Grapevine: Happy 100, Taiwan!

Agriculture Minister and retired ambassador Zvi Gabay were among the guests at the Taiwan centennial reception at Dan Panorama, Tel Aviv.

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October 12, 2011 04:05
Taiwan and Israel celebrate visa waiver

Taiwan Israel cooperation 311. (photo credit: Taipei Economic and Cultural Office)

■ IN GENERAL any country that has full diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China is wary about entering into a diplomatic relationship with the Republic of China, popularly known as Taiwan, or by its acronym, ROC. Due to the political sensitivity of diplomatic relationships, there have not been any government or Foreign Ministry representatives at Independence Day receptions hosted by Taiwan’s representatives in Israel, although there have been members of Knesset. There are also no ambassadors of other countries. As for the Taiwanese envoys, even though they are ambassadors who in most cases are career diplomats, they are rarely referred to by their titles.

Instead they are known as representatives of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv.

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But change must be in the air.

One government minister, Minister for Agriculture Orit Noked, and Zvi Gabay, a retired ambassador who is also former deputy director- general of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Asia and the Pacific, were among the guests at the Taiwan centennial reception hosted by Taiwan’s representative in Israel, Liang-jen Chang at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv. Although Noked declined to make a speech, she did agree to participate in the cake-cutting ceremony. The frosting on the cake was in the form of the Taiwanese flag. In a welcome address, which he noted took five minutes and forty seconds to deliver, Chang related that 100 years ago, Yat-sen Sun, the founding father of Taiwan, had overthrown the decadent Manchu dynasty and established the first democratic republic in Asia.

Believing in government of the people, for the people and by the people, Sun was sworn in as the first interim president of the Republic of China. His credo was that the foundation of the country lies in the people and that all government officials are the servants of the people.

He also believed the people’s livelihood is the center of social development. As a result, the ROC boasts a full-fledged democracy, equitable society and prosperous sustainable economy. Sun’s philosophy included the principle of mutual help, a tradition that continues to this day. Chang cited examples of $200 million for earthquake relief donated to China’s Sichuan province three years ago, $137m. to the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster six months ago and many resources to Haiti following its devastating earthquake in 2010.

Taiwan, which is now ranked the 23rd largest economy in the world, cooperates with Israel in science and technology. Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath is scheduled to go on a week-long lecture tour to Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s Central Research Academy, in February 2012. There will be many academic, cultural, business and tourist exchanges between Taiwan and Israel during 2012. The representative’s own son, Yun-chien Chang, is due to come to Israel in January to give a course in law and economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his daughter-in-law, Vera Hsu, an accomplished pianist, has been invited to play with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra in May. MKs Yariv Levin and Avraham Michaeli noted that recently implemented visa waivers between Israel and Taiwan will boost two-way tourism. Levin also lauded Taiwan’s cultural, technological and educational achievements. For Daniel Weiss, the chief scientist at the Ministry of Science and Technology, there was a certain poignancy in celebrating Taiwan’s centenary. His father was the founder of Taiwan’s Qiling hospital, and Weiss was born there. He enthused about the expertise that both Israel and Taiwan have in nanotechnology and in the production of medical equipment, and looked forward to many good collaborative projects. The highlight of the evening was a performance by a female quartet of exponents of traditional Chinese instruments, who came from Taiwan to play for the Israelis and for local members of the Taiwan community.



■ SOME LOCAL Brits will find a certain irony in the fact that after announcing that the residence that has served a long line of British ambassadors is up for sale, incumbent Matthew Gould and his wife, Celia, put the finishing touches to what is believed to be the first succa to be built in the garden of the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan.

The Goulds’ six-month-old sabra daughter, Rachel, was on hand to help Mummy and Daddy – mainly by cooing in pleasure at their joint effort – but the real work was done by a group of young adults from the Ramat Gan- Givatayim branch of AKIM headed by Gideon Mitchnik. Gould has been very impressed by what AKIM does for people with special needs, and he and his wife were only too delighted to have some of them help them in their first endeavor of this kind in Israel. The group also presented the Goulds with a mezuza, which it made for them. The Goulds intend to eat as many meals as possible in the succa and have several high-level dinners planned for the holiday. Gould is Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel.

Actually, the atmosphere won’t be all that different from that which prevailed in the marquees that were set up in the garden for previous events. The essential difference will be in the décor, which at other times of the year has not included traditional Jewish symbolism.

And of course this time around, the Goulds were physically involved in putting up and decorating the succa.

■ FOR SEVEN years, during the six-and-a-half year period of tenure of Moshe Katsav as president, and the half year in which then Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik took over the presidential duties while Katsav was under police investigation for sexual offenses, Avi Granot, who was on loan from the Foreign Ministry as the president’s advisor on foreign policy, stood in reception lines behind the president at almost every ceremony in which new ambassadors presented credentials. Last week, he was back. This time in his current capacity as the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Africa. It is customary for heads of different divisions to be part of the reception line for ambassadors that fall within their jurisdiction.

While responsible for Africa, Granot, who was previously Israel’s ambassador to Finland, also stayed around for the meeting between new Finnish Ambassador Leena-Kaisa Mikkola and President Shimon Peres.

Granot knows Mikkola personally and even hosted a dinner in her honor.

Veteran staff members at the President’s Residence greeted Granot with hugs and kisses.

In the days when the residence was his place of work, Granot had a special corner in the grounds where he smoked his cigars. He could not resist taking a puff there last week.

■ MOST OF the musicians in the Israel Police Band are of Russian background. Their repertoire includes the national anthems of all countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel. The band assembles at least two or three times a year at the residence of the president to play the national anthems of new ambassadors presenting their credentials.

There were five ambassadors last Thursday, and the anthem that was played with the highest degree of feeling was the one in honor of Russian Ambassador Sergey Yakovlevich Yakovlev. Under any circumstances, it’s a very majestic piece of music, but there was a certain pride and feeling of nostalgia among the musicians who played it, because one never quite escapes one’s origins.

It was music in more ways than one to Yakovlev’s ears.

■ NATIONAL PRIDE is sometimes reflected in what one wears. Nigerian Ambassador David Oladipo Obasa and Filipino Ambassador Generoso de Guzman Calonge came to the President’s Residence in the traditional dress of their respective countries, with Obasa looking resplendent in a regal jacquard agbada with matching trousers known as sokoto. Most of the members of the entourages accompanying the two ambassadors also wore traditional attire. Calonge has a special place in his heart for Israel. While representing his country here was barely a dream he named his eldest daughter after Golda Meir because he wanted his daughter to have Meir’s strength of character.

She is now 26 and studying for a master’s degree in Social Work at Columbia University.

Unlike Alexander Bovin, Russia’s first ambassador to Israel who came in the costume of an admiral, following the renewal of diplomatic relations between Israel and what was left of the Soviet Union, Yakovlev came dressed neither as an admiral nor as a Cossack, but wore a regular Western suit. Finland’s ambassador disdained her country’s folk costume in favor of a tailored suit, and anyone who expected Chinese Ambassador Yanping Gao to wear a cheongsam was disappointed. She, too, came in a smart Western outfit, and charmed Peres by saying “toda raba” every time he paid her a compliment.

■ WHILE STILL in the capacity of ambassador-designate, Gao last month hosted a reception for 700 people in celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

Guests who congregated in the garden of the Chinese residence in Kfar Shmaryahu included Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister-without- Portfolio Yossi Peled, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, former foreign minister Moshe Arens, who is now the honorary president of the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, Deputy Director-General for Asia and the Pacific of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ruth Kahanoff, Kfar Saba Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo and the president of the Israel and China Friendship Society and the Association of Former Jewish Residents in China, Teddy Kaufman, along with former Israeli ambassadors to China, members of the diplomatic corps, Chinese students currently studying in Israel and representatives of Chinese enterprises and of the local Chinese community. Gao noted the great changes that have taken place in China with her country’s total economic output and volume of trade ranking second in the world.

China’s foreign exchange reserves and exports are the highest in the world, she said, and prosperity levels for Chinese workers have reached unprecedented levels and constitute an historic breakthrough.

China has made important positive contributions to the stable development of the world economy, and has played an active and important role in safeguarding world peace and coping with global challenges, declared Gao, who said she was honored to be her country’s sixth ambassador to Israel and that she was fully aware of the responsibilities. She also noted that next year both countries will mark the 20th anniversary of their diplomatic ties. Peled and Kaufman each noted the centuries old connection between the Jewish and Chinese peoples, and the fact that Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust found a haven in China. They also referred to the highly developed partnership between China and Israel that exists today and were confident it will continue to be enhanced.

■ MEANWHILE THIS week, Nigerian Ambassador Obasa hosted a buffet luncheon at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv to celebrate the 51st anniversary of his country’s independence.

Again garbed in a splendid example of his country’s national costume, Obasa remarked on the fact that most of his compatriots, as well as guests from other African countries, had come “in very flamboyant colors to add grace to this occasion.” Nigeria, he said, had gained independence from British colonial rule on October 1, 1960, and had emerged stronger than ever from the challenges of statehood and nation building.

Emphasizing Nigeria’s commitment to peace, stability, security, sustainable development and sustainable and lasting democracy, Obasa underscored Nigeria’s participation in peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world.

He was also proud that Nigeria is currently president of the United Nations Security Council. Relations with Israel are mutually beneficial he said, with about 75 Israeli companies currently operating in Nigeria, primarily in the fields of communication, information technology, military hardware and construction. Hoping to encourage more Israelis to investigate Nigeria’s business potential, Obasa made the point that Nigeria, which has one of the largest economies in Africa, has embarked on economic reforms to make the country more investor-friendly.

Obasa thanked Israel for knowledge imparted to Nigerian students through MASHAV programs and courses in Israeli technological colleges.

Like Israel, Nigeria still has had to cope with terrorist attacks, especially in recent months, said Obasa, who pledged that his country will continue to participate in the global effort to eradicate terrorism. Seizing on this, Ministerwithout- Portfolio Peled, who represented the government, expressed solidarity with the people of Nigeria and said Israel was always ready to help in the struggle against terrorism.

In this context he said Iran must be prevented from further developing its nuclear program.

Though aware that Nigeria is likely to support the Palestinian initiative in which it seeks UN recognition as a fully-fledged member state, Peled urged Nigeria to vote against the initiative and to help pave the way for direct peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

Anyone interested in Nigerian culture, will have an opportunity to see the Nigerian National Theater of dancers and musicians perform at the Tel Aviv Museum on Sunday evening, October 16.

■ WITHIN THE framework of the 25th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic ties between Israel and Spain, the Israel Museum hosted a special evening to display the visiting masterpiece, El Greco’s St John the Evangelist, 1597-1604, which is on loan from the Prado Museum in Madrid.

This is the first time an El Greco has been displayed at the Israel Museum, and it is also the first time the Israel Museum has received a loan from the Prado Museum, said the museum director, James Snyder. Throughout the years, Snyder has cultivated heads of foreign diplomatic missions to facilitate closer relationships between the Israel Museum and other high ranking museums around the world. He credited Spanish Ambassador Alvaro Irenzo Gutierrez with playing an important role in enabling the El Greco to be displayed in Jerusalem.

Israel’s Fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, who 25 years ago signed the first cultural agreement between Israel and Spain, and has had an abiding relationship with Spain ever since, admitted that at the time, “I never imagined that we would see an El Greco here.” Looking and acting nowhere near his 90 years, Navon initially spoke in Hebrew to the audience, then in English to Snyder and then in Spanish to Gutierrez.

He then switched back to English, so everyone present could understand him.

Expressing his delight at the collaboration between the two museums, Gutierrez said that El Greco was the jewel in the crown of the Prado Museum, and the evening at the Israel Museum was one of the key cultural aspects of the 25th anniversary celebrations, which have given the embassy the opportunity to organize a string of cultural activities representative of past and present Spain.

Fania Oz-Salzberger, who delivered the keynote address “El Greco Travels to Jerusalem,” commented that although Jerusalem was one of his favorite themes, he never actually visited the city, and the Jerusalem on his canvas was the figment of his imagination. The skies, for instance, were not the skies of Jerusalem, but the skies of Toledo. She compared El Greco with famed Spanish-Jewish prolific poet, physician and philosopher Judah Halevi, who wrote longingly of Jerusalem, with his best known poem on the subject opening with the lines “My heart is in the East and I in the uttermost West.” Unlike El Greco, Halevi realized his dream to spend the twilight of his life in Jerusalem, and died almost immediately after reaching the Holy City. Several of the people who attended the event last week were hosted by Gutierrez this week on the occasion of Spain’s National Day.

■ LIFE HAS been hectic of late for Jerusalemite Bridget Silver, whose late husband Eric Silver was the well-known Anglo- Israeli journalist, who in a span of close to four decades covered an enormous range of headline-making events in the Middle East for the Guardian, Observer, Independent, Jewish Chronicle and other publications. Following his death from pancreatic cancer in July 2008, Silver and their three daughters, Sharon, Rachel and Dina embarked on a two-year labor of love to produce a book in his memory. Selecting material from Eric’s prolific and varied output was no easy task, but after a lot of headache and heartache, they were able to compile an anthology of which they feel he would be proud. Published in London by Revel Barker under the title Dateline Jerusalem, with an appreciation by noted Anglo-Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert, the book, which will be officially released next week, has already received favorable reviews, but will not be officially launched till mid-November. Silver will be flying to London for the launch but won’t be able to stay long because she has to be back in Israel for her granddaughter’s wedding, which will take place less than a week later.

The Jerusalem launch of the book will be held at Mishkenot Sha’ananim on Friday, December 2. Aside from honoring Eric’s memory, the local launch will be somewhat in the nature of a reunion. The Silvers were always famous for their parties at which they hosted not only members of the Foreign Press Association but some of the many dignitaries who had been interviewed by Eric over the years. The launch will provide an opportunity for many of them to get together again and to exchange reminiscences.

■ ROSH HASHANA is a joyful time for most people, but it was more so for Dr. Aharon Abraham, who was born a Hindu, but is now Jewish. In his previous life he was known as Dr. Bhagirath Prasad and he was the director of the ICU Medical Center at the British Kennedy in Mumbai.

He was also the personal physician to the family of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivki, who ran the Chabad House in Mumbai and who were murdered by terrorists in 2008. He knew the family well and was a regular guest at their Sabbath table as well as during Jewish holidays. He had become interested in Biblical studies even before he met the Holtzbergs, but more so when he became an extension of their family. His wife, a nurse, had also become interested in Judaism, and when their first son was born, even though they were not yet Jewish, they had him circumcised in accordance with Jewish ritual.

When the couple first applied for conversion they were turned down, but they persevered and eventually were converted in India. Devastated by the deaths of the Holtzbergs, they felt Mumbai was no longer their home and came to Israel where they went through another conversion ceremony to make sure they were completely kosher. Abraham pays monthly visits to Afula to see Moishie Holtzberg, the child who survived the terrorist attack and captured the hearts of the nation.

The only remaining hurdle he had was to receive his Israeli medical license, which he could not get until he was sufficiently proficient in Hebrew.

He was notified a few weeks ago that he had passed the exams and had been accepted, and in very short order found himself on the ICU staff at Kaplan Hospital. He was absolutely thrilled at the idea that he could celebrate Rosh Hashana as a member of Israel’s medical community. In addition to that, his daughter’s 17th birthday was on Rosh Hashana, and if that wasn’t enough his son was joining the army and had been accepted to serve with the Golani Brigade.

Dr. Adi Nimrod who heads the ICU unit at Kaplan was delighted to have Abraham as part of his team. When Abraham had applied to him for a job he said, his response had immediately been positive because he was familiar with Abraham’s story, and because as a citizen of Israel, as well as being the head of a medical department, he wanted to help someone who had chosen to live here and to make a contribution to the well-being of others.

He had personally helped Abraham improve his Hebrew, and had provided a proper environment for him in which to study for his exams.

greerfc@gmail.com


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