Grapevine: 30,000 ‘likes’ for Peres’s Facebook page

Ex-German president Koehler has served as the president of the German Friends of Sheba and visited the hospital twice.

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March 13, 2012 22:26
Ben Janover (in suit) and Benny Vaknin

Ben Janover (in suit) and Benny Vaknin_370. (photo credit: Adi Israeli )

 
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■ CYNICS MAY have thought that the launch of President Shimon Peres’ new Facebook page last week, facilitated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, was nothing more than a gimmick. Whether it was or not, a lot of people took the president’s invitation to be his friend for peace very seriously. Within the first 24 hours of the launch, Peres received the “Like” thumbs-up from some 30,000 people – some of whom, in all likelihood, think they could do a better job than the politicians as partners for peace. Widely syndicated Berlin-born American journalist Tom Tugend, who reported on Peres’s visit in Los Angeles for The Jerusalem Post, made a point of mentioning the president’s age and the fact that he showed no signs of fatigue or jet lag. It should be noted that the extremely prolific Tugend is only two years younger than Peres and continues to do a lot of reporting from the field.

■ LAST WEDNESDAY’S column carried an item about the Dajani family who briefly came back to Jaffa after, in some cases, having fled the area and the country in 1948. They were permitted to return as the result of a campaign waged for several years by Samuel Giler after seeing a documentary called Four Friends, in which a member of the Dajani family, returning to the scenes of her childhood, lamented the fact that her father’s grave had no headstone.

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The Grapevine item stated that Giler felt outrage, but he was quick to correct that impression, saying that what he felt was, in fact, sympathy. He also made it clear – just in case any reader labored under the misconception that Israelis had in any way damaged the grave – that there had never been a headstone on the grave. Moreover, although he initiated the process of a putting a headstone on the grave of Dr.

Fouad Ismail Dajani, he refuses to take credit for the final outcome, which also included the name of the Dajani Square. The person who really deserves the credit, he said, is Tel Aviv City Council member Hamed Masharawi, who labored diligently to arrange the naming and the ceremony. There was also one more correction: Giler has not yet retired – he’s still working.

Unlike judges, architects do not have a mandatory retirement age.

■ IT’S NOT only humans who dressed up for Purim. Even hotels do it. Overseas, it’s commonplace to see hotels exquisitely decorated for Christmas, and in Ashkelon on Friday, through a joint initiative by Ben Janover, the general manager of the Ganei Dan Hotel, and Mayor Benny Vaknin, the hotel’s parking lot in the south of the country started to look like those of hotels in the north.

Rockets in the south notwithstanding the parking lot was covered in specially imported snow so that the children in the area could have a rare treat and escape briefly from reality.



■ TO COMMEMORATE the first anniversary of the massive earthquake in Japan, which was the most devastating in the country’s history, Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato held a reception at his residence to express appreciation to the State of Israel, as well as to various institutions and individuals who had demonstrated solidarity with Japan in its time of crisis and great human suffering. The universal language of diplomacy these days is English, which is certainly the most common language at diplomatic receptions, but in this case Sato and Counselor Mitsuhiko Shinomiya conducted the memorial ceremony entirely in Hebrew and Japanese.

Curiously, it was Ruth Kahanoff, deputy director general for Asia and the Pacific at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, who spoke in English. Although this was not a National Day reception, it did fall in the year in which Israel and Japan are marking 60 years of diplomatic ties; and therefore the national anthems of both countries were played. Sato and Shinomiya, who are each fluent in Hebrew, sang the words of both.

Among those present were members of the Foreign Ministry, including former Israel ambassadors to Japan, Brig.-Gen. Shalom Ben Aryeh, who headed the search-and-rescue unit that included doctors and nurses from the Medical Corps of the Israel Defense Forces; Shachar Zehavi, the founder of IsraAID, which is continuing with its humanitarian activities in Japan; and Yehuda Meshi Zahav, the founder of ZAKA, which helped to identify victims.

The areas affected by the earthquake are in the process of complete recovery, said Sato and hope has returned to the eyes of the population. Recovery can also be seen in business, tourism and studies. Japan would not have been able to recover in the way it has without warm support from around the globe, he said.

With respect to Israel, Sato noted that despite the geographic distance, Israel had sent a medical team and equipment very early in the piece – something that will remain engraved in the hearts and minds of all the Japanese people, and not only those with whom the Israelis came into direct contact. In addition to the on-site involvement of the medical team, the search-and-rescue unit, IsraAID and ZAKA, said Sato, the Embassy was aware that there were people who worked hard to raise funds to help the survivors of the tragedy.

Minami Sanrikucho, in the Miyagi region, where the Israeli medical team set up a field hospital, was one of the areas that suffered the worst damage, said Sato, adding that he was certain that the residents of Minami Sanrikucho would always remember the compassionate help they had received from Israelis.

Sato read excerpts from a letter he had received from Minami Sanrikucho Mayor Jin Sato, who referred to the Israeli team having laid the foundations for medical services to resume as they should.

Those who have to be hospitalized are being cared for as outpatients, and the city is now in the process of building a temporary medical center which it hopes to open in April. A recovery plan for the city has already been prepared, including the rehabilitation of the hospital, which should be fully functional some time next year.

Kahanoff thanked the Japanese government, which despite its own problems, continues to support peace-keeping efforts and regional cooperation in the Middle East. She also thanked the Japanese ambassador for his longstanding friendship towards the State of Israel, and declared that everyone in the Foreign Ministry is committed to strengthening the relationship with Japan. The Japanese Embassy made generous and careful provision for those of its guests who are kosher, and a member of the Embassy, together with the kashrut supervisor of the Koros Restaurant, kept close watch over the kosher section to make sure that there would be no mix-ups between non-kosher and kosher-eating utensils.

■ MOST MINISTERS who represent the government at National Day receptions hosted by heads of diplomatic missions to mark Independence Day, Constitution Day, Reunification Day – or whatever other reason there may for having a national day – follow a script laid out by the Foreign Ministry.

When Michael Eitan, the minister for the Improvement of Government Services, attended Ghana’s Independence Day reception at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv last week, he said he was particularly pleased to be able to join the March 6 celebrations, because March 6 was his birthday. Members of the Ghana community spontaneously began to sing “Happy birthday to you…” It’s always a joy to be a guest at receptions hosted by ambassadors of African states because so many of the African people living in Israel come in their traditional attire made of the most gorgeous colorful fabrics, and with their very presence conveying an aura of festivity.

Ambassador Henry Hanson- Hall, his wife Patience, and nearly all the embassy staff came in traditional national costume, adding a certain authenticity to Independence Day celebrations so far from home.

Together with other African States, Ghana, whose ties with Israel date back to the 1950s, severed relations in 1973 in a show of solidarity with the Arab States, which had been defeated in the Yom Kippur War. Notwithstanding the official break in relations, cooperation between Ghana and Israel continued, said Hanson- Hall. Eventually the Ghana Embassy was reopened in Tel Aviv in 1996. It took a lot longer for Israel to reciprocate and reopen its embassy in Ghana. In fact, it did not do so until last year. The reopening of the Embassy in Accra after a 38 year absence was according to Hanson-Hall the “greatest achievement of my tenure.” In this context, he lauded the “immense contribution and personal commitment” of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Another no less admirable achievement was the signing in January of a NIS 100-million loan agreement between the Israel Export Insurance Company and Ghana.

At the same time, Bank Hapoalim offered to finance the construction and equipping of a new modern teaching hospital for the University of Ghana Medical School, while the TAHAL Group is involved in the rehabilitation of three urban water projects in the country. Other Israeli companies are also involved in the construction of various infrastructural projects in Ghana, while Israeli institutions continue to offer technical assistance to Ghanaian professionals in the fields of agriculture, education and health.

Hanson-Hall underscored the efforts made by Ghana, which has made the transition from colonialism to democracy, to maintain its democratic system. After various experiments, he said since 1992, Ghana has built strong and vibrant democratic institutions evident in the successful presidential and parliamentary elections held every four years. “This has earned the country an enviable reputation worldwide for her commitment to democracy and democratic governance,” he said. Furthermore, the government of Ghana has achieved macro-economic stability – reducing inflation to single digits, said the ambassador, who made the point that despite the continuing turmoil in the global economy, Ghana’s economy has experienced unprecedented growth. According to the World Bank, he said, Ghana was the fastest growing economy in the world in 2011, growing at 13.4 percent. He implied that Ghana’s economy would continue to improve as a result of recent discoveries of oil in commercial quantities. Production is currently around 90,000 barrels per day.

This has opened further opportunities for investment in Ghana’s petro-chemical industry. Hanson- Hall reiterated Ghana’s continued support for efforts to achieve durable peace and security in the Middle East and his own sincere hope that Israel’s ongoing efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians will yield fruitful results. Eitan commended the work of the ambassador and his staff in strengthening relations between Ghana and Israel, and congratulated Ghana on its great achievements as a stable, peace-loving democratic state, whose economic growth is among the highest in Africa. Ghana has become a focal point for investment from Israel and the world, and is a gateway to commercial and economic activity for the whole of West Africa, he said.

Eitan noted that Israel’s relationship with Ghana extends back to 1957, when Ghana achieved independence and was the first African state to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah and Golda Meir, who was then foreign minister, recognized a shared destiny in development and nation-building, said Eitan, adding that Israel’s ZIM shipping line had assisted in the establishment of Ghana’s Black Star carrier, and the Israel Air Force had played a role in the establishment of Ghana’s Air Force. Today, Israel values Ghana’s participation in UNIFIL, the United Nations peace-keeping forces in Lebanon.

Turning to Israel’s engagement in Ghana’s economy, Eitan said there are some 200 Israelis who are part of Ghana’s business community, and who represent companies specializing in communications; software; chemicals; agriculture; aquaculture; bio-energy; water engineering; infrastructure; and more.

Now that there is once again an Israel Embassy in Ghana, Eita said he is confident that relations between the governments and peoples of both countries would intensify.

■ AS DEPUTY chief of the Mossad, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, ambassador at large, ardent peace activist, gifted public speaker, and respected intellectual, the late Dr. David Kimche who succumbed to cancer two years ago, had friends and admirers in many places – especially among those members of the Foreign Ministry, who like him, had also been part of Israel’s intelligence community. Several of them, last week joined members of his family in commemorating the second anniversary of his death at a symposium at the Truman Institute where he had been a member of the board of trustees. The event was held in conjunction with the Israel Council of Foreign Relations, of which Kimche was the founding president. Speakers who worked with Kimche at various stages of his and their careers talked about his quick mind, his inventiveness, his ability to get people to do what they considered to be impossible, and his commitment to peace between Israel and her neighbors. Kimche went on many dangerous missions abroad, some of which were made public years later, and others which will forever remain in the secret files of the Mossad and the Foreign Ministry.

Gen. Mansour Abu Rashid, chairman of the Amman Center for Peace and Development, who was a central figure in his own country’s intelligence community, came specially from Jordan to pay tribute to Kimche’s memory, and several times reiterated his appreciation to the organizers for having invited him. Abu Rashid, who had been a friend of Kimche’s for some 20 years, had initially met Kimche when he headed Jordan’s Intelligence Department. He had read a lot about Kimche’s work in the Mossad, and had come across a photograph of Kimche with legendary Kurdish leader Mustafa Barazani in a book by an Arab writer. He mentioned this to Kimche, who confirmed that the Kurds who were looking for support in their battle with the Iraqi regime, had approached Israel in the early 1960s, and that he had visited Kurdistan and met with Barazani in 1965. This was further confirmed at the symposium by Abraham Barzilai, a veteran of both Israel’s Security Service and the Foreign Ministry, who is an expert on the Kurds. Rashid, who had been a negotiator in Israel’s peace talks with Jordan, recalled Kimche’s instrumental role in the finalizing of the peace agreement, and said that Kimche still has a lot of friends in Jordan who are proud of their relationship with him.

“He was a friend of Jordan and a friend of the Arabs,” said Rashid, emphasizing that Kimche had urged Israel’s “withdrawal from the occupied territories” and called for dialogue with the Islamic Movement so that Israel and the Islamists could get to know each other and build trust. Kimche was also behind the Geneva Accords, said Rashid, who asserted that Kimche was not only a peace activist for Israel, but took his efforts for peace to a regional level. “He was an ardent advocate for peace and in his last years even advocated dialogue with Hamas. With his experience, noone should disregard his recommendations.”

Rashid said that he was proud to have worked with Kimche and that he hoped that Israel’s leaders would walk in the path that Kimche pioneered.

■ WORLD-RENOWNED immunologist, Israel Prize laureate and recipient of numerous other prestigious prizes and awards Prof.

Michael Sela celebrated his 88th birthday last week. Sela, who is a former president of the Weizmann Institute of Science, was honored by current Weizmann Institute President Prof. Daniel Zajfman who organized a festive event, which brought joy not only to Sela but to future generations of scientists. In addition to Sela’s friends, the event was attended by several prominent philanthropists who joined Sela in setting up a scholarship fund for promising young scientists to which Sela contributed a million dollars.

■ OVER THE years, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, has received various awards and prizes in his name and on behalf of Sheba. Last Friday, he was in Berlin to receive the German Senses Social Award for his hospital’s humanitarian work around the world. The award was presented to him by Eva Luise Koehler, wife of the former president of Germany Horst Koehler, at the German- Russian Friendship House in Berlin, in the presence of Russia’s Ambassador to Germany, Vladimir M. Grinins and Prince George Yourievsky of Russia.

Koehler has served as the president of the German Friends of Sheba and visited the hospital twice.

“Sheba Medical Center is a peaceful island of sanity in a very stormy region,” she said at the award ceremony. “This hospital’s open-door policy – treating Jewish, Muslem and Christian patients regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or religion – is compassionate and admirable. Our troubled world today needs more hospitals like Sheba.”

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