ON TUESDAY, President Shimon Peres celebrated his jubilee as an elected public servant. Peres had been engaged in essential service before that as director-general of the Defense Ministry, but on November 3, 1959, he was elected to the Knesset for the first time and was given the post of deputy defense minister. He served in every Knesset since then up until his election to the presidency nearly two-and-a-half years ago. Peres was publicly congratulated by Prisons Service Commissioner Benny Kaniak at a ceremony at Beit Hanassi honoring 10 outstanding Prisons Service personnel. Kaniak told Peres that he was congratulating him not only on a personal basis but for his contribution to the history and development of the nation.
n PRINT AND electronic media journalists were playing guessing games last week as to which invited dignitaries would give the Turkish national day reception a miss. Some reported on which government ministers would not be there, and even remarked on the fact that Peres, who attended last year, would not be attending this year. What most reporters did not realize is that the only national receptions that attract a large showing of government ministers and IDF top brass are American Independence Day, Bastille Day and Egyptian Revolution Day.
The prime minister generally gives preference to American Independence Day; the foreign minister, the defense minister and the finance minister seldom show up at national day receptions. Attendance is better than usual when a country with a diplomatic mission here is celebrating a milestone anniversary year, as for instance China, which this year celebrated its 60th anniversary; or is celebrating a special anniversary marking the period of time in which it has enjoyed bilateral relations with Israel.
Otherwise, ministers are on a roster to represent the government. Most of the time, the government representative is the only minister present. Sometimes there is no minister at all. Both the president and the prime minister accept the American invitation as does the chief of General Staff.
Peres, because of his special relationship with France, almost always attends Bastille Day receptions. Likewise former president Yitzhak Navon attends the national day receptions of Spain. Isaac Herzog, regardless of which ministerial portfolio he's holding at any given time, makes a point of attending the St. Patrick's Day reception hosted by the Irish ambassador. Similarly, Silvan Shalom, or his wife, or the two of them can always be seen at the reception hosted by the Italian ambassador - part of the reason being that they're neighbors, and the Italian reception is always held in the huge garden of the residence, thus getting there requires very little effort on the part of the Shaloms.
If a minister has recently paid an official visit to a particular country or is about to do so, then it's noblesse oblige to accept the invitation to the national day event.
Last Thursday morning, prior to hosting Turkey's national day reception, Turkey's new ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, who has not yet presented his credentials, said at Bar-Ilan University's BESA Institute that he is committed to improving and deepening ties between the two countries. The BESA people were quick to get the news out on e-mail and radio, thereby ensuring that those invitees who were still undecided could go to the reception with a clear conscience.
Media coverage of the event was even more intense than that of the Fourth of July. Mobile television studios were parked bumper to bumper in Kfar Shmaryahu's Rehov Ha'oranim, and camera crews, still photographers and reporters were clustered at the entrance to the house long before the doors were opened.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Minorities Minister Avishay Braverman were instantly surrounded by media, and unwittingly stole the show from the ambassador. Perhaps even more important than Ben-Eliezer or Braverman were the number of high ranking Foreign Ministry officials in attendance. Braverman has a long and happy relationship with Turkey dating back more than 20 years to the time that he was a senior official in the World Bank specializing in economic development and social justice. "Relations with Turkey are very important," Braverman told reporters, adding: "We have to do everything possible to strengthen relations. Israel can't afford to quarrel with the whole world."
Ben-Eliezer, who was besieged by reporters, told them much of what he later said in his official speech, the bottom line being that Israel has to look forward and ensure the continuity of her strategic interests in her relations with Turkey. "Turkey is important to us and we are important to Turkey," he said. "Today's cloud will pass quietly."
Ben-Eliezer, who is leading a large business delegation to Turkey this month, was asked whether he intended to discuss Iran during his visit, and what he would say. Less forthcoming on this issue, he replied: "I'll know what to say about Iran."
Former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval told Celikkol that the people of Israel have a lot of empathy for the people of Turkey, "even if we have disagreements from time to time."
Turkish journalist Mahmut Gurer, who works for Aksam, came here for one day to see how severe the rift was and kept asking Israelis if they thought that it could be mended, and whether they thought that Turkey should mediate between Israel and Syria. He could not understand why Israelis got so upset over a television program and also expressed the view that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's outbursts were directed more against the EU than Israel. "We've been trying for years to get into the EU and we have a lot more going for us than countries like Romania and Bulgaria, but they were accepted and we were rejected," said Gurer. "The EU keeps demanding more and more from us and is never satisfied."
Celikkol, a seasoned diplomat who has many friends here and hopes to make more, took all the media attention smilingly in his stride. He began his address, just as he had earlier in the day at BESA, with "Shalom" and said how pleased he was to see so many people come out on a rainy day. The relationship between Turkey and Israel, he emphasized, was built on a unique, solid and historic foundation.
Ben-Eliezer was enthusiastic about the "energy pipeline" that will enable Israel to receive oil, natural gas and water from Turkey and also noted the rapid growth in bilateral trade which last year came close to $4 billion compared to around $3 billion in 2007.
Outside the residence, a group of Armenians were demonstrating and waving banners with the words "never again." On Sunday of this week, Celikkol was approached in Beersheba by a sole Armenian at the conclusion of a remembrance ceremony for Turkish soldiers who were killed in World War I. The Armenian tried to thrust a poster into his hand on which was printed "Remember the massacre which was perpetrated among the Armenian people." Celikkol politely declined to take it, saying it was not the place or the time. Realizing that he had not been ignored, the Armenian walked away without argument.
n FOR THOSE who were not yet born when contemporary historic events took place, there is always a writer or a filmmaker who manages to bring the past right into the present, to remind us that even if we personally were not part of that tragic or exhilarating period, our parents, our grandparents or our great-grandparents were there. German filmmaker Michael Verhoeven falls into that category with his film Human Failure. Verhoeven, who won the Avner Shalev Yad Vashem Chairman's award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival last July, is back for Thursday's screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
The film deals with the possessions that Jews left behind, and how this property made its way through Nazi society - how it was registered, catalogued, assessed, confiscated, added to the national coffers and later sold for handsome sums. The film is being screened in conjunction with the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht.
n FOR AUSTRALIANS living here, the last week and a half has been a series of reunions. It started with a book launch in Jerusalem of an anthology of Israel-oriented writings by immigrants from Melbourne and Melbourne Jews, including Israeli expats. Then last Thursday, there was a brilliant performance by three rubber-bodied Australian dancers Kristina Chan, Charmene Yap and Paul White at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv, with the audience going wild with enthusiastic appreciation when it concluded.
On Friday morning, despite the heavy downpour, there was a huge turnout at a musical memorial tribute in Jaffa's Na Laga'at Theater to flamboyant Australian businessman, sportsman, patron of the arts and mega philanthropist Richard Pratt who died in April, but whose Pratt Foundation continues to support dozens of projects involving all strata of society and bringing about positive social change. On Sunday, there was the unveiling of a Richard Pratt Memorial Plaque in the Park of the Australian Soldier in Beersheba, a project that he initiated and funded, followed by an Australian remembrance service for Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had lost their lives fighting the Turks, especially those who died in the 1917 charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade in the Battle of Beersheba.
It didn't end there. On Tuesday, scores of Mount Scopus Old Collegians and former teachers were reunited in Jerusalem with Rabbi James Kennard, the current principal of Mount Scopus College that enjoys the reputation of being the largest Jewish day school in the Southern Hemisphere. The events collectively and individually brought together Australians visiting Israel along with those who live here, and who converged from all over the country to attend one or more of the events. Australian Ambassador James Larsen and Paul Israel, the director of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce, were two of less than a handful of people who attended all of them.
But there were other olim and visitors from down under who attended two or more of the events. Among them were George Lamm, Doba Benporath (nee Garfield), Eliahu and Helen Honig, Gary Stock (who actually listens when other Aussies suggest items to be placed in the James Richardson stores at Ben-Gurion Airport), Jeanne Pratt, who launched the Pratt Foundation together with her late husband and who remains active; Sam Lipski, CEO of the Pratt Foundation, and his wife Aura; Peter Adler, Israel director of the Pratt Foundation; Digger James, an Australian war hero who was a childhood and lifelong friend of Pratt's; and Irene Kunreich, a lawyer with Bank Hapoalim.
n THE VERY popular James Larsen, whose term had been extended, is now winding it up and will be returning to Canberra in January. Another popular ambassador, Tonin Gjura of Albania, is leaving within the next few days.
n FASHION MODEL, lawyer and TV host Raz Meirman was the master of ceremonies at a benefit night for Hand in Hand, which provides warm homes, hot meals and tutoring for youngsters from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Meirman could hardly refuse, considering that the request came from his boss, lawyer David Gilat, who chairs the Friends of Hand in Hand. The event was held at ZOA House in Tel Aviv and guests were entertained to an energetic variety show, "Between Broadway and Champs Elysee." Hand in Hand founder Shelly Hoshen used the occasion to launch an appeal on behalf of a five-year-old girl born without a chin. Among the 400 people attending were MK Moshe Matalon, who got stuck in traffic and missed the cocktail reception before the show. There were also representatives of the banking and business world and of the diplomatic community.
n THE MEMORY that Jewish community of Leeds were the only people who did stood by his family, who were put out of work for three years for being among the founders of the local Labor Party, has been a compass point in the attitude of British MP John Mann, who since his student days has been an outspoken opponent of all forms of racism and anti-Semitism. Mann, who chairs the UK Parliamentary Committee against Anti-Semitism, was the guest speaker together with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni at the annual Balfour Dinner hosted by Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association at the Tel Aviv Hilton to mark the 92nd anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which this year was linked with the 100th anniversary of Tel Aviv.
There are three main problems in the UK with regard to anti-Semitism, said Mann. One is radical Islam which did not exist 40 years ago, because there was no Muslim community. The people who subscribe to radical Islam use anti-Semitism as a tool in their armory, he said, adding that Britain will challenge that problem on a cross-party basis. "We could not pretend to do otherwise."
Then there is anti-Semitism on the mainstream of the Left, particularly among academics. Mann reassured his audience that "they are not large in number" and "they have no credibility on British campuses." Mann called them "extremists who represent no-one but their own insignificance." Their attempt at a boycott of Israeli universities failed miserably, he said. "University exchanges between Britain and Israel have not decreased; they've increased."
Then there are the neo-Nazi groups, though Mann refrains from the neo description. In his book they're outright Nazis. "They like to be called anti-Semites, but they don't like to be called racists," he said. "We don't tolerate racism in the British Parliament." Nazism on the extreme right in Europe, he said, has become profoundly disturbing. Children are afraid to walk to school. "We need to be aware of the dangers of the new Nazis," he warned. Mann also alluded to the legal threats faced by IDF officers and government ministers who visit Britain, and turning to Livni said: "You are welcome at all times in my Parliament, in my country, in my home - now and in the future."
As Mann made his way back to his seat, Livni rose from hers and kissed him, saying that his words were like "cold water in the desert." She stressed the importance of hearing his words in challenging times when Israel's very legitimacy is under fire by those who would deny the right of the Jewish people to a homeland. Livni, who was born in Tel Aviv, noted that she had a personal reason for being part of the city's centenary activities. Her parents, who had met while engaged in clandestine activities against the government of the British Mandate, were the first Jews to marry after the declaration of the state.
n FORMER PRESIDENT of Tel Aviv University and former ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovitch and of Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh were in Frankfurt, Germany this week to jointly receive the Korn and Gerstenmann Foundation Freedom Prize which is given every three years to people who have contributed significantly to peace in the Middle East. In accepting the prize Rabinovich said that the two sides must reach an accommodation as quickly as possible because time is working against them.
n LOVE CONQUERS all - or at least conversion does. When American real estate heiress Ivanka Trump started dating Jared Kushner, publisher of the New York Observer, his mother was very unhappy, because as rich, as beautiful and as talented as Ivanka was, there was one slight drawback. She wasn't a member of the tribe. Religion cast a rift in the relationship and the couple broke off. However they were so much in love with each other that they couldn't stay apart, and it wasn't long before they got back together again and Ivanka, in a bid to find favor in the eyes of her future mother-in-law - for whom nothing less than an Orthodox conversion would do - began studying with Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of the Kehilat Jeshurun Congregation, who taught her for a year.
Eighteen months ago, prior to her conversion, Ivanka paid a first time visit to Israel to check out real estate investments for her father. Plans for the construction of a Trump tower on the seam of Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan did not materialize. However the wedding to Kushner did. The couple was married by Lookstein last month in an Orthodox ceremony at the Trump National Golf Course in New Jersey. What can one say except mazal tov.
n A TRUE hands on philanthropist whose generosity has long been felt by the University of Haifa, Sir Maurice Hatter, the honorary life president of Charlton Athletic Football Club, decided to celebrate his 80th birthday by dedicating yet another project at the University of Haifa. Sir Maurice unveiled the plaque of the Hatter Student Building in the presence of his closest relatives and British Friends of Haifa University. Sir Maurice's long-standing relationship with the University, including a seat on the Board of Governors, has always been with the welfare of the students in mind.
Born a cockney within the sound of Bow Bells, he was evacuated to the US during World War II and educated there. After returning to England and while doing his army service in Libya, he developed a passion for electronics, and after leaving the army in 1951, started an electronics company. At that time, he had only Â£100 to his name. These days he is constantly on the rich lists published by the British media. He is involved with educational projects in England and in Israel as well as those of World ORT. When he's not worrying about literacy and academic excellence, his recreational interests are in boats of all kinds, deep sea diving and tennis.
n ON NOVEMBER 12, the American Friends of Magen David Adom will reach a new milestone in its ongoing "Sharing for Life" program to bring Americans to donate blood to MDA here. Having surpassed the total number of units of blood collected for all of 2008 already this year, every new unit of blood donated sets a new record. AFMDA currently stands at 1,650 units for this year. Beyond making this a milestone year, it is equally important to note that not only American Jews are donating blood. On November 12, members of the Living Rock Foursquare Church of Winnemucca, Nevada, under the leadership of Pastor Jerry Porterfield, will be donating blood for the third time this year. This will be the first time any American group has donated three times in one year.