It’s becoming increasingly trendy these days to have glittering gala events at banquet halls in industrial zones so that no neighbors will be disturbed by the ensuing noise.
Unfortunately, diplomats and business people invited to the inauguration of the Israel-Latvia Chamber of Commerce that was held in conjunction with the celebration of Latvia's 93rd Independence Day had a tough time locating the South Tel Aviv factory building where the event was held. Even Tel Aviv taxi drivers who are well versed in the city's multitude of side streets and alleyways had to stoppassers-by to ask the way. But once the no-frills factory elevator doors opened on the landing, the difference between the external environment and the high-class jewelry showroom inside was beyond belief.
The host for the evening was Dan Tochner, the chairman of the new Chamber of Commerce and one of the three honorary consuls of Latvia together with Sara Allalouf and Assaph Caspi. A well-stocked bar had been set up and the buffet ran the gamut from herring to sushi to fruit platters that included coconut.
Ambassador Martins Perts and his wife Elita stood in the entrance with the three honorary consuls but broke away for the official part of the evening after which they mingled with the guests. Perts said that over the last year there have been intensive bilateral political and economic activities as well as regular dialogue and ministerial visits between Latvia and Israel. He said that the opening of the Israel-Latvia Chamber of Commerce was an important step toward the development of economic relations, and praised the work of Tochner in its establishment. Tochner said that he would not have been able to get the chamber going without the active input of Allalouf and Caspi and he waspleased to note the presence of most of the 30 founding members of the chamber. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, one of the Israeli Ministers who visited Latvia, enthused about the beauty of Latvia and said he had learned a lot from his visit there. Jacob Perry, the former head of the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) and currently chairman of the board of Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, is a long time friend of Tochner’s and said that the Latvian authorities had a made the best choice in appointing him. Raphael Schutz, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s European desk, recalled that when Perts found out his next posting would be in Israel, he was serving as Latvia's Ambassador to Spain. The first thing he did after learning of his new destination was to call the Israeli ambassador, who happened to be Schutz. They have maintained a friendship ever since.
Tochner, who is the kind of person who likes to give credit where it’s due, said that there were a lot of people in the room who had influenced his life – some who did not even know they had done so. He paid particular tribute to recently wed billionaire Meshulam Riklis, who will celebrate his 88th birthday on December 2, and who continues to commute between Israel and the US with his third wife Tali Sinai, 52, whom he married in August. Tochner credited Riklis with being “the father of mergers and acquisitions” and said that the text book he wrote in 1966 is still being used in Harvard classes. Others mentioned by Tochner included Yakir Shashua, Amnon Dotan, the chairman of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Avi Pazner, the former world chairman of Keren Hayesod who is now engaged in international business, Avi Perry, who was a key figure in developing the IDF’s computers, Shimshon Rozen, a former Israel Air Force officer who founded Laser Industries, and satellite expert Shemi Levy.
Also present were former defense minister Itzik Mordechai, who celebrated his 67th birthday two days earlier, former Israeli ambassador to the US and multi-faceted businessman Zalman Shoval, Osem International CEO Gad Propper and his wife Eti, former chief of protocol of the Foreign Ministry Yitzhak Eldan, who is now president of the Ambassadors’ Club and an international businessman, and Avi Maron, who manufactures flags for the Foreign Ministry and other government bodies as well as for overseas institutions.
Chairman of the Association of Latvian and Estonian Jews Elie Valk said that Israeli citizens of Latvian origin remember both the bright and the dark moments of the country of their birth, to which they still have a strong attachment. At this time during Latvia’s difficult economic situation, said Valk, they hoped that the newly created Chamber of Commerce would be able to help Latvia overcome its economic problems.
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■ RIKLIS AND his wife are also art lovers and were recently photographed at the Amalia Arbel Gallery in Tel Aviv where they came to listen to a lecture based on the exhibition of Emmanuel Bar-Kedma showing there..
■ ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR Edward Iosiper, who is hosting a reception tonight in honor of his country’s National Day, was very busy last week escorting Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc who came to Israel with an impressive entourage of government ministers in the framework of the first bilateral inter-governmental consultation between Israel and Romania. Visiting presidents and prime ministers almost always meet personally with the president and prime minister of Israel unless one of the two happens to be out of the country, as was the case last week with President Shimon Peres, who was in Vietnam.
The meeting with Prim Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not quite go ahead as scheduled in that Netanyahu, who is notorious for being late, lived up to his reputation.
The limousine transporting Boc to the Prime Ministers Office arrived on time but had to circle the building several times because Netanyahu had not yet arrived and protocol does not permit the guest to enter unless his host is there to welcome him. It would have been a great feather in Iosiper's cap if Boc had come to Israel a week later.
Every ambassador is honored when his or her president, prime minister or foreign minister is in Israel to grace a National Day reception.
■ A SOMEWHAT unique event is being hosted at Jerusalem’s Agnon House by The Israel Council on Foreign Relations in cooperation with the Polish Embassy. The lecture evening on Monday, December 12 is ostensibly in memory of Polish diplomat and Olympic athlete Witold Hulanicki, but it's more than that because Hulanicki, who was the Polish consul in pre-State Jerusalem, was abducted together with Polish journalist Stefan Arnold in February 1948. The abductors, who subsequently tried and assassinated them, were members of Lehi, otherwise known as the Stern Gang. Hulanicki had been charged with spying against Jewish forces and passing on information to the Arabs and to British Intelligence. Lehi leaders later admitted that the charges were baseless and that Hulanicki had in fact been supportive of Jewish nationalist ambitions and had also been a friend of Lehi founder Avraham Stern.
The keynote speakers of the evening will be husband-and-wife team Isabella Ginor, a former Soviet Affairs expert with Ha’aretz, and Gideon Remez, who was the long-time head of the foreign news desk at Israel Radio. The two, who are currently research fellows at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute, came across the almost forgotten story when researching material on Soviet military intelligence involvement in the Arab- Israel conflict. What led to Hulanicki being targeted is a mystery that Ginor and Remez believe they have finally unraveled. In the course of their research they contacted Hulanicki's eldest daughter, Barbara, who now lives in London and who became a world renowned fashion revolutionary designing under the Biba label. Barbara Hulanicki witnessed her father’s abduction as a child of 11 years old. She was able to corroborate the findings of Ginor and Remez, who in turn set her mind at rest with regard to her father’s grave.
For years she had been under the misguided impression that the Israelis had destroyed the grave, but Ginor and Remez were able to tell her that it is intact and well cared for on Mount Zion.
Also among the speakers will be Yair Stern, a former colleague of Remez’s at the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Stern is the son of the founder of Lehi. Because Arnold was also assassinated, it is appropriate that another speaker be Polish Ambassador Agniezska Magdziak Miszewska, who was a journalist before she became a diplomat. The moderator will be Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, who is the ICFR Executive Director and editor of The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs in which Ginor and Remez published their paper.
■ THE SECOND week in December should be a great night for lectures in English. Fans of Prof. Alan Dershowitz can hear him speak on all of Israel’s existential challenges at an event organized by the Friends of the Reuth Medical Center. The event will be held on December 13 at 7 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Bauhaus Museum on Bialik Street..
■ LOOKING AS elegant as ever – albeit somewhat pensive – Ruthie Ofer, the widow of international business tycoon Yuli Ofer who died in September, made her first appearance at a public event since his passing when she attended the cocktail reception marking the opening of the Gateway to Montenegro conference at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv last week. Ofer said she felt duty-bound to attend because she was sure that had her husband been alive, he would have insisted on their being there. She spent most of the evening in the company of Nimrod Rinot, the honorary consul for Montenegro, who had been her husband’s partner in his Hungarian business interests.
She also spent a some talking to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The occasion was also an opportunity for four former generals – minister without portfolio Yossi Peled, Eitan Ben Eliahu, Ilan Biran and Ami Sagis – to get together.
Among the other guests were foreign minister of Montenegro Milan Rocen, Montenegro’s ministers for economy and agriculture, Vladimir Kavaric and Tarzan Milosevic, along with Israel’s ministers for infrastructure and tourism, Uzi Landau and Stas Misezhnikov.
■ WHEN NORWEGIAN journalist Odd Karsten Tveit, who was the Middle East correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, first came to Jerusalem in the 1970s, he followed the path of most journalists and stayed at the American Colony Hotel. The hotel was a favorite watering hole for journalists from around the world and it was a neutral haven in which Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, Zionists and anti- Zionists could get together and talk about anything. Tveit spent several months at a time at the American Colony and became friendly with part-owner of the hotel Valentine Vester who gave him free access to the family’s extensive and intriguing archives. Thus Tveit’s book, Anna's House contains a lot of information that had previously gone unpublished.
The English translation of the book was launched on Monday night at a delightful ceremony at the Swedish Christian Study Center, just opposite David’s Citadel inside Jerusalem’s Old City, which a century ago housed the American consulate.
In launching the book, Tveit was aided by his good friend Albert Aqhazarian, an erudite historian with a magnificent command of English who grew up in Jerusalem and benefitted as a child from the generosity of the Christian sect that set up the colony. Aqhazarian taught Tveit and members of the large audience the root of the word “mesmerized” – the Arabic word for “nail,” which is almost identical to the Hebrew word masmer. When a person is mesmerized, he explained, it's almost as if they were nailed to the spot.
■ TACITURN AND perpetually tight-lipped during his eight-year period as head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan has become extremely talkative, especially about Iran, since leaving office almost a year ago. Various ministers and MKs have been appalled at this new side of his personality and have tried unsuccessfully to silence him.
Now they are even more agitated since it was announced on Tuesday that
Dagan will lead a nation-wide campaign to secure at least a million
signatures on a petition for election reform, which he believes to be
essential if Israel is to remain a democratic country. Even before he
gets the ball rolling, Dagan will fly to the United States to
participate in the Saban forum in Washington, where the main subject of
discussions will be the Iranian nuclear project. Former chief of staff
Gabi Ashkenazy will also speak at the forum. Both are opposed to an
Israeli military strike against Iran. In order to avoid an Israeli
conflict on the subject, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak cancelled their participation. American participants
will include Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary
■ WAS IT a case of the pot calling the kettle black when Kadima MK
Ronnie Bar-On, who is chairman of the Knesset State Control Committee,
lashed out this week against Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for half a
year of foot-dragging over approving the 2011 budget for the Israel
Broadcasting Authority? In the days when Bar- On was finance minister
the Treasury’s attitude to the IBA was not much better. Bar-On berated
Steinitz for bringing the IBA to the brink of collapse. The subject came
up during a committee discussion on disturbances in the reception of
radio broadcasts in the Western Galilee. IBA director-general Yoni
Ben-Menachem said the problem was partially attributable to obsolete
Residents of the area have complained for years of their inability to
receive radio broadcasts from Reshet Bet, Reshet Gimmel and the Voice of
Music. While they do manage to receive Army Radio, Galgalatz, Reka and
the regional radio station, there is always some kind of static
interfering with the reception of broadcasts.
MK Robert Tiviaev, who initiated the discussion, said that Radio Reka
was of major importance to the large Russian-speaking community of Upper
Nazareth because many of its members cannot read or understand Hebrew,
so Russian language broadcasts on Reka are their lifeline to the outside
world. Despite its huge deficit, the IBA is trying to do something to
improve the situation and has been talking to Bezeq about the
possibility of installing two additional transmitters – one in Safed and
the other in Haifa, Ben-Menachem said.
■ THERE WAS a certain sadness last Thursday at the gathering of the
business forum of that Friends of Bar Ilan University, whose members had
come to hear Education Minister Gideon Saar.No business forum in Israel
could have conducted a meeting last week without mention of the passing
of Eli Hurvitz, who had built Teva Pharmaceuticals into an
international empire. David Fuhrer, who heads the NeoPharm Group and
chairs the Friends of BIU, said that he had last seen Hurvitz a month
earlier at the opening of the BIU Medical School in Safed. At that
meeting, Hurvitz had agreed to head the Friends of the Medical School,
Fuhrer recalled, but unfortunately he did not live to fulfill that
promise. Among those who came to listen to the minister of education
were joint CEO of KCPS Tal Keinan, head of Keter Plastics Sami Sagol,
Phoenix Insurance’s lawyer Arieh Arieli, chair of Ilan Investments Noga
Rahmani, Blue Square CEO Ze’ev Vurembrand, Formula CEO Dan Goldstein and
AIG Israel CEO Hava Fieedman-Shapira.
■ SPEAKING AT Jerusalem's Great synagogue on Saturday night, Rabbi
Daniel Gordis examined the reasons for American Jews’ diminishing
identification with Israel and suggested that it was because the concept
of Jewish peoplehood was fading and being supplanted by that of Jewish
religion with no specific identification with Jews in Israel or
Gordis observed that just as second- and third-generation Americans of
Swedish, Irish and Italian background no longer speak the languages of
their forefathers who came to America from the old country, so American
Jews have also shed the identities of their ancestors and are now merely
members of a denomination rather than of a people.
For this reason they identify less with Israel and the Hebrew language.
Gordis said that no Jewish school in America had a proper Hebrew
curriculum and that very few 12th grade students at even the best of
Jewish schools in America spoke fluent Hebrew, including those who were
offspring of Israeli parents. He also quoted statistics suggesting a
drift away from Israel on the part of American Jews in general.
■ YET SURFING the websites of American Jewish organizations would
suggest otherwise. There are so many pro-Israel activities in states
across the continent as well as a constant flow of missions to Israel
that the statistics quoted by Gordis seem to be inaccurate. Coming up on
December 8 is the gala annual dinner of the Los Angeles chapter of the
American Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, which will be held at the
Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on the Avenue of the Stars. Master of
ceremonies is Jason Alexander, who was recently in Israel, and the
entertainment line-up includes Barbra Streisand. FIDF, which this year
celebrates its 30th anniversary, was established in New York by a group
of Holocaust survivors with the aim of providing for the wellbeing of
members of the IDF and their families.
It now operates 13 regional offices in the US and one in Latin America.
The organization brings Israeli soldiers to the US to perform at events
in different parts of the country. It provides scholarships and
recreation programs for soldiers; supports widows and orphans of
soldiers; brings Bar and Bat Mitzvah groups of orphans of fallen
soldiers to America; provides financial support for lone soldiers and
sponsors various medical programs for wounded soldiers. In addition to
the Los Angeles event, several others are taking place this month and
some took place last month in other chapters. There are currently more
than a half dozen FIDF missions en route to or touring Israel.
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