In politics, it’s probably a lot easier to let bygones be bygones than in most other areas of life.
Sometimes, there’s no option – as in the case of the relationship between President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who worked so arduously to prevent Rivlin from realizing his ambition.
However, as Rivlin himself has said: “The prime minister of Israel has a healthy respect for the presidency.”
What that means, in essence, is that the prime minister regularly meets with the president to update him on national developments. Thus, three days after his return from the US, Netanyahu came to the President’s Residence to discuss his address to the UN; his meetings with Jewish community leaders and with US President Barack Obama; and to update Rivlin on things that were not necessarily reported in the media.
Although the meeting was cordial, it was obvious the two had different agendas. While Netanyahu was focused on the war against terror while simultaneously reaching out the hand of peace to neighboring countries, Rivlin, the eternal trumpeter for Jerusalem, said one of the most unifying factors for the nation was consensus that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and this is something the world must understand. “Jerusalem is our capital and, as such, it must be possible for every resident of the city to live and reside in it,” said the president.
On Sunday, following the repeated radio broadcasts of complaints by Eli Ben-Shem, head of the Yad Lebanim NGO that honors the memories of the fallen and takes care of their families – in which he said that requests to government ministers and MKs to attend commemoration ceremonies marking the 41st anniversary of the Yom Kippur War had either been ignored or met with lame excuses for non-attendance – Rivlin, an avid predawn listener to the news of the day, declared that if no minister offered to attend the central commemoration ceremony on Mount Herzl, he would go as the key representative of the nation. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who also listens to early-morning broadcasts, followed suit, as did a small number of MKs.
Rivlin had another appointment on Sunday with Health Minister Yael German and senior members of her staff, plus medics who came to administer flu shots to citizen No. 1 and members of his staff. Rivlin said that if an inoculation could prevent him from getting the flu this coming winter, there was no reason not to be immunized. He thanked German for her concern about matters affecting the health of the nation. Health Ministry director-general Prof. Arnon Afek took advantage of the situation and also had himself inoculated during the visit with Rivlin.
The president urged everyone to get vaccinated against the flu, to avoid becoming part of the winter statistic.
■ ONE WOULD imagine that a former director of the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, and before that director-general of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, would be able to speak English. And perhaps he does. But Ronen Plot, currently director-general of the Knesset, chose to speak in Hebrew at the reception hosted at Tel Aviv’s Sheraton Hotel by Taiwan representative Chi Yun-sheng, on the occasion of his country’s 103rd National Day.
Both Plot and MK Nachman Shai, who has chaired the Knesset’s Israel- Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group and been a regular guest at Taiwanese events, praised Taiwanese initiative and expressed hope that the good relations between the two countries would continue to flourish.
There was no representative from the government, although retired diplomat Zvi Gabay, a former deputy director-general for Asia at the Foreign Ministry, was present.
Taiwanese representatives in Israel, even if they have served as ambassadors in the few countries with which Taiwan has full diplomatic relations, are not recognized by their rank, because Israel’s relations with Taiwan are primarily economic. Two-way trade last year, according to representative Yun-sheng, who took up his post this past February, totaled $1.458 billion – an increase of 1.9% over the previous year.
Notwithstanding the lack of full diplomatic ties, Yun-sheng – a career diplomat with a 30-year record of service – noted that Taiwan and Israel have signed many bilateral agreements and cooperate with each other in fields such as visa waivers, technology, agriculture, medicine, industrial research, culture, sport, environment, youth affairs and more.
In comparing the two countries, Yun-sheng noted that though both are small, they have been able to stand tall through tireless efforts; despite considerable adversity, they have succeeded in boosting their national competitiveness and can boast impressive economic, trade and technological achievements.
Although Israel has diplomatic relations with many more countries than does Taiwan, Yun-sheng noted that his country’s viable diplomacy policy, which been pursued since 2008, has strengthened its relations with allies and neighbors. For many years China succeeded in blocking many of Taiwan’s diplomatic efforts, but today there is a vast improvement in relations between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. There have been 10 rounds of talks, 21 agreements have been signed and there is a plan afoot to exchange representative offices in the future.
Perhaps most telling in terms of Taiwan- China relations is the number of daily scheduled flights between the two across the Taiwan Strait. There were no flights in 2007 but since 2008, there has been a gradual buildup and today, there are 118 scheduled flights daily; the number of mainland visitors to Taiwan has increased from 200,000 per annum to 2.85 million.
Yun-sheng said that Taiwan cherishes its relationship with Israel, and this was borne out to some extent in the gift packages that each guest received before leaving the reception.
Whereas many diplomats visited the South during Operation Protective Edge, speaking to residents and taking shelter with them when Color Red sirens went off, interest abated somewhat following the cease-fire. However, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv, recognizing the after-effect of the operation on the southern economy as well as seasonal Jewish tradition, purchased several hundred large jars of pure honey from Kibbutz Erez near Ashkelon.
TECO is now busy organizing a business conference at Tel Aviv’s Carlton Hotel for a Taiwan trade mission on Sunday, November 2. The conference is being held in cooperation with various Israeli trade-oriented organizations, including the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.
■ AS BRIDGE-BUILDING between Israel and other world nations is the essence of the platforms of both the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel and the Israeli Jewish Congress, the two frequently get together to host diplomatic events.
Thus, halfway through the Italian presidency of the EU, it was only natural that Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo would be the guest of honor at a reception within the framework of ACI’s Meet the Ambassador program. There were several retired diplomats, honorary consuls, members of binational chambers of commerce and representatives of the business community, as well as a contingent of Italian expatriates from Jerusalem at the event, which was hosted by Yael and Oded Zuker at their home in Kfar Shmaryahu.
Yael Zuker is the daughter of Sara Allalouf, honorary consul of Latvia, which is next in line for the rotating EU presidency. Allalouf was present in numerous capacities – not just as the “mother of,” but also as an ACI board member, honorary consul and fluent speaker of Italian, which she mastered while living in Italy for several years. Though Talo and his wife, Ornella, speak English quite well – as does Allalouf – they were all happy to converse together in Italian.
As so frequently happens at such events, during the official part of the evening, dignitaries were introducing other dignitaries, who were introducing others still. Thus, ACI founder and president Yitzhak Eldan, who is a former Foreign Ministry chief of protocol, was master of ceremonies.
Before introducing IJC CEO Michel Gourary, Eldan noted it was not easy to hold such a function the night before Yom Kippur. Eldan then spoke of the ACI as a bridge between the diplomatic community and Israel’s community at large, after which he proceeded to introduce Gourary – who pronounced Italy one of Israel’s best friends, adding that the Jewish state has many friends in the European Parliament.
Gourary in turn introduced Avi Pazner, a former ambassador to Italy, who noted the presence of colleagues Ehud Gol, also a former ambassador to Italy, and Yaakov Levy, who served as senior counselor at the Israeli Embassy in Rome and subsequently held several ambassadorial posts.
Pazner, who introduced Talo, prefaced his remarks with a story about how they met in Rome, and said he was proud to have been the first Israeli official Talo met following his nomination as ambassador to Israel. They were invited to dinner by mutual friend Giancarlo Valori, and when Pazner learned that in preparation for his Israeli tour of duty, Talo had visited every Jewish community in Italy, he knew instinctively that Talo was the right man for the job. “In Israel he is one of the most active and loved ambassadors, representing the country we all love,” said Pazner.
Talo, when he finally got to the microphone, said Europeans usually stand, speak and sermonize, but he had come to Israel to listen and learn. He was particularly proud of the fact that Italy had been one of the six founding member states of the EU, as well the fact that the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1958 by the six founding countries, had led to the establishment of the European Economic Community.
Talo conceded that the affairs of the enlarged EU, with nearly all European countries as members, are more complicated than in the past, and credited Israel – though not a European country – with being “somehow part of our common heritage.”
Quoting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Talo said Israel not only has the right to exist, but it is important to Italy that Israel does exist. At the same time, he made it clear that Italy supports the right of Palestinians to a homeland.
When talking of common heritage and civilization, Talo offered proof by saying he had been in Italy the previous week to attend a wedding in a beautiful Renaissance church.
As a Bible reading, the bridal couple opted for a section that begins with the words, “Shema Yisrael…” In the remaining period of the Italian presidency of the EU, Talo continued, there are three main targets – the first being job creation, which he acknowledged is easier to say than to do; unemployment in Italy currently stands at 12%. The second target is innovation based on new technologies, which is one of the reasons Italy must work closely with Israel. The third is in the areas of human rights, freedom and democracy. Talo underscored that Italy can be an ideal bridge between Israel and Europe.
■ STAFF AT the recently opened Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem began putting the finishing touches on the hotel’s giant succa just after Yom Kippur.
It will be the first time, since opening just before Passover, that the hotel will host guests for Succot.
The festival was taken into account when the hotel was under construction and the roof in the long entrance lobby, which has restaurants on either side, was thus made of glass panels that can be folded back to accommodate the thatch required for the roof of a succa. The main succa is in the lobby, and there is a second outdoor succa at the top of a small staircase in the area between the Waldorf Astoria and the Gesher building. According to Yossi Lerer of Lerer Brothers, who designed and supervised the construction, the two succot can sit 300 and 200 people, respectively.
Preparations began immediately after Yom Kippur and were completed just in time for Succot, with dazzling decorations and special lighting effects. Hotel management says that throughout the holiday, the public is welcome to come and look at the beautiful succot.
The larger succa, which is arguably the longest succa in Jerusalem, may be recorded for posterity in Guinness World Records. Hotel management has approached the Guinness people for this purpose. The hotel was also one of the sponsors of the Formula Road Show and hosted a gala evening reception for drivers, organizers and sponsors.
The Jerusalem Post’s Erica Schachne has already published a commentary on the inconvenience the road show caused to the capital’s residents, who had to cope with closed roads and traffic snarls, and the difficulties involved in getting children to and from school while organizing pre-Succot shopping.
The road show, though it did indeed attract thousands, is yet another example of the egocentricity of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who does not take the feelings and concerns of his city’s residents into account while pursuing his agenda of turning the Holy City into a bustling tourist hub and vibrant commercial center that attracts young people. There have been numerous complaints by residents of inner city areas who do not want weekly flea markets taking place on their street, or more importantly, are perhaps driven mad by the volume of the summertime concerts that take place on the Ben-Yehuda Mall and King George Avenue.
Most of the people who were inconvenienced by the road show are equally inconvenienced by the Jerusalem Marathon and the annual Succot Parade, not to mention visits by American top brass such as the president, vice president and secretary of state, whose security precautions are such that major traffic arteries are closed to the general public.
The latter can’t be helped, but there are plenty of non-residential areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem where other events can be held, and anyone who is interested will go to see and listen.
Barkat also spearheaded modern high-rise construction, including stores and townhouses in the heart of Jerusalem, thereby changing the character of the city – but most of these places still have “For sale” and “For rent” placards on their walls, despite the housing shortage. Barkat should remember that it’s the residents who not only pay rates and taxes, but can also vote him out of office the next time around.
■ IT WAS difficult not to get caught up in the momentum of the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, which brought Jews and Christians together at the capital’s Haas Promenade this week.
Most of the large Christian contingents from at least half a dozen countries were from Evangelical congregations that had come to Israel to participate in the annual Feast of Tabernacles conducted by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
There were fervent cries of “Hallelujah,” music, clapping and dancing, plus a flag parade that included the rainbow flags of the gay community.
Israeli flags were dispensed to the crowd and were waved with great enthusiasm.
Charismatic Pastor Robert Stearns, who is the founder of DPPJ as well as an eloquent speaker, first-class musician and outstanding singer with a powerful vocal range, exuded energy, joy and love that transmitted itself to the crowd.
To a neutral observer, it was easy to understand why Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef were concerned about Jews and Christians praying together. With the crescendo of music and outpouring of emotion, protective psychological barriers could easily fall by the wayside.
Indeed, it seemed to some extent as if they already had. Jews such as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, co-founder of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat; David Nekrutman, its executive director; and Dr. Faydra Shapiro, an Orthodox mother of six who covers her hair and directs the Galilee Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations at the Max Stern Jezreel Valley College, all sounded like Evangelist preachers – whereas Stearns, the founder and executive director of Eagles’ Wings, a global movement of churches, ministries and Christian leaders, sounded like a modern Orthodox rabbi.
Stearns, who has spent a lot of time in Israel, speaks Hebrew without an American accent, and his rendition of “Hatikva” was so moving that former ambassador to the US Michael Oren, who heard it many times during his term in Washington, said, “He puts me on eagles’ wings. It’s amazing!” “Our goal has always been to mobilize Christians around the world to fulfill our biblical mandate from Psalm 122:6 to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem,’” said Sterns.
The event, which was broadcast live to viewers in 192 countries, began with the upbeat singing of “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” and “Shevet Achim Gam Yachad.” Almost everyone present knew the Hebrew lyrics by heart, and when Stearns welcomed the impressive gathering, his initial words were in Hebrew, “Bruchim haba’im.”
Riskin, who was the first of many speakers, paraphrased Charles Dickens, saying it was the best of times and the worst of times, the best being the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland after 2,000 years of exile and the coming together of Jews and Christians after 2,000 years of alienation.
The worst was because Israel and the Jewish people, in Riskin’s view, “are almost as isolated as in the 1930s.”
Riskin could not understand why the world objects to construction of homes in Jerusalem, and criticizes Israel for building new neighborhoods.
“We want Jews and Arabs to live together; we want Jews and Christians to live together,” he said.
Referring to the Succot holiday or Tabernacles, as the Christians prefer to call it, Riskin said, “We are slated on this holiday to host the nations of the world in Jerusalem.” Emphasizing the Christian connection to Jerusalem, Riskin said: “Here Jesus the Jew was crucified.”
Oren also related to Jesus, saying Jesus had taught in the Temple in Jerusalem and that today, Jesus, Mary and Joseph would be regarded as illegal settlers by those who say Jews have no right to live in Judea and Samaria. “Anyone who denies Jews the right to live in the Land of Israel is not only anti-Zionist, but anti-Christian,” Oren asserted.
Sharon Sanders, who directs Christian Friends of Israel and is one of the pioneers of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, quoted from Isaiah 62:1, “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent.” She drew a parallel between the ancient biblical prophet and Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose speech at the UN was to her a reflection of Isaiah.
Eagles’ Wings not only brings believers to Jerusalem, but also supports charitable endeavors within Israel. There was a very moving moment in which Stearns presented Goldie Sternbach of Meir Panim, which feeds the hungry in a dignified restaurant setting, with a check for $15,000 – a regularly monthly contribution. In addition, Stearns and his people, when they come to Israel, work at Meir Panim “feeding centers” (as distinct from soup kitchens) in Jerusalem and Tiberias.
Eagles’ Wings has been among the supporters of Meir Panim for the past four years.
But the star of the event was Canon Andrew White, the vicar of Baghdad, who like Stearns has studied Jewish religious teachings in Jerusalem – but to everyone’s surprise, disclosed these theological studies had been not in a university or a church that explores its Jewish roots, but in the Karliner Yeshiva in Mea She’arim.
“I’m frum [observant]; I’m kosher; I’m a hassid,” he said. “My rebbe is the Karliner Rebbe, and I love him.”
The Karliner Rebbe is Brooklyn-born Baruch Meir Yaakov Shochet, whom White plans to see during his current visit to Israel.
There are six Jews left in Baghdad, he said, and he spends time with them studying the parsha and making Kiddush on Shabbat. Lamenting the senseless murder of Christians in Baghdad and throughout the region, White said: “We are in the midst of a horrendous slaughter of Christians.
The first people who came to help us were not from the church, but were Jews.” He attributed this to the fact that Jews suffered in the past as Christians do today, and could therefore empathize with their plight.
White will be a guest at the Feast of Tabernacles, as will Rivlin, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder and parliamentarians from 25 nations, in addition to the 4,500 Christian pilgrims from 80 nations who will crowd into Jerusalem’s new Arena facility in Malha. According to the organizers, this year’s festival is expected to pump some $15 million into Israel’s economy.
■ WHILE SEVERAL Post readers have complained that too much space in this column has been given to former president Shimon Peres, it’s a little difficult to ignore a renaissance man who is ahead of his time.
After his national defense initiatives and his nanotechnology advocacy, Peres began talking about the importance of brain research and how it could benefit the world. Some people laughed at him, saying his ideas were too far-fetched, but he was vindicated this week by the announcement of the Nobel Prize laureates in physiology and medicine, who were selected on the basis of their discoveries in brain research – primarily a kind of inner GPS in the brain that facilitates orientation in space, and demonstrates a cellular basis for enhanced cognitive function.
Some of Israel’s brain research, facilitated by funding that has been provided by Peres’s friends and admirers such as Lily Safra, may take scientists well beyond that point.
On another issue altogether, Peres, as of press time last night, was scheduled to open the tribute concert for Arik Einstein at Hayarkon Park, at which some of the country’s leading singers were set to revive the songs that Einstein – who passed away just under a year ago – made popular during his long career.