 84th birthday, continued to draw in the crowd
at her workshop, to the extent that she had a full house. In fact, demand for
her talk was so great among young attendees of the conference that her session
had to be moved to a larger room.
At the opening of the Israeli
Presidential Conference at on Tuesday, Kissinger, who is a year older than
Peres, said, “It is unusual for an 89-year-old man to say that I wish my parents
could be here. They would be more proud of this distinction than any of the
other honors that have come my way.”
Kissinger’s parents, who fled from
Germany to the United State in 1938, ran a traditional Jewish home and to them,
the highest civilian decoration that the State of Israel can bestow would
certainly have been meaningful.
The enthusiasm of the crowd was boundless
and Peres, Kissinger and Blair were cheered not only as a group, but also
individually as each mounted and left the stage. There were also cheers,
applause and laughter during the speeches. Peres raised a laugh when in his own
speech about Kissinger, prior to presenting him with the award, related an
anecdote about Kissinger’s first visit to Saudi Arabia “I receive you not as a
Jewish person but as a human being,” said the king, to which Kissinger had
replied, “Your Majesty, some of my best friends are human beings.”
Blair, who is an extremely popular figure in Israel and who has appeared at all
four Facing Tomorrow conferences, was received with great warmth, and he too
raised a laugh when he said that he felt extremely honored to be sandwiched
between Peres and Kissinger. “I should be grateful to feel like a young thing
again,” quipped the 59-year-old Middle East representative of the Quartet and
who, in his many meetings with Peres, has imbibed the latter’s optimism that
despite all the obstacles, peace is still possible. “A lasting peace with a
secure State of Israel and a viable state of Palestine is a preferred strategic
Israeli interest,” he declared.
■ BUT THE following day, in a session
entitled “A Strategic Look at Tomorrow,” erudite women’s rights activist Ayaan
Hirsi-Ali, a Muslim born in Somalia and now living in the US, dashed cold water
on peace prospects when she explained that the so-called Arab Spring will never
be a true revolution until Muslims learn to compromise.
In the Arab
world, she said, authority is absolute and to compromise is to suffer
If the Palestinians learn to compromise, she said, it will have a
tremendous impact on the Israel-Arab world as well as on relations between Jews
and Muslims. But without compromise there will be no peace even if Israel gives
them Jerusalem. She was thrilled, however, that “for the first time, Arab
countries are questioning absolute power.”
Leon Wieseltier, literary
editor of The New Republic, pointed out that one of the major obstacles on the
path to peace was lack of common comprehension.
“You can’t make peace
with someone without understanding their definition of peace,” he said. Dennis
Ross veteran Middle East policy advisor to a series of US presidents, declared
that if the Palestinians are committed to a two-state solution to their conflict
with the Israelis, “It’s time for them to put Israel on the map” and to “stop
celebrating those who kill Israelis as martyrs. It’s time for Palestinians to
say that not only Israelis have to make hard decisions. Both sides will have to
make hard decisions.”
There was consensus among all the panelists,
including former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, that the days of Syrian
President Bashar Assad are numbered and that he will quickly fade into the dust
Noting the presence of Peres in the audience, Ross remarked,
“I may not be here in 20 to 30 years. I know that you will be, and you will
still be telling people about tomorrow.”
■ IN A Hebrew session on Judaism
and Democracy and whether they have complementary or conflicting values,
international human rights activist and Canadian legislator Prof.
Cotler presented his address in English, explaining that it was not out of
disregard for Hebrew but because he respects it. However, at question time, he
spontaneously responded in fluent Hebrew.
All the panelists agreed that
many democratic principles were rooted in Judaism, but Adina Bar Shalom, founder
and director of the Haredi College for Women, was concerned as to which would
triumph in the rare instance of a conflict between the two.
Judaism makes ample provision for human rights, Cotler said he was opposed to
labeling all of the African migrants in Israel under the pejorative title of
Referring to the haredi-secular divide in Israel, haredi
newspaper publisher, communications maven and community activist Dudi
Zilbershlag said the problem was that neither side made sufficient effort to
understand the other.
■ THIS PROBLEM is far less prevalent in the
Diaspora, where Jews make greater efforts to focus on factors that unite rather
than those that divide. In a session on “The Challenge of Being Jewish in the
Diaspora,” Rabbi Richard Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism,
related how in his neighborhood, the Orthodox rabbi wanted to put up an eruv
(ritual enclosure) that would encompass the Reform temple.
why, considering that Reform Jews do not do not observe the practice of eruv, he
said he wanted the temple to be included so that Orthodox and Reform Jews could
celebrate Sabbath and holidays together.
As for relations between Israel
and the Diaspora, Rachel Korpus, president of the Zionist Federation of New
Zealand, pointed to the difference between religious and national
identification, which tends to obviate the common denominator.
A lot of
Israelis are now coming to New Zealand, she said, and while she sees herself
first and foremost as Jewish, they see themselves first and foremost as
■ BANK OF Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer chaired a plenary session
on “The Economic Tomorrow” in which, with exception of one explanatory sentence
in Hebrew, he spoke only English with a brilliant panel whose gift of sharp wit
and language proved that economists and bankers are far from stodgy.
of the discussion focused on the euro zone and its future, which seems somewhat
Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economics commentator of
the Financial Times of London, praised Gordon Brown, who, as chancellor of the
Exchequer, had made the greatest contribution to Britain by preventing
then-prime minister Tony Blair from exercising his passionate desire to join the
■ APROPOS BRITAIN, the British Embassy together with the
British Council this week marked 70 days to the opening of the Paralympic Games
in London with an event honoring the Israeli Paralympic delegation.
rowing teams from the embassy and the British Council, led by British Ambassador
Matthew Gould and British Council director Dr.
Simon Kay, competed
against the Paralympic Athletes’ rowing team in an exciting race at the Daniel
Rowing Center on the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv, Gould congratulated the Israeli
athletes ahead of the London games, saying that the way a country treats its
disabled population says a lot about that country.
“Both Britain and
Israel can take real pride in our record of treating our disabled population,”
he said. “I know that both Israel and Britain take huge pride in the amazing
record of each of our Paralympic teams.
When you go to London we are
looking for you to do even better than before and come back with more medals
than anyone else – apart from us,” he said.
Danny Ben-Abu, chairman of
the Israel Paralympic Committee, expressed appreciation for the warming-up
contest and the goodwill of the British Embassy and the British
■ ALTHOUGH MUCH was made of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
that Barack Obama presented to Shimon Peres, it was not the first time that
America’s highest civilian distinction had been given to an Israeli. Jewish
Agency chairman Natan Sharansky had previously received it from George
Bush. At a luncheon in Jerusalem this week attended by both men,
Sharansky told Peres that the award entitled him to a discount at the stall of a
particular produce merchant in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market. Sharansky,
like many other well known public figures, shops in Mahaneh Yehuda every Friday.
Apparently, Sharansky, who shops at the market every Friday, has taken advantage
of the offer and decided to inform Peres how to cut down on his
■ MEMBERS OF Israel’s Dutch community last week marked the 70th
anniversary of the date that Anne Frank started her famous diary. The event was
also marked by the Herut Women’s Organization, which invited Ambassador of the
Kingdom of the Netherlands Caspar Veldkamp to participate in an evening of
commemoration and celebration at the Tel Aviv Museum. The program included a
dance performance by the Anne Frank Dance Company.
The event was also
attended by Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat. Veldkamp urged the
public to not remember Anne Frank only as a victim but also for the potential
and the great vitality she represents.
■ AIR BERLIN representative in
Israel Moni Bar, who is also CEO of Holiday Travel, this week hosted Air
Berlin’s top management, including VP of international sales Mats Jakobson and
senior VP of communications Uwe Berlinghoff, to mark the third anniversary of
the airline’s activities in Israel. Jakobson announced that as of June 30, Air
Berlin will double the number of its flights between Tel Aviv and Berlin from
three to six weekly flights. Bar noted that there has been a significant
increase in the number of German tourists to Israel.
■ UNDETERRED BY the
fact that her recent effort to once again establish a tent city on Tel Aviv’s
Rothschild Boulevard was nipped in the bud by authorities, social justice
activist Daphni Leef will make another attempt today and will continue to do so,
regardless of any opposition she gets from Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
promises to be a very hot summer, especially as the state comptroller’s report
on the Mount Carmel forest fire has generated a fresh wave of dissatisfaction
with the government.
Fellow activist Stav Shafir who has moved in a
different direction, while still embracing the cause, says that what started
like an Israeli version of Woodstock is turning into a political
■ DEFENSE MINISTER Ehud Barak and his wife, Nili Priel,
purportedly sold their luxury apartment in Tel Aviv’s Akirov Towers because he
was too far removed from his electorate. He doesn’t seem to be getting any
closer in his new rented apartment where he and his wife will be living until
construction of their permanent apartment is completed. According to a report in
The Marker, Barak has rented an apartment on the 27th floor of the Hashoftim
Tower in Tel Aviv, where his monthly rent will be NIS 25,000. Neighbors in the
building include Shari Arison, Eitan Raf, Yehuda and Tammy Raveh, who also have
a gorgeous home in Jerusalem, and Muli Litvak, whose many business enterprises
include the prestigious Litvak Gallery.
Barak sold his apartment in the
Akirov Towers for NIS 25.6 million to billionaire Teddy Sagi, who made his
fortune from Internet gambling.