IN THE days when he was prime minister and before that mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert had a certain belligerence where journalists were concerned. But last week when he addressed members of the Foreign Press Association at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which is about to celebrate its 80th anniversary, he was in high spirits and remarkably candid in what started out as an off the record briefing and evolved into an on the record declaration that because they had not accepted his proposals, the Palestinians had made “an historical mistake of the highest level.”
During question time, one journalist after another thanked Olmert for his frankness. Olmert repeated on the record much of what he said off the record, and even revealed that his metamorphosis from diehard Likudnik to the head of a Kadima-led government that had been willing to make the most painful concessions for peace had taken place much before it became obvious to the public.
Olmert had an excellent relationship with US president George W.Bush, who he said was probably the friendliest president that ever sat in the White House. But he pointed out that much of what Bush proposed to Israel in the road map was much the same as what Barack Obama wants.
On that basis, Olmert was at a loss to understand why one president is regarded as Israel’s greatest friend and the other as its greatest enemy.
Olmert also answered questions about his relationship with Tzipi Livni, and sounded better disposed toward her than she to him. Despite their differences, he said, they had a very constructive cooperation.
■ WHAT COULD well have developed into the second Hungarian revolution took place in Jerusalem on Sunday night, when scores of frustrated Hungarian expatriates learned to their anger and dismay that there was no room for them in the 270- seat auditorium of Beit Avi Chai. The event had been advertised as “Pita with Goulash” to signify the Israelization of Hungarian writers, satirists, artists, cartoonists and musicians.
The problem was that the event was free and pre-registration was not an option. There was a reception at 7 p.m. and the event was to start at 8 p.m. Anyone who tried to register was told that seating was on a firstcome, first-served basis. As a result, some eager beavers turned up before 6 and anyone who came at 6:30 or later was told that there were no seats left. Furious people, some who had come quite a distance, vented their disappointment loud and long – but at first to no avail.
The expression most commonly heard was not a Hungarian or Hebrew word, but a Russian one – balagan, chaos, which has been adopted into other Slavic languages and into Hebrew. The two young women at the counter appeared to have a short-list of names of people who could enter no matter when they arrived, but initially the counter staff refused to take any more names.
Vera Aran, the widow of a former Foreign Ministry chief of protocol, had been personally invited by Hungarian Ambassador Zoltan Szentgyorgi, but when she told this to Beit Avi Chai director Dani Danieli, it made no impression because the invitation had been verbal.
Aran, who had never been to Beit Avi Chai before, said that she was unlikely to come again. However she decided to wait for Szentgyorgi, in the hope that he would straighten out the problem. However Szentgyorgi was unwell. The tumult created by the overflow crowd finally had some effect in that Danieli decided to open two closed circuit auditoria, at which point people were permitted to register.
Here again there was balagan in that some of the crowd were in the
courtyard and didn’t hear the announcement. The closed circuit auditoria
were on two floors upstairs and people waiting had to stand crowded in a
narrow corridor for what seemed like an inordinate period.
Some of the people were quite elderly and it was difficult for them to
stand. Even if they wanted to move away, they couldn’t because of the
press of the crowd.
Eventually the doors were opened, but people in the corridor were not
allowed in unless their name was on the list. Thankfully, there were
still some spare chairs afterward, and any unlisted person who wanted to
could come in. Then to top matters off, the closed circuit system
malfunctioned, and technicians were frantically trying to get it going.
It broke down several times during the evening. Danieli apologized for
any inconvenience, saying they hadn’t expected such a turnout.
The underlying message as spelled out by satirist Ephraim Sidon, who
said he is often confused with Ephraim Kishon, is that people like
Kishon, Kariel Gardsosh (Dosh) and others who were so Hungarian in
themselves, were so Israeli in their creativity. By and large, the
program was superficial, with members of the audience both in the main
auditorium and in the closed circuit halls voting with their feet and
■ THURSDAY HAS become a very popular events day, posing problems for
people who get invited to two or three or more that start at more or
less the same time. But last Thursday posed even more problems, because
in addition to the many Thanksgiving dinners, there was also the gala
wedding celebration for some 1,000 guests at the David Intercontinental
Hotel, hosted by Lev Leviev and his wife Olga in honor of the marriage
of their son Shmaya, and there was also the wedding of slightly smaller
proportions of the daughter of Bank Hapoalim chief economist Leo
In addition, Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi and his wife Nobuko,
hosted a reception at their residence in Herzliya Pituah in celebration
of the 77th birthday of Emperor Akihito, who was actually born on
December 23, while Korean Ambassador Young-sam Ma hosted a Korean jazz
concert at the Tel Aviv Museum, but stopped off at the Japanese
residence on the way, and stayed for more than an hour, while guests at
the Korean reception wondered what had happened to him and when the
concert would start.
A more classical concert by the young “Musicians of Tomorrow,” held at
the Herzliya Pituah home of Evelyn and Howard Ross, featured 11-year-old
violinist Barak Dan, from Tiberias, who was forced to make a
heart-breaking choice between his two great loves, music and karate.
Dan, who started training in karate at four, was junior karate champion
of the country three times until reaching nine, when he decided he
wanted to be a violinist. His teacher Anna Rosnovky, the former first
violinist of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, told his parents that it
was too risky for his hands to practice karate, and if he truly wanted
to be a violinist, he would have to forsake his favorite sport.
■ BACK TO the Japanese residence, where among the guests were several
former senior members of the Foreign Ministry: recently retired chief of
protocol Yitzhak Eldan, two former directors-general Eytan Bentsur and
Alon Liel and Zvi Gabay, former deputy director-general for Asia and
Pacific affairs. Because there is a constant fear of rain (it should
only happen), the emperor’s birthday reception is held in a huge marquee
on the back lawn overlooking the swimming pool.
Anxious about being delayed by traffic many of the guests arrived before the food had been set out.
At the back of the tent were two long tables with signs in Hebrew and
English that these were the kosher tables. The few guests to whom it
mattered, waited and waited and waited, but no kosher food arrived, even
though the nonkosher tables covered with white cloths were already
laden. Cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen decided to run interference on behalf
of his kosher friends, and asked a waiter why there was no kosher food. A
tray suddenly materialized, but its contents were not kosher.
Nonetheless, it was placed on the table.
As for the actual event, Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi spoke warmly of
how the Japanese people relate to the emperor and the empress, and
mentioned that this year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of
Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihar, who while stationed in Lithuania,
provided thousands of visas for Jews seeking to escape the Nazis.
Takeuchi also put in a plug for Japanese tourism and said that it was
about time for those who have not yet visited to do so. Environmental
Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who represented the government, got a
thumbs-up sign from Takeuchi for pronouncing his name correctly the
first time around. Erdan said that he was supposed to have gone to
Japan, but couldn’t, but had listened carefully to Takeuchi and “I will
The dialogue with Japan is on the highest level, said Erdan, and in 2012
the two countries will celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic
He also lauded Japan for its role in the peace process and for what it
is doing to improve the Palestinian economy. Takeuchi disclosed that
there are 900 Japanese nationals living here.
■ THERE ARE some who believe that politics is everything, but there are
several instances in which Israel engaged in trade relations with other
countries long before the establishment of diplomatic ties. In fact in
those cases, it was the trade that led to the diplomacy.
That’s one of the reasons that so much emphasis is placed on Israel
Gateway, and it also explains why representatives of 30 countries
attended the opening of this year’s conference at the Dan Panorama Hotel
in Tel Aviv.
One of the largest delegations came from Poland and was headed by
Dariusz Bogdan, undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Economy, who
said the two countries not only have a long history but a dynamic
development of industry and technology which is mutually beneficial. All
the Israeli speakers, including Industry, Trade and Labor Minister
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer heaped praise on Ilana and Oded Kapitolnik of the
Globus Gate Group, who for some 25 years have been actively promoting
foreign investment, and who have been organizing the annual Israel
Gateway trade event since its inception eight years ago. Ben-Eliezer
urged local companies to become more involved in international and
binational projects, especially those which could benefit from Israeli
technology and know-how.
Both he and Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association,
expressed concern over the 10 percent decline in exports, part of the
fallout from the global economic crisis, and warned that Israel must be
alert to entrepreneurial opportunities.
Meanwhile, said Ben Eliezer, the country is looking for new markets, and
the East seems to be inviting. This was confirmed by Israel Institute
for Export and International Relations chairman Ami Harel, who said that
in recent months the focus had been on India, China and Brazil, but
that South Korea, Vietnam and Mexico also look promising.
■ ISRAEL BONDS president Yehoshua Matza is finally winding up his term
and is due to return home from New York early next year, at which time
he will have served in the position for nine years – the longest term
ever served by an Israel Bonds president.
Tipped to succeed him is another Jerusalemite, Australian expatriate,
hitech executive and former Bezeq CEO Izzy Tapoohi, who has been
approved by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz but has yet to get the green
light from Israel Bonds board chairman Richard Hirsch. Tapoohi knew
several months ago that he was the lead contender for the job, but in
the interim there were rumors that if Kadima joined the coalition, the
position would go to yet another Jerusalemite, MK Dalia Itzik.
Last week, some newspapers carried the story that Yossi Peled was the
Israel Bonds man of the hour, but Tapoohi said the story wasn’t true,
and that he wasn’t worried. Tapoohi, who is very close to Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu, has already had experience in encouraging foreign
investment, which he did at Netanyahu’s behest when the latter was
previously prime minister.
Tapoohi has also served in a voluntary capacity as treasurer of Likud.
Steinitz sent a letter to Hirsch at the end of last week, and if Hirsch
accepts the recommendation, Tapoohi will have to pass some exams set by
the US authorities, and will then move to New York for the duration of
■ DURING HIS state visit to Ukraine last week, President Shimon Peres
asked his Ukrainian counterpart to release 350 of the 700 Torah scrolls
being held in the Ukrainian State Archives so that they may be repaired
The scrolls are all in various states of disrepair and cannot be used.
Even if they were in good condition, they could still not be used
because all attempts by the existing Jewish community to have them
returned have met with a steadfast refusal.
Peres told President Viktor Yanovych that Israel has great experience
and expertise in restoring ancient Jewish manuscripts and would regard
it as a great goodwill gesture if the Ukrainian authorities would send
the scrolls here. Yanovych promised to give the matter his
More than 100,000 Jews live in Ukraine.
■ WHERE AT any given time would you expect to meet physicist and former
Hebrew University president Hanoch Gutfreund, former dean and vice
principal of Kings College of Medicine and Dentistry in London, Sir Ian
Gainsford, former president of the Maccabi World Union Fred Worms and
certified public accountant and member of the Ramatayim choir Paul
Staszewski? Three of them are British expats, which in a sense relates
to where they were, but is a factor which is not immediately obvious.
They were all actually together in the dentist’s office – but not
because they had a toothache or were waiting for root canal treatment.
They had come to celebrate with Dr.
Stephen Kurer, formerly of London; Jacob Jackson, who earned his degree
in London; Anna Yotkowitz, who earned hers in Melbourne, and their
associates – at least one of whom earned her degree in New York. What
were they celebrating? The expansion of the KJJ dental offices in the
capital’s Rehov Keren Hayesod.
But actually it was more than expansion in the conventional sense.
When the three partners set up their enterprise several years ago in
what had been a residential apartment, they dreamed of acquiring the
apartment next door so that they could have not only larger premises,
but a total in-house operation. They want a visit to the dentist to be a
pleasant experience for patients, said Kurer, and one of the ways to do
this is to give them a pleasant environment, friendly, efficient and
professional service and to generally be available for emergencies.
■ PARTICIPANTS IN the AMIT New Generation committee’s gala salute to
AMIT’s educational enterprises here, at the AMIT Nordlicht religious
technical high school in Jerusalem, listened in rapt attention as David
Makovsky spoke of America’s involvement in the peace process. Makovsky
is a former diplomatic correspondent and editorin- chief at The
Jerusalem Post and was a long time resident of the capital before he
returned to the US, where he now heads the Middle East Project of the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He said both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership must unify the
political message being generated for it to be clear that the wish for
peace is unanimous.
Only then will the American government be able to intervene successfully toward the attainment of lasting peace.
Makovsky came to AMIT not only in his think tank persona, but also as
someone whose family has been connected with it for decades, and has
donated to its educational projects here. He encouraged New Generation
committee members, some of whom came to the capital from Ra’anana, Tel
Aviv, Modi’in, Efrat, Hashmonayim and Beit Shemesh, to help the
continuation of AMIT’s work toward excellence in education.
■ COLORFUL AND somewhat eccentric philanthropist Guma Aguiar is back,
seemingly fully recovered from the nervous breakdown which resulted in
his being briefly committed to a psychiatric facility and then going
back to America. Aguiar, a keen Betar Jerusalem fan, was interested in
buying the team from fellow philanthropist Arkadi Gaydamak, who recently
returned after an absence of nearly two years, but Gaydamak, who
attended a Betar game, is not yet ready to sell. Meanwhile Aguiar, whose
philanthropic activities include morale boosters for IDF soldiers, met
with a Border Police unit, and treated its members to a lavish barbecue.
He too has been to a Betar game and took his wife and children with