Grapevine: Expanding the European Union

Members of the diplomatic community are often hard-pressed when they have more than one function to attend on any given night.

July 3, 2013 15:51
European Court of Justice in Luxembourg

European Court of Justice in Luxembourg 370. (photo credit: reuters)

Members of the diplomatic community are often hard-pressed when they have more than one function to attend on any given night. Sometimes they choose one event over another but when both events are hosted by heads of diplomatic missions, the trend is to try and attend both.

That’s what happened this week to Ambassador Andrew Standley, who heads the delegation of the European Union and was caught between two EU-related events. Ireland’s Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly was hosting a concert at his Herzliya Pituah residence, to mark the end of Ireland’s six months in the presidency of the Council of the European Union, while Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic hosted a twofold reception at the Tel Aviv Museum to celebrate Croatia’s National Day as well as Croatia’s accession to the European Union – which becomes official on July 1.

On that date, the presidency of the council will pass from Ireland to Lithuania, the first of the three Baltic member states to take up the post. Lithuania’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has already announced that some 200 presidency events will take place in Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius over the coming six months.

Standley came to the Croatian event first and not just because it was double-barreled, but since logistically, it made sense as he also lives in Herzliya and getting home from O’Reilly’s residence would be a breeze. Actually, he enjoyed music at both events, because Simunovic had arranged for leading Croatian National Opera singer Adela Golac-Rilovic to come from Zagreb to sing the anthems of Croatia and Israel, and to present some Italian and Croatian operatic arias to the accompaniment of leading Croatian pianist and conductor Simon Despalj. It was only during her singing that guests were sufficiently polite to stop talking and to listen, after which they gave her a resounding ovation.

But the talk during the speeches rose to such a crescendo that it drowned out the microphone, and even people standing quite close to the speakers had difficulty discerning what was being said. Efforts to quell the noise were to no avail. One of the rare instances of an ambassador succeeding in overcoming the noise level was when former Russian ambassador Gennady Tarasov, at a National Day reception approximately a decade ago, lost patience with the crowd, and with his strong voice shouted into the microphone and demanded silence. Everyone was so shocked that they shut up.

Simunovic also has a strong voice, but the acoustics at the Tel Aviv Museum went against him. However, the crowd did give him due respect at the outset of his address, which he began in near flawless Hebrew to the undisguised delight of the state’s representative, Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen. Simunovic thanked Israel for the hospitality of its beautiful country, and thanked Standley as the representative of the EU for allowing Croatia to become a member state. From the first day of her independence when Croatia joined the democratic nations of Europe, the country’s entry into the EU was high on its agenda, said Simunovic, explaining that Croatia believes in the EU’s values of solidarity, joint action, justice and prosperity for all. Referring to Croatia’s excellent relations with Israel, he said Croatia wants to enhance her relations with the EU, in partnership with Israel – but did not provide specifics.

Cohen, speaking in Hebrew, congratulated Croatia, and in confirming the good bilateral relations noted that Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic and his wife had attended the Israel Independence Day celebrations in Zagreb.

Cohen also referred to joint ventures undertaken by Israeli investors and Croatian companies, and cooperative bilateral projects in scientific research and development and in water management.

Croatia, like Israel, has survived in a tension-ridden neighborhood. Cohen said that just as he hoped for Israel to reach an understanding with her neighbors, he hoped that Croatia would reach an understanding with those neighbors that were bitter enemies in the past.

Standley congratulated Croatia on being the 28th member state of the EU, and spoke of the continued integration of other European states, with the aim of encouraging social, political and economic reforms throughout the European continent. As part of the EU’s pacification and democratization process in areas of conflict, negotiations will now start with Serbia to enable it to join the EU, he said.

■ ON THE previous evening, Standley and his wife, Judith, were among the guests at the National Day reception hosted by Slovenian Ambassador Alenka Suhadolnik at her Herzliya Pituah residence. They had arrived from Norway at 3:30 a.m. after spending four days with Standley’s brother, who lives there. The Standleys will be traveling again soon to take their summer vacation, then will return to Israel to pack and make their final farewells before taking up their new posting in Mexico.

The government representative at the Slovenian reception was Transportation Minister Israel Katz. He had initially thought to excuse himself because of the Likud convention elections, but then realizing the importance of bilateral relations, opted to fulfill the diplomatic obligation – though many of the guests were uncertain until he actual arrived, some 90 minutes after the start of the reception, that he would actually come. In fact, there was a buzz in the garden to the effect that he wasn’t coming. When he did finally arrive, some of the guests who were inside the house enjoying the air conditioning were not even aware of his presence.

Suhadolnik said the date marked 22 years since Slovenia’s declaration of independence.

For 18 of those years, Slovenia enjoyed admirable economic success, but with the changing economic situation in Europe, the economy went from amazing growth to a downslide. As an export-oriented country, Slovenia had been in a very comfortable position before the economic crisis, said Suhadolnik, but when that comfort zone was removed, the country had to come up with more innovative ideas. The upshot was that for the past two years, Slovenian companies were voted the most innovative in Europe in the European Business Awards rankings. Crisis also creates opportunity, said Suhadolnik.

She was pleased to report that crisis notwithstanding, bilateral trade between Slovenia and Israel had increased by 27 percent and Slovenian exports to Israel had increased by 36%.

Political relations between the two countries continue to be excellent, she said, with a strong emphasis on person-to-person exchanges. Among these is a project between the WIZO Academy of Design and Education in Haifa and the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Ljubljana, with the WIZO students designing new conceptual ideas for the Israeli Embassy in Ljubljana, and the Ljubljana students doing the same for the Slovenian Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Katz said that he could not forget the date of Slovenia’s independence, because it was the same as his daughter’s birthday. Discussing similarities between Israel and Slovenia, Katz said they were two small countries with sparse resources – putting aside gas. However, Slovenia does help facilitate Israel’s entry into European markets, and it was one of the countries that signed an Open Skies agreement with Israel that, in itself, will contribute to the enhancement of bilateral relations, said Katz.

■ THE DEFINITION of a Zionist used to be one Jew taking money from another Jew to send a third Jew to Israel. Employing a similar format, President Shimon Peres, on a visit this week to the JVP Media Quarter in Jerusalem, expressed his definition of foreign aid. “What is foreign aid?” he asked. “It’s taking money from poor people in a rich country and giving it to rich people in a poor country.”

■ PERES HAS never made a secret of the fact that he is a believer in miracles, pointing out from time to time that the State of Israel is in itself a miracle. Later the same morning, when hosting participants in the Rabbinical Assembly convention, he illustrated why he believes in miracles, telling of how he had accompanied Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion on a visit to France in 1961. President Charles de Gaulle arranged a luncheon in his honor in the garden of the Elysee Palace. De Gaulle, Ben-Gurion, Peres and French premier Michel Debre – who though the grandson of a rabbi, had converted to Catholicism – sat at the head table.

De Gaulle asked Ben-Gurion several questions about Israel and the Jewish people, and then asked him what he wanted.

Ben-Gurion did not talk about additional territory, and barely mentioned prosperity, but looking straight at Debre, said, “I want another Jew.”

De Gaulle was dumbfounded. Ben-Gurion then expanded upon what he had said, and expressed the hope that one day Jews from Russia would be able to immigrate in large numbers to Israel.

“The Soviets will never agree to that,” retorted De Gaulle.

The moral of the story, as Peres saw it, he explained at the convention, was that all good things come to those who wait, and that dreams do come true – meaning that the day will come when non-Orthodox streams of Judaism will have full recognition and religious rights in the State of Israel.

Borrowing from “Hatikva,” Rabbinical Assembly president Rabbi Gerald Skolnik responded: “Od lo avda tikvateinu” [“Our hope has not yet been abandoned”].

■ ISRAEL’S SEEMINGLY indefatigable president does not know the meaning of rest. On Tuesday night, he was in Tel Aviv for the Bolshoi Opera production of Yevgeniy Onegin. Early on Wednesday morning, he was at the JVP Media Quarter, then returned to his official residence to meet with the Rabbinical Assembly. In the afternoon he met with the president of the Bundesrat, and in the evening he attended the Birthright-Taglit bar mitzva celebration at the Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv. Yesterday morning he was at Mount Herzl for the Herzl Day commemoration, and immediately afterwards met with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Webly.

In the evening he was the Hatzerim Air Base for the graduation ceremony of successful young pilots who were presented with their wings.

Peres will be keeping up the pace next week, starting on Sunday, when he travels to Beersheba to inaugurate a new science museum. The president will have a somewhat different experience closer to home later in the week, when he visits the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo to join in its 20th anniversary celebration.

■ APROPOS OF Birthright, the most moving aspect of their mega-bash attended by some 4,000 people was the meeting on stage between bone marrow donor Matthew Futerman, 23, from Houston, Texas, and recipient Michael Weisner, 65, from New Jersey. The two had never met before. Birthright applicants are urged to donate a blood sample to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, and Futerman was the 100th Birthright donor to save the life of another human being.

Peres said that it was the best bar mitzva celebration he had ever attended, and Birthright’s ultra-generous benefactor Sheldon Adelson, who was also prematurely celebrating his 80th birthday, asked the happy crowd to be ambassadors for Israel and to maintain their Jewish identities when they return home.

■ THERE ARE standard aspects to Birthright programs such as a visit to Masada, but there are also non-standard components such as Tziporela, the monthly English-language comedy show. Tzavta Theater in Tel Aviv was filled with an appreciative Birthright audience on Sunday night. Notwithstanding the fact that they came from different parts of the world, they laughed uproariously at the humor, especially the most risqué dialogue.

The scriptwriters let it all hang out; there were no sacred cows. Everything that people do or suffer was for comic consumption, proving perhaps what Reader’s Digest told the world for decades, that “laughter is the best medicine.”

The indie theater troupe of actors, singers, dancers, musicians and mime artists comprises Efrat Aviv, Dana Ivgy, Lotus Etrog, David Golan, Omri Doron, Tomer Nahir Petluk, Ben Perry, Gal Friedman, Tamar Klayngon and Nasama Amit, who write, direct and choreograph their own material, and have something close to a sibling familiarity with each other – enabling the show to run seamlessly from one skit to the next. The collective talent of the Tziporela ensemble is just amazing – and the wild reception they got from the audience during and after the show said it all.

The next Tziporela show at Tzavta is scheduled for July 25 and the one after on August 17.

Tziporela will also conduct a three-day workshop at the end of August, with a workshop for youth from August 15-24.

■ BACK TO yesterday’s wings ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Base: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was also present and took with him a planeload of IDF widows and orphans – including Shira Begin, whose father, Yonatan Begin, the son of former cabinet minister Bennie Begin and grandson of the late prime minister Menachem Begin, was killed together with his navigator when their IAF plane crashed into the Mediterranean in 2000.

■ AFTER SUCCESSFULLY launching “The Younger Generation” issue of the Palestine- Israel Journal at Notre Dame in Jerusalem this week, in cooperation with the Netherlands Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority, and with the participation of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat; Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar; J-Street’s representative in Israel Yael Patir; Palestinian Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information Riman Barakat; and some 150 young people, the journal is not resting on its laurels.

Next Monday, July 1, from 4-6 p.m., the PIJ will hold a public Women in Power event hosted by the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which also sponsored the journal’s special “Women in Power” issue. The event will be conducted in English and will take place at the foundation’s office at 1 Har Sinai Street in Tel Aviv. Speakers will be: Lucy Nusseibeh, founder-director of Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy (MEND); Prof. Galia Golan, founder of the first women’s studies program at the Hebrew University; Sonia Najjar, an expert on gender development issues; and Dahlia Scheindlin, a consultant and public opinion researcher. The panel will be introduced by Romy Shapira, women’s rights and gender democracy program coordinator at the Boell Foundation. PIJ co-editors Ziad Abuzayyad and Hillel Schenker will also contribute to the discussion.

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