Grapevine: The French connection

Peres to Hollande: In only 24 hours, you have conquered the hearts of Israel – even in the Knesset, which is not easy.

By
November 19, 2013 22:14
Frech President Francois Hollande with President Shimon Peres and PM Binyamin Netanyahu.

Hollande, Peres and Netanyahu 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

"In only 24 hours, you have conquered the hearts of Israel – even in the Knesset, which is not easy," President Shimon Peres told French President Francois Hollande at the state dinner he hosted in his honor.

State dinners, with the exception of the entertainment, are usually humdrum affairs in which the guests are happy to leave as soon as the guest of honor departs. But this was different. Hollande, who arrived late from the Knesset, was in no hurry to return to his hotel and was obviously enjoying himself, as were Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

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Aside from some of the historic and political issues mentioned in the speeches by Peres and Hollande, the atmosphere was informal, relaxed and happy, with many kisses on both cheeks exchanged by guests in the hall with each other and with the guests of honor. As Peres, Hollande and his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, entered the banquet hall together with the Netanyahus, sculptress, jewelry designer and museum-owner Ilana Goor threw her arms around Peres and embraced him, then turned around to do the same to Sara Netanyahu.

For her part, Sara Netanyahu, after briefly leaving the presidential dais to chat with friends seated at various tables, returned to find Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman deep in conversation with her husband.

Pausing momentarily, she threw her arm around Liberman’s neck, kissed him on both cheeks and then returned to her seat at the head table.

Singer David D’Or – who received a roaring ovation from the crowd, including members of the large French delegation – was kissed on both cheeks on the way back to his table by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.Yonit Tobi, the star of the musical based on the life of Edith Piaf – who sounds remarkably like the famous French chanteuse, albeit a little less husky – also received a rousing ovation.

The dinner had been scheduled for 7:30 p.m., but since the moment of his arrival in Israel, Hollande had been running behind schedule – and this was no exception. The dinner began more than an hour late, and also finished much later than usual. A state dinner is usually over somewhere between 9:30 and 10 p.m; this one went on until 11 p.m. and even when its conclusion was announced, Hollande continued to linger and talk to various guests – as did the Netanyahus, who joined Peres in eventually seeing the French president to his car.

Guests continued to talk to Peres and the Netanyahus and to pose for photos with them. Both the president and prime minister were extremely obliging on this score, and even after Peres went back into the building, the Netanyahus remained, chatting to people on the grounds.

Hollande had mentioned in his address what a good time he had the previous evening at the dinner hosted by the prime minister, in which there had been a lot of singing, and the same jolly mood characterized the state dinner – although there was more humor bandied about than song.

Peres, who had a very warm relationship with French president Francois Mitterand, said there were three people in the room who had been great friends and admirers of Mitterand’s: one was Hollande; another was French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius; and the third was Peres himself.

Peres also mentioned what a great friend Socialist leader Guy Mollet, who was elected prime minister in the mid-1950s, had been to Israel. Prior to his election, he had promised to help Israel if he won the election, and the day after he was elected he called Peres to come to Paris, saying he intended to keep his promise. This was an example from which other politicians could learn, quipped Peres.

Hollande also referred to Mollet, saying Peres was the great expert on the man. “If you ever want to know anything about Guy Mollet, just ask Shimon Peres,” said Hollande, adding that Peres was one of the few people living who actually knew Mollet personally.

He confirmed that Mollet had indeed been a great friend of Israel.

Among the guests who came in for a great deal of attention was Liberman, who was congratulated left, right and center on his return to the government. Other prominent figures among the guests were former Israeli ambassadors to France, among them: Ovadia Sofer, who served in the position for nine years; Avi Pazner; Danny Shek; Nissim Zvili; and current Ambassador Yossi Gal.

Ministers in addition to Liberman and Livni included Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin. There were also several MKs, though Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who had been invited, was conspicuous in his absence.

Apropos the Knesset, where Hollande had initially decided he wouldn’t speak, but then had yielded under pressure from Edelstein – who had said he would not be welcome unless he addressed the plenum – Hollande said he had greatly enjoyed his time here.

There is always some special detail in the food and table décor at state dinners. Sometimes the floral arrangements are in the colors of the national flag of the guest of honor, or there is a specifically Israeli item on the menu. This time, the staff of the President’s Residence went all out, creating a French ambience with white chairs around the tables, napkins held together with fine gold string from which a gold hamsa was suspended, magnificent all-white floral arrangements which inter alia included roses, tulips, gladioli and lily of the valley, and wonderfully presented food that tasted as good as it looked – with the main talking point being the soup made of various orange-colored vegetables, served in baby pumpkins.

In every aspect, it was one of the best state dinners held to date.

■ US AMBASSADOR Daniel Shapiro is a fluent Hebrew speaker who demonstrates his prowess with the language at almost every opportunity. But last Friday, when interviewed by Israel Radio’s Arieh Golan about the dispute between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry on how to deal with Iran, as well as the lobbying trip to the US by government maverick and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, Shapiro opted to reply in English, so that his answers would be absolutely clear (presumably to the folks back home). Golan translated Shapiro’s remarks into Hebrew – not literally, but with enough of the gist.

■ THE BIG question in Israel’s communications industry is who is behind Yafit Greenberg’s announced purchase of Ronald Lauder’s 30-percent stake in Channel 10.

Lauder, majority shareholder Yossi Maiman and Arnon Milchan, who owns 24% of the shares, have spent tens of millions of dollars in keeping Channel 10 afloat – without any return on their investment. There have been times when the channel was close to closing, and many of its 600 employees were fearful that if Lauder bailed out, the channel’s days would be numbered.

Although Greenberg, known professionally as Gimmel Yafit, runs a highly successful advertising agency and is famous for her concise promotions that end with the word “nekuda” (period or full-stop in British English), no one believes she has enough of her own money to keep the channel going. The element of surprise in her announcement, which reportedly caught even Channel 10 CEO Rafi Ginat off-guard, has left many questions dangling with regard to the channel’s future and that of its employees.

Greenberg, at the media conference in which she made her announcement, said television has been good to her and that she wants to do something positive for it. That may be true, but Greenberg is a shrewd businesswoman who is unlikely to throw hardearned money down the drain. The question remains: Who is she fronting for? ■ THE SLIGHTLY premature 25th anniversary celebration of the Israel Free Loan Association, which was held at the Begin Heritage Center, was brought forward to coincide with the 80th birthday of its founder and president, Prof. Eliezer Jaffe, an internationally respected expert on social work.

Jaffe believes that giving people interestfree loans, arranged with comfortable repayment terms, goes a lot further in preserving human dignity than merely giving charity. He doesn’t discount the importance of feeding the hungry, but is convinced that if people are helped to help themselves, the end result is better for the individual, the person’s family, the community and society as a whole.

Speaker after speaker spoke of Jaffe with admiration and affection, noting the extent to which the association has grown and improved under his guidance.

Someone else might have basked in the glory of it all, and though it was undoubtedly pleasant to Jaffe’s ear to hear so many compliments, he wasn’t happy about the direction in which the anniversary symposium was going – declaring he didn’t want it to be an “Eliezer Jaffe Festival.”

But the truth is that without Jaffe, the IFLA would never have gotten off the ground.

Indeed, his ideas have been adopted elsewhere. Rabbi Benny Lau spoke of how they have been taken on by his own congregation, which helped a man who was near suicide because his debts had increased to what he believed was an untenable extent.

Lau had sent an accountant to probe and analyze the situation, and come up with a possible solution. The accountant worked out how much money was needed to help eliminate the man’s debts, and Lau put it it to the congregation. Although it was quite a sizable sum, the congregation raised the money in a very short period. The accountant worked out an interest-free repayment plan. The beneficiary began paying off the debt and with this and other funds, the congregation is now helping others in need.

Jaffe’s philosophy is to turn the borrower into a lender. He developed the idea as the waves of Russian immigrants came in from the former Soviet Union. They came with hope, often with impressive academic credentials or professional abilities, but with no money. He wanted to help them help themselves, and initially raised $20,000. In the interim, he received a lot of support from philanthropists who liked his idea, and since then, the association has given loans somewhere in the range of NIS 750 million. Nearly all the loans have been repaid, said Jaffe, and as they are being repaid, the money is made available to other people seeking loans. As a result of these funds, people have been able to build up small businesses, embark on essential study courses, get medical treatment that was unavailable without payment, pay off part of their mortgage, etc.

Jaffe and other speakers noted that when someone is reduced to asking for charity, it is a sign of failure and loss of self-esteem. Asking for a loan is like any business transaction, and does not involve loss of dignity.

The biggest contributors to the loan fund are the Gottesman family of New York, who fund many different projects in Israel, and whose key representative, Bob Gottesman, specially came to Israel to pay tribute to Jaffe.

■ A HUMOROUS note was injected into the IFLA celebration by chairman Edward Cohen, who acted as master of ceremonies and apparently found the hall a little too hot.

He approached the microphone while still wearing his jacket, then removed it and decided to tell a joke to explain his action: David Ben-Gurion, when invited to dine with the British high commissioner, removed his jacket – and was soundly reprimanded.

“But I have permission from Winston Churchill himself,” he protested. When dining with Churchill, he continued, he had also removed his jacket, to which Churchill’s reaction had been: “You can do that when you’re dining with the high commissioner in Jerusalem – but not here.”

When Benny Lau, minus jacket and tie, took his place at the microphone, he made a crack about not knowing about the dress formalities.

IFLA CEO Joe Rosen, who was wearing a suit and tie, said that even though he had never dined with Churchill or the high commissioner, he was following the dress code – but Gottesman, before mounting the stage, removed his jacket to be in sync with Cohen.

■ THE ROCKMAN-Goldsmith family of Jerusalem and Ra’anana might well be described as a family on the run. Gila Rockman, who was in the final stages of pregnancy last Tuesday, joined her husband, Justin, on the 10-kilometer Jerusalem Night Run.

She called her father, Dr. Michael Goldsmith, a general practitioner, the following morning to tell him she had dropped out after seven kilometers. Goldsmith, who is an avid runner himself, going for a run almost every day, was somewhat shocked by his daughter’s conduct at such an advanced time of pregnancy. But she was cool with it, and on Wednesday went about her regular tasks – including shopping.

On Wednesday night, Gila Rockman went into labor and gave birth to her fourth child, a boy, who will be circumcised and inducted into the faith tomorrow, Thursday. Gila’s brothers, Ari and Ronen, who are both marathon runners, will be on-hand with their own children.

The entry of a new baby into the family did not prevent Justin Rockman from attending the launch of the Afikim run from Jerusalem to Eilat, which is scheduled for December 18 – when Rockman, together with 15 other runners, will set off from Jaffa Gate on a run to Eilat. He wasn’t the only member of the family at the Afikim event. His mother and mother-in-law were also there to lend moral support to the cause.

Afikim deals with at-risk youth, not only providing an environment that will keep them off the streets, but also working with their families and communities. Moshe Lefkowitz, 46, who founded Afikim, is a father of seven and grandfather of five, with his most recent grandchild born just a week earlier. His experience with various social welfare organizations led him to believe that just dealing with children at risk, and not with their families, was not the right way to achieve success. Social gaps are as a big a danger to Israel as Iran, he told the large crowd that had come for the launch.

Though haredi in his lifestyle, Lefkowitz believes there is room for many different facets of society, and is keen to narrow the gaps between religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Left and Right, Jews and non-Jews. “There’s no consensus on anything,” he lamented.

Lefkowitz, in some respects, has a similar outlook to that of the IFLA’s Jaffe, advocating that while food is important, it is equally important to give people the tools with which to make their way in life, so they can live with dignity. Foodwise, Afikim is one of the organizations supplying meals to schools to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Lefkowitz is now working on a plan to bring youngsters doing national service into the schools, to help pinpoint at-risk children and begin helping them and their families at the earliest possible stages.

The launch event included a hilarious selfdeprecating act by religious stand-up comedian and journalist Kobi Arieli. Because his audience was also religious it was a kind of all-in-the-famiy affair, punctuated by chuckles and guffaws. Had a secular comedian used some of the same material, he would have been accused of anti-religious incitement. It’s a similar principle to Jews being allowed to poke fun at themselves, but if a non-Jew tells the same jokes, he’s branded an anti-Semite.

■ FEW THINGS are more frustrating to a journalist than being invited to cover an event, only to be told when they show up that most of what is being said is off-the-record. That’s what happened last Friday night, when British Ambassador Matthew Gould addressed the Anglo-Israel Colloquium, which convenes somewhere in Israel every year or two to focus on a particular issue.

This was the 10th meeting of its kind, and the topic was “Ethics and Responsibility in an Interconnected World.” This was not the topic of Gould’s talk, however. He was more focused on relations between the UK and Israel, and when one of his predecessors, Sir Andrew Burns, who served as British ambassador to Israel from 1992 to 1995, introduced him, he made the point that Gould’s remarks were off-therecord.

Gould had previously made some remarks on-the-record, discussing the growing trade between the UK and Israel, noting that the UK is the Jewish state’s largest trading partner in Europe and quoting figures which indicated the boycott of Israeli goods in the UK is really a peripheral phenomenon that has been blown out of proportion.

Gould also mentioned the top-level exchanges between the two countries, and as proof brought along Vice Admiral Alan Richards, who is Britain’s chief of defense intelligence, and who conveniently happened to be in Israel at the time.

The colloquium, which was held at the initiative and under the auspices of the Anglo- Israel Association, convened on this occasion at Mishkenot Sha’ananim – which could not have been more suitable, given its Anglo- Israel history, being the area that was the site of the first Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem to be settled outside of the walls of the Old City. The neighborhood was developed at the initiative of Sir Moses Montefiore, in whose memory another symposium will be held at the same venue soon. Montefiore had visions for Jerusalem that were not realized in his lifetime, but were followed up on much later – and not always with attribution.

In addition to Sir Andrew, a familiar British face at the colloquium was that of David Elliott, the British coordinator of the colloquium who works hand-in-glove with colloquium coordinator Asher Weill. Elliott is a former director of the British Council in Israel, and the wonderful parties he hosted are still remembered by many. Burns has been the UK envoy for post-Holocaust issues since 2010, and is chairman-designate of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance for 2014-2015. He recalled that the Oslo Accords had heralded an exciting time during his period of service in Israel, and had also led to a closer relationship between Israel and Britain.

■ HUMANITARIAN REASONS have prompted Israel to provide medical treatment for patients from Gaza, including the granddaughter of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – but Israel seems to be less humane when it comes to her own people.

As such, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon is protesting the way Prisons Service authorities have treated Amir Attias, the father of soldier Eden Attias, who was murdered on a bus in Afula last week by a Palestinian terrorist.

The family of Amir Attias, who is serving a prison sentence for sex offenses and acts of violence, had pleaded with prison authorities to allow him to attend his son’s funeral in regular clothing, instead of the orangehued prison uniform. The prison authorities refused, and would only accede to the family’s pleas that his shackles be removed for the duration of the funeral. The family is particularly angry because former president Moshe Katzav, who is also in prison for sex offences, was permitted to wear a regular civilian suit to his son’s wedding, whereas Attias was forced to remain in the prison uniform.

Gilon, in a letter to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, said he could not understand how anyone could be so heartless and lacking in consideration, and demanded that such people be rooted out of the system as quickly as possible.

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