Grapevine: The height of indignity

"Rules were made to be broken, but apparently regulations were not."

By
December 31, 2013 23:17
Britain's Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould

Matthew Gould 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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RULES WERE made to be broken, but apparently regulations were not.

Yehoram Gaon, who returned to Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet last Friday after an absence of a couple of months, reminded those who did know and enlightened those who didn’t, that one of the people who was denied the right to vote in the recent Labor primaries was former Education minister Yitzhak Navon. Before being appointed to that position, Navon was the fifth president of the State of Israel, and even before there was a state, was an active figure in the political antecedents of the Labor Party. Why was he not allowed to vote? Because he had not paid his NIS 75 membership dues. Navon is not the only veteran member of the Labor Party who missed out on voting in these primaries and the previous primaries in which Shelly Yacimovich rose to leadership status. But that was not his fault, nor the fault of other former and perhaps lost forever Labor supporters.

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Membership in the Labor Party used to be paid by bank order. The fee was automatically deducted from members’ bank accounts. At some stage, or at least with regard to some members, this practice stopped, but the members were not notified. It was only when they went to vote in the primaries that they discovered that they were not eligible, even though they kept receiving emails and other correspondence from the party. In other words, one hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing. Those members who wanted to pay what they owed in arrears were rejected and told that they would have to re-apply for membership. This was a truly stupid attitude, as people paying arrears would have put more money into the kitty than new members. As a result, some former Labor veterans did not vote in the Knesset elections either – because they could not bring themselves to vote for another party – but if Labor had rejected them, they were not about to vote Labor. Some others voted for parties left of Center, and may never return to Labor, which means that current Labor chief Isaac Herzog will have a heavy upwards haul if he wants to improve Labor’s representation in the next Knesset. The ideal thing would be to change the regulations, write a letter of apology to all former members who through no fault of their own had been turfed out of the party, and try to bring everyone home. But as Gaon put it, the worst indignity was the way in which the party had treated Navon, who despite everything had wanted to identify with it, and to participate by casting a vote. The party should have been honored by his presence instead of treating him like dross. The greatest indignity was not to the 92-year-old Navon, but that which the party inflicted upon itself.

■ SRI LANKAN President Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to arrive in Israel on a four day visit next week accompanied by a high ranking delegation.

He will spend two days in Israel and two days in the Palestinian Authority, Sri Lanka’s state run radio reported. Rajapaksa will meet with President Shimon Peres and with PA President Mahmoud Abbas as well as with other Israeli and Palestinian dignitaries. He is the first Sri Lankan president to visit Israel. The purpose of the visit is to strengthen bilateral relations with Israel and the Palestinians in various fields, especially agriculture, tourism and trade.

Abbas visited Sri Lanka in April 2013 and signed bilateral agreements for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of evasion of income tax. In September of 2013, Sri Lanka signed a bilateral trade agreement with Israel during a visit to the island by a top level Israeli business delegation. Some of the members of the delegation expressed an interest in investing in hydro-power, information technology, tourism, and agriculture with specific focus on the dairy industry.

Israel and Sri Lanka initially established relations in the late 1950s, but the ties were severed on several occasions by Sri Lanka which nonetheless requested help from Israel in its ongoing struggle against the Tamil Tigers. Despite the fact that diplomatic relations had been broken since 1972, because Sri Lanka objected to Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, president Chaim Herzog unofficially visited Sri Lanka in November 1986 within the framework of his three weeks tour of the South Pacific and met with then president Junius R.



Jayewardene. During that tour of the South Pacific, Herzog also paid an unofficial visit to the Chinese mainland. Since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Israel and Sri Lanka in May 2000, there has been no break. Sri Lanka is currently represented in Israel by Ambassador Sarath Devesena Wijesinghe, who presented his credentials to President Peres in February, 2013. The agreement to renew diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level was signed at the United Nations building in New York by David Levy, who was then Israel’s foreign minister, and John de Saran, ambassador extraordinary who was Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Since then there has been close cooperation between the defense establishments of the two countries, with Sri Lanka making extensive purchases of Israeli defense equipment including Kfir fighter jets and Dvora patrol vessels.

■ CONSIDERING THE huge public display of emotion at the funeral of singer, songwriter and actor Arik Einstein, who died a little over a month ago, the number of people who attended the consecration of his tombstone at Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery last Thursday, was surprisingly small, comprising only family and close friends. A tribute concert in Einstein’s memory that was to have been held this coming Friday, January 3, which is the date on which he was born 75 years ago, was postponed at the request of his family, who said that it was too soon because they had not yet come to grips with their grief. That was also the reason that the memorial service was a private affair, without the multitudes who had crowded the cemetery towards the end of November.

Among the singers who had planned to sing at the memorial concert at Reading 3 at the Tel Aviv Port were Shalom Hanoch, Shlomo Artzi, Yehuda Poliker, Mickey Gavrielov, Guy Bukati, David D’Or, Shlomi Shabat, Leah Shabat, Arkadi Duchin, Micha Shitrit, Peter Roth, Yoni Rechter, Yehudit Ravitz and Corrine Elal, with a program consisting entirely of songs made famous by Einstein.

Curiously, Artzi celebrated his 64th birthday on the day that Einstein died.

Poliker celebrated his 63rd birthday last Wednesday, December 25 and Ravitz celebrated her 57th birthday last Sunday, December 29. It is anticipated that because Einstein was a native son of Tel Aviv, whose life was permanently linked with the city that never stops, that the Tel Aviv Municipality, in consultation with his family, will at some time this year organize a mega tribute that will include even more singers.

Meanwhile, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, this coming Friday, January 3, at 9:30 p.m. on Channel 1, will feature a special program dedicated to Einstein, and will have an additional program on Saturday, January 4 on Radio Reshet Gimel, where most of the music throughout the day will comprise recordings made by Einstein.

■ EVEN BEFORE the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, security has been increasingly beefed up for a series of his successors.

It may have started prior to the administration of Yitzhak Shamir, but it became obvious with major changes to the external facade of the prime minister’s residence during Shamir’s second term in office. The changes have continued to the extent that the whole block adjacent to the prime minister’s residence looks like a fortress, with check points for cars, push-button barriers that rise out of the ground, metal fences with accordion doors for pedestrians, cameras on the high fence surrounding the residence and observation booths above the fence.

In addition, there are booths for the members of the Border Guard (Mishmar Hagvul) who supplement the plain clothed security detail, and who occasionally patrol the area, but spend most of the time sitting in one of the booths, on a neighboring fence or on a chair placed on the sidewalk in such a way that it impedes pedestrians.

Last week, security was again enhanced by a team of electrical and electronic experts, who could not do all the wiring solely inside the building and had to do some of it outside.

No one doubts the need to protect the PM’s or the nation’s safety, but some things just don’t make sense.

Regardless of the time of day or night that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is coming or going, he is accompanied by a motorcade with sirens blaring. This is a discomfort not only to his immediate neighbors, but also to anyone living along the first kilometer or two of whatever route he happens to be taking. It isn’t his fault.

The Israel Security Agency makes the rules. Yet logic would dictate that it would be easier to maintain security without the convoy, and certainly without the sirens which may or may not be there as a decoy, while the PM is transported separately in an armored unmarked vehicle. But it’s not a case of only those who need to know, knowing. Modern, sophisticated espionage technology enables anyone monitoring the PM’s activities to know where he is at almost any given time, so the additional cars and surplus security personnel are yet another waste of tax payers’ money.

IT IS not surprising that Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who heads the ministerial committee on the status of women, should propose that the theme of Israel’s 66th Independence Day celebrations should be dedicated to the appreciation of what women have contributed to the state. Throughout her Knesset career, Livnat has been an outspoken advocate for advancing the status of women, and early in her political activity, she was one of the promising women leaders who was groomed and supported by the Israel Women’s Network which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.

While the efforts of leaders and members of WIZO, Naamat (formerly Pioneer Women), Emunah (formerly Mizrahi Women), Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women cannot be ignored, feminism did not become an issue on the national agenda until the articulate and determined educator Alice Shalvi founded the IWN. There are numerous women who deserve to light the beacons on Israel Independence Day, amongst them Ruth Lapidoth, Ruth Gavison, Dorit Beinisch and Nilli Arad who have each made impressive contributions to the law in Israel, but at the same time the contributions made by the late Miriam Ben Porat, the only female State Comptroller, should also be noted. Ada Karmi Melamed stands out in the field of architecture; Lia van Leer in cinema, Orna Porat and Hana Maron in theater, Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath and Ruth Arnon in science, Esther Roth Shahamorov Sand Yael Arad, Israel’s first Olympic medalists, Tel Aviv Museum Director Suzanne Landau in culture, Governor of the Bank of Israel Karnit Flug in economics, Ofra Straus, Liora Ofer and Shari Arison as business leaders with a philanthropic bent, Ilana Dayan, Keren Neubach and The Jerusalem Post’s own Caroline Glick whose work as journalists has impacted on untold numbers of people, also fall into the category of women who have made a difference. And they are all just a few of the many.

More than half are Israel Prize laureates. In line with Independence Day there should also be some kind of a historical pageant to honor women no longer with us such as Golda Meir, Rachel Yanit Ben- Zvi, Recha Freier, Henrietta Szold, Nechama Leibowitz, Naomi Shemer, Sara Levi-Tanai, Rabbanit Sarah Herzog, and so many others whose imprint may not always be remembered, but whose contributions in many fields were outstanding.

AT A time when print media world wide is struggling for survival, and major international newspapers and periodicals have ceased publication or have radically reduced their number of pages or have limited themselves solely to the internet, the opposite is happening in Israel – well not exactly. We witnessed the demise of Davar, Al Hamishmar and Hadashot even before the internet became a major threat to the print media; and for a while Ma’ariv, with rapid changes of ownership, was also under threat of closure.

Haaretz has cut down on the number of pages both in Hebrew and English, but has increased the frequency of its niche publications. The Jerusalem Post Group keeps adding to its stable and its weekend publication Sof Hashavua keeps getting bigger and better.

Ma’ariv’s current owner Shlomo Ben-Zvi, who was born in England, plans to start a weekly magazine on international affairs that will be published both in English and Hebrew. Ma’ariv closed its English language website nine years ago, but may revive it once the magazine gets off the ground. Now businessman and philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, once regarded as a Russian oligarch, has announced that he will publish a new monthly magazine dealing with politics, communications and culture, with an anticipated launch in the spring. Nevzlin who is best known as the savior of Beit Hatefutsot, some 18 months ago, purchased 20 percent of Haaretz stock for NIS 140 million and joined the newspaper’s board of directors. He is currently interested in broadening his media base. The magazine will be edited by author and journalist Rotem Danon, who this week announced his resignation from his position as a senior editor at Channel 2 News.

Nevzlin, who came to Israel 10 years ago, heads the Nadav Fund. It is not known at this stage whether Nevzlin’s close friend and partner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political prisoner for 10 years, will come to Israel to participate in any way in the new publication.

Khodorkovsky, who was arrested in 2003 after financing opposition parties to Putin, was pardoned by the Russian president towards the end of December, and has said that he will now focus on campaigning for the release of other political prisoners. Nevzlin’s magazine could serve as an excellent vehicle for Khodorkovsky’s campaign.

■ IT’S NOT certain whether Isaac Schapira, a prominent figure in Israel’s haredi community, is the first haredi to receive an honor from the Queen of England; but an even bigger question is whether he will shake hands with Her Majesty when she confers on him the award of Order of the British Empire in recognition of his contribution to the strengthening of ties between the UK and the haredi community.

As far as is known, he is the first person to receive an honor for this reason. The award was announced by Buckingham Palace on Tuesday when it released the New Year’s Honors List. Schapira said that he sees the award as a mark of great respect for the haredi community. He has personally been witness, he said, to the British Government’s warmth and supportive attitude to the haredi community.

Schapira is the son of the late Rabbi Avraham Yosef Schapira, a former Knesset member and a colorful figure of Agudat Yisrael, whose Tel Aviv branch he chaired. He was also the owner of Carmel Carpets, which was Israel’s best known carpet factory and at its height employed 1,600 people and had an annual turnover of $500 million. He was initially elected to the Knesset in 1981, became chairman of the government coalition, and following re-election in 1984, he chaired the Knesset Finance Committee and also served as chairman of the Bank of Israel’s Steering Committee. Soon after his arrival in Israel, British Ambassador Matthew Gould met with a representative gathering of haredim in Schapira’s home. It may well be Gould, standing in for Queen Elizabeth, who will present Schapira with his decoration.

Shaking hands would then no longer be a halachic problem.

■ PRIOR TO the Second World War, the Jewish community of Poland was arguably the largest in the world, with the possible exception of the Soviet Union. More than 85 percent of Poland’s Jewish community was either murdered by the Nazis and their cohorts or perished from illness and starvation during the Nazi occupation.

Of the survivors, the overwhelming majority opted to leave Poland after the war, heading primarily for Israel or the United States, but also for other parts of Europe and distant Australia. The anti-Semitic policies of the post-war Communist administration caused most of the remaining Jews to leave at a later stage. It was presumed throughout the Jewish world that Jewish life in Poland was over. The Joint Distribution Committee was active in Poland during the Cold War era, caring for the needs of the few people who openly identified as Jews, and only recently opened a 1,000 sq.m. Jewish community center in the heart of Warsaw. Whereas for many years it was estimated that there were perhaps 3,000-4,000 Jews living in Poland, the JDC believes that the number is closer to 25,000, and Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, believes it to be closer to 40,000, based on the number of hidden Jews who have come out of the woodwork.

The website of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland indicates that there has been a tremendous revival of Jewish life. Other umbrella organizations in addition to the JRCP are The Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland and the Jewish Community of Warsaw, which are all part of an even larger umbrella organization: The Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in the Polish Republic.

The largest Jewish population in Poland resides in Warsaw, but there are also communities in Krakow, Lodz, Szczecin, Gdansk, Katowice, Wroclaw, and elsewhere.

In addition to Jewish heritage studies, social, cultural and sporting events, there are several Jewish periodicals, kosher cafeterias, stores with kosher products, community care for the elderly, charitable organizations, et al. In fact, the Polish Jewish community with adherents to Chabad, modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations, functions much as any other, but unlike most others, cannot escape the shadow of the Holocaust, not only because of the trauma, but also because of the need to preserve Jewish holy and historic sites. There are many Israelis on frequent commutes between Israel and Poland, some for business reasons, some for academic and cultural exchanges and some because their roots pull them back there. Among the Israelis who not only travel frequently to Poland, but have a broad knowledge of the country’s history and the history of its Jewish community to the present day, is Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, director of research at the Institute of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem and director-general of its Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

He is also its editor in chief of its Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs and contributes to numerous other publications in Israel and abroad. A graduate of the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University in Washington, DC (where he was an assistant of the late Polish hero and Honorary Citizen of Israel Prof. Jan Karski), Weinbaum earned his PhD in history from Warsaw University and during his doctoral studies was the recipient of Fulbright, IREX and Kosciuszko Foundation scholarships. In addition to his work at the WJC he is an adjunct lecturer at Ariel University where he teaches Holocaust history. His visits to Poland are often in the capacity of a speaker at conferences on Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli relations.

His fluency in Polish has been an asset in fostering dialogue between Poles and Jews. His contribution in this area was recognized by the late president Lech Kaczynski, who decorated him with the Gold Cross of Merit.

Weinbaum will share some of what he knows about the revival of Jewish life in Poland at a lecture he will give on Tuesday, January 7, at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he will talk about The De-Assimilated Jews of Poland, and will discuss whether or not they have a future. Weinbaum is also a regular contributor to JCPA’s Political Studies Review.

Meanwhile Monika Krawczyk, the CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, was in Jerusalem this week and thrilled to be able to share information that her organization had received a grant of nearly $2 million from the European Union for the restoration of the two Krasnik synagogues near Lublin. Krawczyk initially applied for the grant in 2011 and her application was rejected, but based on the organization’s success with a more complex project in Zamosc, the grant was approved in 2012. The problem is that the organization has to come up with additional, so-called matching funds of $650,000 in order to be able to take advantage of the grant.

And for more related news about Poland, Polish-Jewish intellectual, journalist, publisher, and former Solidarity underground activist Konstanty Gebert is expected to arrive in Israel next week to address The Israel Council on Foreign Relations on Post Communist Europe, 25 years after the collapse of the Ancien Regime. The lecture is scheduled for Thursday, January 9.

■ VETERAN BROADCASTER Menachem Perry, who has been with the Israel Broadcasting Authority for 42 years, made his farewells yesterday after reaching retirement age.

Perry has anchored programs and been a news reader on all of Israel Radio’s networks and has also appeared on various programs on Channel 1. At this stage it is not known whether the genial Perry’s retirement from the microphone is permanent, or whether like several other IBA retirees including among others Yaakov Ahimeir, Shmuel Shai, Moshik Timor, and Yitzhak Noy, he will return as an IBA pensioner. Ahimeir certainly works as hard as any regular full time employee.

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