There are more women in the 19th Knesset than ever before. Four are ministers; two are deputy ministers; three are deputy speakers of the Knesset; and five are members of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. Seven are members of Likud Beytenu; eight are members of Yesh Atid; three are members of Bayit Yehudi; four are members of Labor; one is a member of Hatnua; three are members of Meretz; and one is a member of the National Democratic Assembly. Altogether, there are 27 women.
As the ballot for president is by secret vote, none need necessarily follow a party line – though so far, only Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has told his party members they can vote as they please.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Labor’s presidential candidate, celebrated his 78th birthday last week with fellow party members at Rosa, a popular restaurant in Jerusalem’s German Colony. Former defense minister Ehud Barak celebrated his 72nd birthday on the same day but not in the same place, because Barak is no longer part of the political scene and no longer a member of the Labor Party, which he once headed. He is now a real estate investor and recently purchased five apartments in the Icon Tel Aviv project, for which he reportedly paid a sum total in the realm of NIS 12.5 million.
Of the 10 actual and potential candidates, two are women. One is a former Knesset speaker and a former government minister, and the other a former Supreme Court judge and currently head of the Press Council.
The question is whether the women MKs will throw their weight behind a female candidate for president, vote along party lines or vote for the candidate they believe to be the most suitable for the role
■ ONE OF the Presidential hopefuls, Nobel Prize laureate Dan Shechtman, who was the guest speaker last Sunday at an event organized by the Jabotinsky Institute, appears to have garnered considerable support – but alas, not in the right quarters.
If the general public could vote for president, his chances would be far better than what they appear to be at the moment, although a Freudian slip about Mizrahi musicians may cause a major dent in his popularity.
Shechtman, who surprised his audience with his familiarity with the writings of Jabotinsky, was asked during question time about his candidacy in the presidential race. Shechtman said that with the exception of two of his colleagues and fellow Nobel Prize laureates, Profs.
Aaron Ciechanover and Ada Yonath, who represent Israel so frequently around the globe, no other Israeli represents Israel abroad as often as he does.
Shechtman added that he had met a few days earlier with the president of Slovenia, who asked him what he could do to help him become the president of Israel.
Another anecdote related to Shechtman’s visit to Sweden, where at the conclusion of a lecture he delivered, he was asked about Israel’s attitude to her Arab population. Being Jewish, he answered a question with a question, and asked whether it was true that Sweden hosted a considerable number of Fins.
“Yes, 10 percent,” was the reply.
“Is Finnish an official language?” Shechtman persisted.
“No,” responded his questioner, whereupon Shechtman was proud to inform him that in Israel, Arabic is an official language.
Continuing with his questions, he asked whether there were any programs in Sweden to enable the Finnish community to develop. Again the reply was in the negative, with the rider that “they need to learn to become Swedes.” In Israel, Shechtman enlightened his Swedish audience, there are special programs to help everyone advance.
When Shechtman arrived at the Jabotinsky Museum, he was flabbergasted to see that he and Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir were wearing identical ties. It’s not unusual for men to wear the same color, or even the same patterned tie.
But in this case, it was a tie that Shechtman himself had designed based on his quasicrystal discovery.
It turns out that Technion-Israel Institute of Technology president Prof. Peretz Lavie had commissioned a limited edition of quasicrystal patterned ties and scarves in celebration of Shechtman’s 70th birthday, for presentation to distinguished guests of the Technion. Lavie and Ahimeir happen to be friends, which is how Ahimeir came by his quasicrystal tie.
As it happens, Ahimeir and Shechtman have known each other since childhood; their families were neighbors in Givatayim in the early 1950s. Shechtman’s knowledge of Jabotinsky’s ideology will no doubt improve after reading the book presented to him by Ahimeir: a new edition of Liberal Nationalism.
■ SEVERAL STREETS, buildings, monuments, institutions and projects in Israel have been named after American presidents.
For example, there is a Truman Institute at the Hebrew University; Washington and Lincoln Streets are in close proximity to each other and to Jerusalem’s luxury hotel belt; and the Kennedy Memorial is in the Mateh Yehuda region near Jerusalem.
Now, according to Yediot Aharonot, Kibbutz Sasa in the northern Galilee near Lebanon wants to name a neighborhood after US president George W.
Bush, who sent American troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Israel’s famous Plasan factory, which designs, develops and manufactures armored vehicles for civilian and military use as well as personal armor, is located at Kibbutz Sasa – and has been a key supplier to US troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In January 2012, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro visited the Plasan factory for a hands-on, close-range inspection of what it produces; less than a week later, as one of the speakers at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya Conference, Shapiro spoke of this experience. He said that Plasan’s advanced armor technologies had saved the lives of countless American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, by speeding up the production of armor kits for Humvees and mine-resistant vehicles that were critical when facing IED and RPG attacks. Shapiro also appeared in a documentary released by the US Embassy’s Office of Public Affairs in which he made similar remarks, and said that the armored kits and vehicles exemplify the support that Israel gives to US security, in that they protect American lives on the battlefield.
With regard to IDC, its Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy has entered into a joint program with Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The program will begin the fall.
■ ALSO IN the realm of diplomacy and in relation to IDC, Yitzhak Eldan, a former Israel ambassador and a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, teaches at IDC and is also head of the Young Ambassadors School, in which capacity he takes groups of students abroad to introduce them to the politics, culture and diplomacy of other countries.
Last year, he took a group of students to Hungary. This month, he took a group of students to Greece, where they received a very warm welcome and were well looked after by Elina Kryakopoulou of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs Directorate of Middle East and Arab countries. The young Israeli delegation also visited the Hellenic Parliament while it was in session, and deliberations stopped momentarily as the parliamentarians applauded their young visitors, who were sitting in the gallery. One of the parliamentarians, Konstantinos Karagounis, met with the Israelis twice and even invited them to lunch at the restaurant in Parliament House, and the youngsters were enormously impressed.
Eldan wrote to Greek Ambassador Spyridon Lampridis to thank him for the hospitality that had been extended to the group, to which Lampridis replied that for Greeks, it is considered a natural obligation to treat visitors with kindness and respect – though in this case it was also a “sheer joy and a pleasure,” because the visitors came from a country that Greece considers to be a strategic partner and trusted ally. Eldan also wrote to Krykapoulou to thank her and she replied in similar vein to Lampridis, stating that she had been impressed by “this group of adorable young Israelis,” and was glad to be able to contribute just a little toward helping them to understand that Israel and Greece can shape a future together for the benefit of the entire world.
■ OVER THE years, President Shimon Peres has said some very complimentary things about his counterparts from other countries – but never anything quite as friendly as what he said to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala at the state dinner he hosted for him. It was natural that Peres would drop a word or two in Spanish in his address, but almost at the beginning, after hailing Humala as a great friend, Peres turned to him and said, “Mi casa, su casa.”
Seated with the two presidents at the head table were Israel’s Ambassador to Peru Modi Ephraim and Peru’s Ambassador to Israel Jose Luis Salinas Montes. For Ephraim, it was a little like old home week. Prior to his posting to Peru, he was political adviser to Peres from 2009 to 2011, so for him, the visit was also a reunion.
Among the guests was Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, who was one of Israel’s early diplomats, serving from 1949 to 1951 in Argentina and Uruguay. Navon, who will be 93 in April, came with his wife, Miri. Also present was Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, who made an official visit to Peru last May.
A sizable representation of Latin American ambassadors included: El Salvador’s Suzana Gun de Hasensen, Argentina’s Carlos Faustino Garcia, Brazil’s Henrique da Silveira Sardinha, Ecuador’s Raul Guillermo Bassante Ramirez, Colombia’s Fernando Adolfo Alzate Donoso and Mexico’s Federico Salas Lotfe.
If a generalization can be made about Latin Americans, it’s that they love to sing and dance.
Israeli singer Laila Marcos, who specializes in a Latin American repertoire, had the guests – including Humala and his entourage – clapping and tapping their feet to the rhythm as she sang two favorite Spanish songs, which earned her roars of approval.
Usually only two musical items are performed at state dinners, but Peres, noting how she had charged the atmosphere, asked Marcos for an encore. She obliged to everyone’s delight, and earned kisses on both cheeks from both presidents.
THE STAFF of the President’s, the Prime Minister’s and the Foreign Minister’s Offices are currently preparing for the visit next week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and immediately afterwards for the visit in early March by King Mswati III of Swaziland, who is Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Swaziland has a tradition of polygamy, and the 45-year-old king, who was 18 when he came to the throne, has 15 wives to date – and 24 children. But he still has a lot of catching up to do: his father, Sobhuza II, had more than 125 wives. In any case, three of Mswati’s wives have reportedly left him, citing physical and emotional abuse; when he travels abroad, he takes only one of his wives with him.
Mswati has been criticized for his lavish lifestyle and his penchant for a fleet of luxury cars.
His personal fortune has been estimated by Forbes to be in the range of $200m.
Incidentally, Ambassador to Swaziland Arthur Lenk took up his assignment last summer, and is also ambassador to South Africa, Mauritius and Lesotho.
Swaziland has a small Jewish community of fewer than 100 souls, and includes a number of Israelis who are doing business there, as well as some Israeli doctors who are helping in the battle against HIV/AIDS .
■ THE OR YAROK Association for Safer Driving in Israel is asking Transportation Minister Israel Katz to introduce legislation on electric scooters and bicycles, which too often are driven by youngsters and even adults who are not wearing safety helmets, and who ride them on crosswalks, sidewalks and even island platforms for bus and light rail travelers, endangering the safety of pedestrians.
To top it off, the bike riders usually have no insurance in case of accidents.
An even greater hazard are motorcyclists who break the law by riding on sidewalks – though this doesn’t seem to bother them, given that traffic police are seldom in sight to stop them.
Meanwhile, Katz has another issue on his hands, and has to respond to a High Court of Justice demand as to why he is urging Dan and Egged bus companies to purchase their new buses from China – instead of allowing Haargaz, the veteran Israeli company which since 1932 has been designing and producing buses for domestic use, to continue being the key supplier to the nation’s two main bus companies.
■ IT MAY be a false alarm or it may contain a grain of truth, but either way, the only person who can resolve the issue is Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, who has to determine whether the building that since before the establishment of the state has housed the Hanoar Hoeved V’Halomed (Working and Student Youth) branch at Kiryat Haim is to remain as is.
It was in this junior movement of the Labor Party, albeit not in Kiryat Haim, that President Peres first demonstrated his leadership abilities. Among wellknown Israelis who spent a large part of their youth there were heroine and poet Hannah Szenes, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, MK and former Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna, former Knesset speaker Dan Tichon, and entertainers Chava Alberstein, Yehuda Poliker, Shiri Maimon, Amir P. Gutman and many other household names. It is one of the most veteran branches of the movement, and is of historic significance.
Rumor has it that the Labor Party wants to sell the building, and there have been conflicting reports as to whether this is true or not. People associated with the building, reacting on the premise that where there’s smoke there’s fire, are mounting a protest campaign. Given the personal clout that will be recruited for this purpose, it would seem that Herzog, if forced to make a decision, will have no option other than to look towards another property that the party owns – and can sell without controversy.
■ BAYIT YEHUDI MK Nissan Slomiansky, who chairs the Knesset Finance Committee, last week criticized those medical centers that had stop-work meetings in support of their Hadassah University Medical Center colleagues, saying it was not ethical for them to demonstrate solidarity on the one hand, and offer jobs to Hadassah medical staff on the other.
In the expanding blame game that has been spawned by the Hadassah crisis, there is a tendency to overlook what the Diaspora Jewish communities, primarily those from North America, have done not only for Hadassah, but for the country as a whole. While Israel pats itself on the back for its remarkable achievements over a span of almost 66 years, not enough thought is given to its Diaspora partners, who have funded the research and development of so much that has become the pride of Israel.
Several years ago, the writer of this column wrote an additional column under the headline of “Cornucopia,” dedicated to philanthropic and volunteer endeavors for and in Israel. The column was initially inspired by the many plaques that adorn the walls of various Hadassah departments, as well as the walls of different faculties at the Hebrew University. A rough calculation estimated that if all the plaques were laid end to end from Israel’s northern to southern borders, there would be insufficient room for all of them – and that takes into account only two Jerusalem institutions.
Moreover, take a tour through the haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem, with their multitude of yeshivot, and you will see that almost every yeshiva bears the name of a foreign donor who wanted to link his or her name in perpetuity with Israel. Jerusalem is not alone in benefiting from Diaspora largesse. The imprint of Diaspora Jewry – or rather its money and its generosity – is all over the country.
In the prestate era, it was mainly various branches of the Rothschild family, which continues to support the state to this very day, and which helped finance two of the country’s most important institutions: the Knesset and the Supreme Court buildings. But there are other families that have been supporting the state since its earliest days, and whose family names are perpetuated on buildings, classrooms, university departments, public parks, scholarship funds, etc. The average Israeli knows little or nothing about them, and in most cases is not sufficiently curious to find out.
When the actual name of a donor or a family is affixed to a project, the donor’s progeny for generations to come can visit and even be inspired to donate something themselves, as has frequently been the case. In rare instances, the name is translated to Hebrew – as in the case of Sde Nitzan, a moshav in the northern Negev not far from Beersheba.
It was founded by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund in 1973, and named for a Canadian philanthropist, the late Bernard Bloomfield – whose family continues to support Israel in many spheres. (Sde Nitzan is the closest literal translation of Bloomfield.) The Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv-Jaffa is also named for him, in appreciation of a 10m. lira gift that he gave in the 1950s, for an old Arab playing field that had been surrounded by swampland to be renovated and expanded into a proper sports stadium.
Following Bernard Bloomfield’s death in 1984, his widow Neri took over his philanthropic activities in Canada and Israel, and was a frequent visitor until advanced age and illness prevented her from continuing.
She was a member of the International Boards of Governors of the Hebrew University and the Technion, and in 1972 became the youngest national president of Canadian-Hadassah WIZO.
She was also the first female president of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, and the only woman on the board of Bank Hapoalim (Canada). The WIZO Haifa Academy of Design and Education is named for her.
Philanthropy is in the Bloomfield genes and Bernard and Neri’s children, Harry and Evelyn, continued with their parents’ philanthropic legacy both in Canada and Israel. Harry Bloomfield and his wife Nancy spent the last couple of weeks in Israel, where one of their sons is a student. They also took the opportunity to visit some of the Bloomfield projects, such as the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem, and of course went to Sde Nitzan, which they boast has the best flowers and vegetables in Israel.
The Bloomfields are among many Diaspora Jews who continue to give, to visit, to boost Israel’s economy and to demonstrate that they care. Israel should find more meaningful ways in which to show its appreciation.
■ ONE CANNOT help wondering whether the Mossad is surreptitiously recruiting young professionals from among Israel’s recent immigrant population sector. The Tel Aviv International Salon last week advertised former Mossad chief Meir Dagan as its speaker, and for this week the speaker was another former Mossad director, Shabtai Shavit, who is also one of the founders of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC Herzliya, and continues as its chairman.
If Danny Yatom or Ephraim Halevy are among other speakers in the near future, there may be more to their participation than meets the eye.
On another note altogether, Halevy is opposed to the projected sale of the controlling interest in Tnuva to Bright Foods of China, and believes that Israel should err on the side of caution in selling control of strategic Israeli companies to foreign buyers.
That opinion is shared by Prof. Avishai Braverman, chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, who is alarmed at the number of important Israelis companies that have come under foreign control. Tnuva is Israel’s largest food company, and its appeal to Bright Foods is such that the Chinese conglomerate is willing to pay as much as NIS 8.3 billion to complete the transaction.
■ SLIGHTLY MORE than a year ago, the financially ailing Bikur Cholim Hospital was taken over by the financially solvent Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which realized the importance of maintaining a fully equipped medical facility in the center of town. The current Hadassah crisis is reminiscent of the turmoil experienced by Bikur Cholim when threatened with closure – but on a larger scale.
The Finance Ministry has been critical of the manner in which Hadassah has been managed, and equally critical of the construction of the $363m., 19-story Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, which was opened two years ago in tandem with the 100th anniversary of Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The completion of the tower with its stateof- the-art facilities and techniques was yet another multi-million dollar gift by HWZOA to the State of Israel and Jerusalem.
Instead of praising the organization for its vision in catering to a constantly growing population and helping to create standards of medicine that attract people from all over the world to come to Hadassah for treatment, the Finance Ministry was critical of the additional staff load required to serve the needs of patients in the tower. In the blame game, in which almost everyone concerned says that Hadassah’s financial crisis has been an open secret for more than a year, no one has yet come up with a viable solution that will put Hadassah back on the track of fiscal stability.
In an interview with Israel Radio this week, Esther Dominissini, a former chairwoman of the Hadassah board of directors and a former director-general of the National Insurance Institute, warned that the Hadassah crisis should serve as a red alert for preventing an even worse crisis with regard to the NII – which 20 years from now will not be able to pay out senior citizen pensions. Dominissini attributed this grim situation to modern technology, which is making many jobs redundant.
Tasks that once required the combined labors of six people now require only three, and soon will require only one, she said.
In the past, people in the workforce supported senior citizens’ pensions with monies that were deducted from their salaries against the day when they would become pensioners. But with population growth, more people living longer lives and a reduced workforce in relation to the number of senior citizens, Dominissini was doubtful that there would be sufficient funds in the kitty to cover the increase in pension payments.
Meanwhile, Israel is regressing from a start-up nation to a sanctions nation. Hadassah medical staff are not alone in their sanctions.
Journalists at Israel Radio have been imposing sanctions for several weeks now, and cutting down on certain programs and eliminating others. Employees at Israel Discount Bank have also introduced sanctions – and that’s just a short list.