It was a different kind of cocktail reception from the norm, in that it didn’t take place in a hotel, banquet hall or ambassadorial residence, but on board Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Toronto, a frigate that was docked in Haifa Port.
Guests included International Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz; Tourism Minister Uzi Landau; Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp, a former officer with the Netherlands Royal Navy, who pronounced the HMCS Toronto to be “a nice ship”; Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma; Bahai Jerusalem representatives Kern and Barbara Wisman, who constantly commute between the capital and the Bahai World Center in Haifa; defense attaches from a number of embassies; and of course, representatives from the Israel Navy and other branches of the IDF.
Guests were greeted by Canadian Joint Operations Command chief Lt.-Gen. Stu Beare, Canadian Charge d’Affaires James Fox and the ship’s captain, Comm. Matthew Bowen. Officers and other representatives of the 258-member crew – which includes both men and women, who mingled with the guests – were spic and span in their smart, gold-braided uniforms, and extraordinarily polite when making conversation. It was truly music to the ears to someone born and raised in another well-mannered Commonwealth country.
But there was a sad aspect to the event as well: It was Fox’s last official duty. A former Canadian ambassador to Italy, he had been all set for retirement last July when he completed his posting in Rome.
But was asked to go to Israel and hold the fort between the completion of the tour of duty of Canadian ambassador to Israel Paul Hunt, and the arrival of the new ambassador, Vivian Bercovici, who was appointed on January 8.
In introducing the guests to the Toronto, Fox said that it has been deployed in the Arabian Sea region since January 2013.
During that year, its mission has been that of counter-terrorism deployment. Fox was proud to announce that the Toronto now holds the record for the largest-ever heroin seizures by Combined Maritime Forces, in the Red Sea and the Somali Basin. Over the past year, the ship has intercepted, seized and destroyed nine shipments of illicit narcotics totaling 8.5 metric tons – over 6.2 tons of hashish and 2.2 tons of heroin – which individually and collectively denied a source of revenue to terrorist organizations.
Canada has extended its naval mission in the region until April 2015, said Fox, and in December 2015 will also assume command of the Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition of Combined Maritime Forces that includes the naval task forces of 25 countries – among them the Netherlands and Australia.
This showcases Canada’s commitment to the stability and security of the region, and across the maritime commons of the world, said Fox. He noted this was not the first time that the Toronto was in Israel; a little under a year ago, it conducted exercises with the Israel Navy in the vicinity of Eilat.
Hailing the presence of the two Israeli ministers, Beare said this was a sign of the partnership between Israel and Canada.
The Toronto, said Beare, is part of Canada’s effort towards international peace and security, and has been effective in maritime security in the region.
Referring to the recent visit to Israel by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Beare said that it enhanced the strategic partnership between the two countries, and included an agreement for greater defense cooperation and mutual cooperation in fighting terrorism in the region. Beare also underscored that Canada is part of the UN peacekeeping Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Peninsula.
Steinitz, who visited Canada last October – at which time it was decided to enhance bilateral defense, security and intelligence cooperation – said it was encouraging to have such a friendship and strategic alliance. Though appreciative of what NATO, Canadian, American and other security forces are doing to maintain peace and security in the region, Steinitz made it very clear that “our security is in our own hands.”
Having joined a tour of the Toronto, Steinitz said he had always dreamed that Israel would have a ship of this size, which is approximately three times the size of the largest ship in the Israel Navy.
He was happy that Landau was also present, because both had served as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Steinitz, who before becoming an MK was a lecturer at the University of Haifa, has a soft spot for the city and said that when Harper was in Israel, he flew with him in a helicopter from Jerusalem to the Galilee and the Hula Valley. “He was impressed by the geographic dimensions of this tiny country,” said Steinitz, adding that on the way back to Jerusalem, they flew over Haifa and the stunning Bahai Gardens. Harper then told him that he wanted to come back to see Haifa on the ground, because it looked so beautiful from the air.
■ CANADA’S NEW ambassador to Israel is the fourth member of the Jewish faith to be appointed to that position. Her predecessors were Norman Spector (1992-1995), David Berger (1995- 1999) and Jon Allen (2006-2011).
Spector left public service in 1996 and in 1997, and when the paper was under Canadian ownership, was appointed publisher of The Jerusalem Post, in which capacity he negotiated the purchase of what is now one of its sister publications, The Jerusalem Report. Both publications and other media outlets in The Jerusalem Post Group are now under Israeli ownership.
New Ambassador Bercovici, a lawyer by profession, is known to be very pro-Israel and a great admirer of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. She is a former student of the Hebrew University, and used to write a monthly column on Israel and the Middle East in the Toronto Star.
■ JERUSALEM-BASED venture capitalist Jon Medved, who is a native of California and a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, is known to be one of Israel’s best foreign investment envoys. He travels the world to speak at international forums on a variety of Israel issues, but mostly about Israel’s hi-tech industry and the innovations it has introduced to countless technological products world wide. If everyone who talks of boycotting Israel and divesting themselves of anything made in Israel, they would have to return to a Stone Age lifestyle, because Israeli patents have been incorporated into so many products that have non-Israeli brand names.
Medved is the founding CEO of OurCrowd, which encourages investment in Israeli start-ups. Over the coming weeks, Medved and OurCrowd team members are traveling the world to raise capital for this purpose. The itinerary includes Sydney, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New York and Washington. There will also be opportunities for groups of potential investors to visit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to take a close-up look at projects and talk to the people running them.
Medved, who is closely connected with Aish Hatorah, has to be back in Israel by Wednesday, March 12, for the gala banquet marking the opening of the new Aish Women’s College EYAHT campus, as he and his wife, Jane, are members of the organizing committee. The Medveds are also involved with the Season of Culture, a program of diverse cultural performances and activities that takes place in the capital every summer.
■ YIDDISH, ONCE banned by David Ben-Gurion, is taught in some Israeli universities, including Bar-Ilan – whose Rena Costa Interdisciplinary Center for Yiddish Studies joined forces with the Association of Vilna Jews to host a symposium marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of acclaimed late Yiddish poet and Holocaust survivor Abraham Sutzkever, who died four years ago. Rare recordings of Sutzkever’s poems were played, along with his infamous testimony during the Nuremberg Trials against Franz Murer, the Nazi accused of murdering Sutzkever’s mother and young son.
The event, conducted in Yiddish, English and Hebrew, also featured the works of other Yiddish poets and a moving performance by the Vilna Choir, whose members include first- and second- generation natives of Vilna – which prior to the Holocaust was known as “The Jerusalem of Lithuania” because it served as the spiritual center of Eastern European Jewry.
In attendance were members of Sutzkever’s family, along with scholars and other guests from the US, including Prof. Dov-Ber Kerler of the Jewish studies program at Indiana University, and Prof. Justin Cammy, a specialist in modern Jewish literature and culture at Smith College.
Summing up the event, Prof. Ber Kotlerman, academic director of the Rena Costa Center, expressed hope that Sutzkever would be recognized in Israel as a national poet in every respect, both for the quality of his writing and because he made his home in Israel after the Holocaust.
■ FESTIVALS IN Israel are celebrated before and beyond their chronological duration, and thus events linked to International Women’s Day – which actually falls on March 8 – have already begun. Because women and children, more than men, are victims of human trafficking, the annual award ceremony for outstanding individuals and organizations fighting this kind of abuse of human dignity and freedom arguably falls into the category of celebrating International Women’s Day.
The actual background to International Women’s Day centers on women being given the right to vote, but over the years it has taken on a much broader perspective of women’s rights. And at the awards ceremony at the President’s Residence, Prime Minister Netanyahu said it was shocking that human traffic exists in our times. To use men, women and children as sex objects is a form of slavery, he said, and often ruins lives beyond repair. Echoing the condemnation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the abuse of young female Syrian refugees, Netanyahu said they are being abducted from their families and sexually abused. Both President Shimon Peres and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also spoke out against the evils of trafficking, in both human beings and organs.
On a happier note, Livni was pleased to mark the presence at the event of Emi Palmor, the recently appointed director- general of the Justice Ministry, who Livni said was the seventh woman to be appointed director-general of a ministry under the current administration. Netanyahu also marked the presence of Vered Swid, who heads the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office, and said he was proud the authority had been established on his watch.
The awards went to former MK Orit Zuaretz; Menachem Wagschal, a former director-general of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry; and Yael Goor, director of the Health Ministry’s Levinsky Clinic in Tel Aviv, which deals with people suffering from sexually transmitted diseases.
An International Women’s Day event that will be taking place next month on Friday, March 7, will be the screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque of Women of Cyprus, a documentary about Turkish and Greek Cypriot women crossing to opposite sides of the green line dividing Cyprus since the war of 1974. The women on both sides visit family homes that they had not seen in 30 years. The film will be presented by its director, Vasiliki Katrivanou, who is currently serving as a member of the Greek Parliament.
This will be followed by a panel discussion by Israeli and Palestinian women, who will explore the extent to which the film is relevant to the situation in this part of the world. The event will be co-sponsored by TRUST-Emun, Parents Circle – Families Forum, Heart- Path and Jerusalem Peacemakers.
■ AT THE awards ceremony this week for outstanding Israeli exporters, one of the recipients of an award was Moroccanoil Israel Ltd. When Economy Minister Naftali Bennett rose to speak, he revealed that President Peres, who was hosting the event, had wondered whether the company’s products could be used to prevent baldness. “Look who’s asking,” said Bennett, patting his own bald pate, as everyone present burst into laughter.
Bennett, who will celebrate his 42nd birthday next month, is just over half the president’s age, but Peres, though his hair is thinning, is still considerably more hirsute than Bennett.
■ ITALIAN AMBASSADOR Francesco Maria Talo will host a reception at his residence on Saturday night for visiting Italian Education Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza. During her stay in Israel, Carrozza will visit Tel Aviv University; the Rishonim School in Rishon Lezion, together with students, teachers and headmasters of the Italian Marco Polo and Rossellini schools, which have twinning programs with Israel; Yad Vashem; and the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus. She will also have a working lunch at a luxury Jerusalem restaurant with Education Minister Shai Piron.
■ THERE’S NO shortage of gorgeous models in Israel, but for some reason, several Israeli companies prefer to use expats who are living abroad. Included in this group are Moran Atias, Ayelet Zurer, Noa Tishby and Ilana Shoshan.
Shoshan, a former Miss Israel, is still very much in demand even at age 53, and has been contracted to promote the products of Israeli cosmetics company Gigi. Zurer is 44, and will be in Israel next month to participate in the Golbary gala fashion show. Atias and Tishby have modeled for various Israel companies. Atias, at 32, is the youngest of the group.
Michaela Bercu, who was chosen to model for the Onot catalogue, is now 46 and the mother of four. Currently living in Tel Aviv, Bercu spent several years abroad and was the first Israeli to appear on the cover of American Vogue.