■ Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking to the Commerce and Trade Club at the Tel Aviv Hilton on Friday, effectively demoted Economy Minister Naftali Bennett from brother to cousin, twice referring to him as “our cousin,” whereas Bennett refers to friends, colleagues and acquaintances as “my brother.”
In declaring US Secretary of State John Kerry a true friend of Israel, Liberman said there had also been disagreement between Israel and former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but that didn’t mean that they had stopped being friends and allies. In defending their right to different opinions to those of Israel, Liberman said: “What can we do? They weren’t members of Lehi, they weren’t educated by Betar and they weren’t Gush Emunim activists….”
■ ACADEMICS AND intellectuals of North African and West Asian background are sick and tired of filmmakers and advertisers perpetuating stereotypes of Israelis of North African and West Asian origin.
After so many people from these backgrounds have distinguished themselves in so many fields, there are still racist connotations in the manner in which they are commercially portrayed.
One of the most obvious and frequently broadcast examples is the commercial for Mifal Hapayis, the national lottery, in which Ariella, the good news telephonist, calls subscribers to Mifal Hapayis to tell them they have won a large monetary sum or a car. The reactions are straight out of what used to be called a burekas film; there are almost never any Ashkenazi winners.
The stigma also extends to the workplace. Many people whose surnames betray their origins have stated publicly that employment applications they put in under their real names were rejected, with the explanation that the position had already been filled, whereas subsequent applications using an Ashkenazi or neutral surname had resulted in appointments for interviews.
Some people Hebraize their names and then no one knows where they came from, unless they make it public.
Singer Eyal Golan’s real surname is Bitton, whereas Israel Radio’s Arye Golan was born with the name Skurnik. The singer is of Moroccan and Yemenite background, while the radio man was born in Poland – but both opted for Golan as a genuine Israeli name.
■ LESS THAN a decade ago, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, then director of the Hadassah University Medical Center, had celebrity status, in that he was updating the media several times a day on the condition of prime minister Ariel Sharon.
He became so well-known a figure that there were those who wanted him to run for mayor of Jerusalem.
Now, with hindsight, it is fortunate for the capital that he opted not to compete for that particular office, because it appears that he was a bad manager – except where his own personal fortunes were concerned.
The huge severance package he received from Hadassah with the termination of his tenure will keep him in clover for years to come. It’s doubtful that when he was a boy, one of four siblings growing up in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, he even dreamed of such wealth.
Meanwhile, he has gone from heading the financially ailing Hadassah Medical Organization to heading the National Insurance Institute, which is also operating under a huge deficit. Mor-Yosef served as director-general of Hadassah from 2001 to 2011, and there are many today who say that the Bernie Madoff scam in which Hadassah, the Zionist Womens Organization of America, and many of its donors were victims, is not the sole reason for Hadassah’s sorry financial plight today.
The general public cannot help but wonder what members of Hadassah’s board of directors – which included two bankers, one of whom is currently chairman of Bank Leumi and earning a salary in the realm of NIS 8 million a year – were actually doing, other than sleeping on the job.
■ THE RESOLUTION of the Hadassah crisis will in all likelihood have some kind of domino effect, in that monies which the Finance Ministry had thought to allocate elsewhere may be diverted towards Hadassah, and other organizations and institutions may miss out.
Two things which in all probability will be put on hold are the acquisition of a private plane for use by the president and the prime minister on their many trips abroad, and the construction of a new, multipurpose residence for the prime minister. Finance Minister Yair Lapid is said to be opposed to the acquisition of a private plane, and the Finance Ministry this week revealed that the purchase and fitting out of such a plane to suit Israel’s security needs, as well as the comforts of future VIP passengers and their entourages, will cost somewhere between NIS 140m. to NIS 175m., before operating and maintenance costs.
The idea of having a VIP plane is not just some crazy whim of the present prime minister, so that he and his wife can have a built-in double bed in the plane. It’s actually a cost-saving consideration, given how much it costs the Israeli taxpayer every time the president or prime minister travels abroad. Aside from the expense of taking staff members with them, the president and the prime minister are always accompanied by a contingent of security personnel, plus still and video photographers from the Government Press Office – so that every trip includes at least a dozen people.
Several months ago, the government appointed a public committee headed by former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg to examine the feasibility of acquiring a plane, and to also discuss the construction of a new residence for the prime minister, at a cost of at least NIS 650m. With its current financial burdens, it is unlikely that the government will approve either, though it is imperative that more suitable and much larger premises be found for the prime minister.
Truth be told, the President’s Residence is also proving to be unsuitable, and is too small to hold the large numbers of guests who merit invitations to various receptions. As things stand, the official residences of the president and the prime minister are within five minutes’ walk of each other, in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
This factor causes enormous discomfort to many of their neighbors, especially when security has to be tightened for the visits of important members of the American administration.
In the case of the president it’s not so bad, because he has large grounds surrounding the building in which he works and resides, and there is another building for security personnel at the entrance to the grounds. But the Prime Minister’s Residence is literally on the street, with minimal garden surroundings inside the fence, which necessitates barricading large sections of the streets on either side of the house. If construction on new premises does not start now, it’s going to cost a lot more later.
■ WELFARE AND Social Services Minister Meir Cohen was shocked by the findings of a survey on the attitudes of Israeli society towards people with disabilities, and said Israelis are becoming increasingly intolerant of one other. There is a difference, however, between findings gleaned via knocking on doors or on the phone, and realities on the ground. Anyone who regularly uses public transportation knows how quickly and willingly people help anyone in a wheelchair, though unlike New York, Israeli bus drivers are slow to get out of their seats to assist someone in a wheelchair to get on or off the bus.
This task is generally left to other passengers.
On the subject of public transportation, it’s high time that whoever designs buses take note that the aisles are too narrow to accommodate baby carriages, shopping carts and standing passengers. There is a section in the accordion buses for wheelchairs and/or baby carriages, but because wheelchairs are wider, they get first priority, and then the baby carriages fill the aisle and block the path of passengers.
In other countries, this problem has been partially solved by placing some of the seats in the bus flush with the sides, as is the case on the light rail – though here, too, there is insufficient room for wheelchairs, baby carriages, shopping carts and standing passengers.
Another problem is that designers of public transportation vehicles have not taken into account that for the most part, each generation is taller than its predecessors. There simply isn’t enough legroom for either male or female passengers, because so many Israelis are now in the range of two meters tall.
Perhaps Transportation Minister Israel Katz will run a competition for new designs for public transportation, with a view to ensuring that passengers will be more comfortable.
■ WHILE ISRAEL has made enormous inroads in biomedical research, the talented scientists whose discoveries have taken medicine to new levels might not have been able to achieve their triumphs as quickly or at all without the financial backing of philanthropists, for whom progress in the field of medicine is a priority. Some philanthropists become angels to medical science simply for the sake of improving the human condition, while others may have had family members or close friends with previously incurable diseases, and are interested in helping to prevent future fatalities related to the same diseases.
Among the major donors to medical research and treatment in Israel is Ruth Rappaport, who with her late husband Bruce (Baruch) established the Rappaport Foundation, which awards prizes in biomedical research, medical therapy, art and the status of women. The Rappaports established the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Haifa Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, as well as the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in Medical Sciences, and the Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital at Rambam Health Care Campus.
With regard to the arts, they established the Baruch and Ruth Rappaport Art and Cultural Center on Mount Carmel; they also supported the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Museum, the Tel Aviv Museum and other cultural institutions. Ruth Rappaport has been a longtime active member of WIZO, and the Rappaports have been strong supporters of WIZO shelters for battered women.
Although the couple spent much of their long married life together in Geneva, their hearts were in Haifa, where Bruce Rappaport was born and where Ruth, an immigrant from Germany, came to live in 1938. The major part of their philanthropy in Israel was directed to the Haifa region, but they also contributed to the expansion of the Tel Aviv Museum and established its Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Sculpture Gallery; at Bar-Ilan University, they established the Center for Assimilation Research and Strengthening Jewish Vitality.
Their names are also linked to numerous day care centers and kindergartens.
Bruce Rappaport passed away in 2010 at age 88, but his wife and their four daughters, Irith, Vered, Shoshana and Noga, continue the philanthropic work which he started. The Rappaport Prize for Biomedical Sciences will be awarded next month at a festive ceremony at the Tel Aviv Museum to Prof. Yair Reisner of the Weizmann Institute of Science, for increasing the success rates of bone marrow transplants by developing a breakthrough system whereby transplants can effectively be performed on leukemia patients who have not been able to find a donor that is an exact match.
■ AMONG THE striking restoration projects in Tel Aviv is the Herzl Lilienblum Museum, which is owned by the Israel Discount Bank and was originally a one-story structure built in 1908, a year before the official founding of Tel Aviv. It was the home of Olga and Isaac Frank, who lived there for only four years. After that, the b u i l d i n g w e n t through a series of owners and two more floors were added. The building served a number of purposes: It was an office block, a hotel, a law firm, a bank and even hosted several workshops.
In 2009, Israel Discount Bank turned it into a museum to showcase the development of Israel’s economy and of Tel Aviv.
Since then, the museum exhibits have expanded in scope and currently, there is an exhibition of rare documents and photos pertaining to women who made an impact on the development of the state. This includes Naomi Shemer’s original composition of Jerusalem of Gold, which happens to belong to former MK Geula Cohen; the handwriting of poet, author and playwright Lea Goldberg; and memorabilia pertaining to Golda Meir and Shulamit Aloni, among others.
■ WITH PEOPLE living longer and remaining mentally alert and physically active, there has been a glut of retirement villages going up all over the country promising a plethora of leisure-time activities for existing and potential residents.
Not everyone who has reached retirement age wants to live in a retirement home, and not everyone can afford to even if they want to. Many imminent retirees would prefer to stay in the jobs they hold, until such time they are no longer capable of working.
Towards this end, there is a petition before the High Court of Justice to abolish retirement age, and to use another standard for determining whether people should be able to continue in their jobs. If employers are willing to keep them on, women who have passed the age of 62 and men who have passed the age of 67 can continue working – but more often than not, it will be at a reduced salary and a lower status.
The petition, lodged last year by professors Moshe Gavish and Mordechai Segev of the Technion, and Prof. (emeritus) Asher Kasher of Tel Aviv University, is scheduled to be heard today. Since then, the three petitioners have been joined by Israel Prize laureate and TAU law Prof. (emeritus) Ruth Ben-Israel, and the Association of Law in Service of the Elderly.
There is no longer a valid reason for a five-year discrepancy between retirement age for women and that of men, or for that matter, a three-year discrepancy between mandatory retirement age for male and female judges, and the retirement age for males in the rest of the population. The case is due to be heard today, Wednesday, before Supreme Court President Asher D.
Grunis and Justices Edna Arbel and Daphne Barak- Erez. The petition, presented by attorney Shoshana Gavish, who happens to be the wife of Moshe Gavish, argues that mandatory retirement age is in contradiction to the equal opportunity law.
Grunis, who last month celebrated his 69th birthday, is close to mandatory retirement age himself. Arbel will turn 70 in June, but Barak-Erez, a former dean of the TAU Law Faculty who is not yet 50, still has a long way to go. Ben-Israel is also a former dean of the TAU Law Faculty, and an internationally recognized specialist in labor law, civil procedure, social security and occupational equality. She is married to lawyer Gideon Ben-Israel, a former MK who dedicated much of his political and professional careers to the welfare of senior citizens.
In a letter that she sent to the court, Ben-Israel wrote of the trauma she experienced in 2000 when forced to retire from her position at TAU.
Nothing had prepared her for the powerful, lingering effects of this, and though the university continued to employ her in another capacity – as often happens in institutions of higher learning – she no longer sat with the faculty staff and d e c i - sion-makers on the fourth floor of the building on a day-to-day basis, but was given a tiny office on the basement floor, far removed from any academic discussion.
There was also a negative impact on her income.
■ ISRAEL RADIO journalists, who have been canceling scheduled programs – in the framework of sanctions they are conducting in protest of low wages and poor work conditions – last Friday demonstrated the art of compromise, when they canceled Yehoram Gaon’s current affairs program.
As compensation to Gaon fans, most of the musical program that was presented instead comprised recordings of Gaon singing some of his most popular hits.
■ AT LEAST once a year, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, gives something in the nature of a State of the People – as distinct from the State of the Nation – address to members and friends of Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, usually attracting an audience in excess of 500 people.
Over the last couple of years, it has become fashionable for dignitaries to be interviewed rather than to give a speech.
This is not always the most interesting way to go about it, because the interviewer does not necessarily ask the interviewee questions on what he or she wants to talk about. In the case of President Shimon Peres, who has been the interviewee at several such events including The Jerusalem Post’s conference for diplomats, it doesn’t make much difference, because Israel’s president talks about whatever strikes his fancy, regardless of the question – but there are interviewees who strictly abide by the rules, and either answer the question that was put to them or apologize that they are not in a position to comment.
However, on Saturday night, February 22, no matter whether the eloquent Hoenlein answers the questions or goes off on a tangent, there will be an added element of excitement – in that he will be interviewed not by one person, but by two seasoned political correspondents: Gil Hoffman of the Post and Haviv Rettig Gur of The Times of Israel. The two journalists know each other well, because Rettig Gur was the Jewish world correspondent for the Post before taking up a position as spokesman for the Jewish Agency, and later writing for The Times of Israel.
The competitive element in the questions, the savvy answers that Hoenlein will surely deliver and the title that he has given to the event, “I don’t want any more memorials to dead Jews,” all point to an interesting evening. The title, by the way, covers more than one issue and deals with the interim agreement on Iran, the public Israel-US sniping and the deafening silence in the face of the new anti-Semitism.
Over the past week and a half, Hoenlein has discussed these issues at separate meetings with representatives of both publications. These issues will also be discussed next week, when the Conference of Presidents convenes in Jerusalem for the 40th consecutive year. The 100-member delegation includes representatives of 50 member organizations.
■ PUMPING OF flesh is par for the course for every politician, even when it’s not an election year. This week, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau is pumping considerably more flesh than usual, as he welcomes counterparts from abroad and the ambassadors of the countries they represent, who are participating in IMTM in Tel Aviv, the 20th-annual tourism exhibition in Israel.
IMTM is held under the auspices of the Tourism Ministry, with the support of the Israel Tourist and Travel Agents Association, Israel Hotel Association, Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, Association for Tourism in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and El Al.
Landau hosted participating tourism ministers and their Israel-based ambassadors at a festive dinner at Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel, where executive chef Oved Alafia made a special effort to impress the guests with the quality of Israeli cuisine.
Guests were personally escorted to the banquet hall by hotel general manager Itai Eliaz. Among those in attendance were Portugal’s Tourism Minister Adolfo Mesquita Nunes and Ambassador Miguel de Almeida e Sousa; Polish Tourism Minister Katarzyna Sobierajska; Romania’s Tourism Minister Maria Grapini and Ambassador Andrea Pasternac; Lithuanian Tourism Minister Raymonda Balnene and Ambassador Darius Degutis; and many others.
Landau said at the dinner that for many countries tourism has become the engine of the economy, and that 2013 was a record year for Israel – with more than 3.5 million incoming tourists.
■ PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL Reuven Rivlin, who pundits have deemed the leading candidate in the race for Israel’s 10th president, this week launched a new website – www.rubirivlin.com – which gives surfers an idea of his record of public service, especially as an MK, and his service since 1988 as a member of numerous Knesset committees, coalition chairman and Knesset speaker. The website is whimsically named Rubicon for Rivlin’s nickname of Rubi, or if one wants to look deeper, in parallel to Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon, which was the point of no return. If Rivlin does become president, it is unlikely he will return to political life on completion of his seven-year tenure.
■ RECIPIENTS OF Rotary Israel’s prestigious Paul Harris Fellowship Award for 2013-2014 are Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund World chairman Efi Stenzler, Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich, University of Haifa Prof. (emeritus) of law Amnon Carmi and philanthropist Raya Strauss Ben-Dror, for their contributions to the betterment of Israeli society. The award is given annually to public figures, leading researchers and cultural activists; the four were selected from among 10 nominees.
The rotary panel which chose them noted that Stenzler has ensured the greening of Israel, through maintaining existing forests and planting new ones; Danilovich has been an outstanding mayor since first taking office; Carmi has made significant contributions to Israel’s studies of law; and Strauss Ben-Dror has been a social activist nearly all of her life, working for a variety of causes including the development of the Western Galilee as a tourist destination.
The festive awards ceremony will take place this evening at the Nof Hotel in Haifa.