Grapevine: Waiting in the wings

Sanctions by Foreign Ministry employees are not only delaying the issuing of visas and other important documents, but also the presentation of credentials by ambassadors- designate.

July 4, 2013 19:59
DAVID LANDAU, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award

David Landau 370. (photo credit: courtesy)

Sanctions by Foreign Ministry employees are not only delaying the issuing of visas and other important documents, but also the presentation of credentials by ambassadors- designate.

Dave Sharma, Carl Magnus Nesserand Dr. Fernando Adolfo Alzate Donoso, the new envoys of Australia, Sweden and Colombia respectively, were looking forward to presenting their credentials to President Shimon Peres on July 15. However, due to the stalemate between the Foreign and Finance Ministries, there is little likelihood of that happening.

The guidance meetings for new ambassadors have not been held, and the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department was unable to say whether the presentation of credentials ceremony would go ahead as originally scheduled.

It is not yet listed in the president’s diary.

In Sharma’s case, the uncertainty is particularly frustrating as this is his first ambassadorial posting, on top of which he is Australia’s youngest ambassador, and only the second member of Australia’s Indian community to be appointed an ambassador. Israel’s Indian community will doubtless take him to its bosom, no less than Israel’s Australian community will.

As for the Foreign Ministry personnel, to add insult to injury, the employees involved in the sanctions have been notified that not only will they not receive a pay raise, but there will be deductions from their June-July salaries. Overtime pay will be canceled regardless of how much work anyone does, and car allowances will also be canceled.

Many veteran employees of the ministry earn just a little more than the basic wage, and most of them work much more than an eight-hour day and have very heavy responsibilities, in helping to maintain and enhance Israel’s political, diplomatic, economic, scientific, academic and cultural relations with 159 countries. This includes practicing public diplomacy long before the terminology entered the Israeli lexicon. Israeli delegations traveling abroad are often coached by Foreign Ministry personnel on how to behave and what they should and should not say. The same goes for Israeli cultural and entertainment icons, whose engagements abroad are often coordinated with and by the Foreign Ministry.

That’s why some of them – like singers Rita and David D’Or, and novelist Eli Amir – are lending full support to the employees’ struggle.

Rita, who recently sang before the UN General Assembly, has publicly declared that without the input of the Foreign Ministry, she would never have been able to reach this memorable peak in her career. Amir, who has carried out missions on behalf of the ministry, has taken its employees’ case to the airwaves – namely Reshet Bet, where he shares a weekly program with former MK Geula Cohen.

The ministry employees were furious when Knesset members and the judiciary, in response to a proposal by former foreign minister and current MK Avigdor Liberman that the salaries of public servants be cut by 10 percent, agreed to a reduction of only 1%. It should be remembered that salaries of judges and MKs are close to 10 times the basic wage.

Moreover, there are several Knesset employees whose salaries are more than double those of longtime Foreign Ministry employees.

In addition to all their other problems, those employees who were invited to the residence of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, to join him, his wife, Julie, and US Embassy staff in celebrating American Independence Day, were still debating with themselves at presstime whether to go or stay away. Not to go would be insulting to the ambassador, but to go would be a betrayal of their struggle.

■ IN CELEBRATION of Lithuania’s assuming the presidency of the Council of the European Union, Vladimir Sloutsker, founder and president of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, hosted a dinner at his home in Herzliya Pituah. Guests of honor were Lithuania’s Ambassador to Israel Darius Degutis and his wife, Nida, and Emanuelis Zingeris, a leading member of the Lithuanian parliament, vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and chairman of the Lithuania-Israel Parliamentary friendship association. Other guests included Foreign Ministry senior officials, such as Pinhas Avivi, senior deputy director-general, and Rafi Schutz, deputy director-general for European Affairs, as well as Dr. Eran Lerman, deputy head of the National Security Council.

A number of prominent businesspeople and Israeli public figures also attended, among them Gad Propper, director of Osem and chairman of the Israel-European Union Chamber of Commerce; Len Judes, chairman of the Israel-Lithuania Chamber of Commerce; and Israeli basketball legend and Goodwill Ambassador Tal Brody. Also present were two of Lithuania’s honorary consuls in Israel, Amos Eran and Amnon Dotan.

During dinner, presentations were made to both Ambassador Degutis and MP Zingeris, in recognition of their outstanding contributions towards strengthening relations between Israel and Lithuania. Degutis’s wife, Nida, also presented the Israeli-Jewish Congress with a book she wrote in Lithuanian about her time in Israel and her love for the country and its people.

Although Lithuania’s assumption of the presidency was the major topic of discussion for the evening, along with geo-strategic issues, perhaps more important to some of those in attendance was the fierce rivalry between the Lithuanian and Israeli basketball teams.

On Saturday, July 6, Lithuania will also celebrate its Statehood Day, one of the major dates in the Lithuanian calendar, marking the coronation of King Mindaugas in 1253. There will be festive events throughout Lithuania and special awards will be conferred by President Dalia Grybauskaitò on Lithuanian citizens, as well as on foreign nationals who have contributed to the enhancement of Lithuania’s image in the world.

■ THERE WERE no women this year among the recipients of the annual B’nai B’rith World Center Award for Journalism, which recognizes excellence in reporting on Diaspora Jewish communities and on the relationships between Diaspora Jewry and Israel. Curiously, all three recipients wore kippot, which symbolically suggested that Israeli-based journalists who are religiously observant are perhaps more concerned about their fellow Jews in the Diaspora than secular journalists.

Of course this is not entirely true, but religiously observant journalists have certainly been prominent among the winners since the establishment of the award in 1992. The initial award was created by the late Dr. Wolf Matsdorf, a journalist, social worker and ardent member of B’nai B’rith. Since his death, it has been supported by his son. More recently, a Lifetime Achievement Award in memory of Luis and Trudi Schydlowsky was made possible through donations from Prof. Daniel Schydlowsky, a member of the B’nai B’rith World Center international board of governors.

This year’s print media winner was 30-yearold Zvika Klein – editor of the Judaism section of Ma’ariv’s online NRG publication, and Diaspora correspondent for NRG and Makor Rishon – for a series of nine articles that appeared in Makor Rishon during 2012 covering various aspects of Jewish life in the Diaspora, including the singles scene in Manhattan, virtual religious communities and the effect of the terrorist attack on the Toulouse Jewish community.

“Communities in a New Light 2012,” a series that was broadcast on the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1 throughout Hanukka last year, won the electronic media award for Moshe Alafi, 47. The series presented vignettes on life in the Jewish communities of Toronto, Buenos Aires, Odessa, Oslo, Torino, Toulouse and Boston.

The Lifetime Achievement award went to veteran journalist David Landau, 66, who though primarily a reporter on political and diplomatic issues, also wrote extensively on Israel-Diaspora relations. Landau is a former editor-in-chief of Haaretz and prior to that was managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.

Among the people in the audience at the Jerusalem Press Club where the ceremony and a post-celebration dinner were held was Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken. Each of the awardees delivered an address.

Klein, who was born in the United States and came to Israel at age two, grew up with the cultures and languages of both countries and developed an intimate connection with many Jewish communities around the world, in his capacity as a Bnei Akiva and Jewish Agency emissary. The insights that he gained from these experiences served him well in his capacity as a journalist. Klein is averse to using the term “Diaspora,” which has negative connotations for him. He prefers the term “Jewish world,” which he said encompassed much more than anti-Semitism and cemeteries.

Alafi saw his win as a vindication for the IBA.

No commercial channel would have given his series the support and exposure that it received from Israel’s Public Broadcasting Service, he said. Like Klein, Alafi is more in favor of a Jewish world concept than a segregationist concept of Israel and the Diaspora. “We are one people which has been dispersed, but we have our own state and responsibility to maintain the world Jewish family,” he said. Similarly, he continued, it was the responsibility of a branch of the Public Broadcasting Service to take up a project such as his series, which with the exception of Italy, avoided cemeteries and focused on live Judaism in its various forms of practice.

Landau lauded B’nai B’rith for helping to remedy what he called “a disease in Israeli journalism,” namely giving little space and few resources to the coverage of the Jewish people.

When there was such coverage, he observed, it was usually of a political nature, without any in-depth investigation into the challenges confronting Jewish communities abroad. He conceded that to some extent, the B’nai B’rith annual competition helps to remedy that lacuna. He urged B’nai B’rith to expand on the competition by mounting an investigation as to why this “ignoring the Jewish world syndrome” is so prevalent in Israeli journalism. Landau suspected that it was rooted in the desire of Israel’s founding fathers to rid themselves of the influences of their Diaspora upbringing and to take on a new educational and cultural ethos.

Israel’s elite have always been disparaging of Diaspora Jewry, he said, citing as an example his travels abroad as part of the press entourage of Israeli prime ministers. The itineraries would list meetings with Jews, with no names of the people who would be meeting with the prime minister or the organizations which they represented. This changed with Menachem Begin, he said, but the apathy returned with those who succeeded him.

The lack of interest does not only apply to Israeli journalists and politicians, Landau noted. Few Israelis traveling abroad bother to set foot in a Jewish community. It is only Israelis who are actually living abroad who seek to be part of the Jewish communities in their areas. This too is worthy of investigation, said Landau.

■ NOT EVERYTHING in the garden is rosy, but a lot of positive things are happening. The garden in question is the botanical garden on the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, where this week leading figures from the Jerusalem Municipality, Keren Hayesod, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and the Jerusalem Foundation got together to participate in the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the Children’s Discovery Garden – which is destined to become one of the highlights of a visit to the botanical gardens.

Among those participating in the ceremony were Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; Greg Maisel, CEO of Keren Hayesod;Eliezer (Moodi) Sandberg, world chairman of Keren Hayesod; Yohanna Arbib-Perugia, chairwoman of Keren Hayesod-UIA World Board of Trustees; Dr. Benzi Bar-Lavie, director of KKLJNF’s youth and education division; Sallai Meridor, international chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation; Mark Sofer, the foundation’s president; Daniel Mimran, directorgeneral of the foundation; Alan Berkley, chairman of the Friends of the Botanical Gardens; Oren Ben-Yosef, CEO of the Botanical Gardens; veteran Keren Hayesod and Jerusalem Botanical Gardens activist Jill Kaplan; and many other well-known personalities.

When completed next year, the Children’s Discovery Garden will be easily accessible and will enable children as well as adults who want to join them to literally acquire hands-on knowledge of the secrets of nature, the way that plants adapt to their environment and the importance of water, not only to humans but to plant life as well. The discovery garden will also offer many surprises, ensuring that each visit will be a joy.

■ VETERAN RADIO broadcaster Menachem Freedman, who has been associated with Reshet Bet’s Color of Money program since its inception nearly 40 years ago, anchored it for the last time this past Sunday. Freedman is taking early retirement in the framework of the IBA’s incentive plan, which aims to reduce staff in line with impending reforms to the authority. The cutoff age for the incentive is 64 years and 11 months, which is the age that Freedman will be later this month.

One of the more considerate broadcasters, who seldom interrupted his interviewees except to warn them that they were running out of time, Freedman joined Israel Radio as a technician, having learned communications technology in the army. He subsequently joined the Voice of Music, which he enjoyed, but after deciding that he had exhausted his talents in that direction, he went to see Gideon Lev-Ari, then head of Israel Radio. Lev- Ari took note of Freedman’s pleasant voice and suggested that he enroll in an announcer’s course – which he did.

In the ensuing years, Freedman was an editor, reporter and anchorman. His greatest scoop was revealing the many secret accounts of Holocaust victims who had deposited assets with Bank Leumi before the war.

But his most memorable broadcast was much more recent. He was sent this year to cover the March of the Living. It was his first visit to Poland, where so many of his relatives on both sides of his family had been murdered by the Nazis. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, he was so overcome with emotion that he could barely report what was happening. The very fact that his emotions overrode his professionalism made the broadcast much more meaningful to those listeners who could identify with his feelings.

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