Grapevine: Pandering to politics

Pre-election news conferences give the parties a chance to speak out close to Election Day. The Maariv-Jerusalem Post conference was no exception.

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September 12, 2019 22:14
Grapevine: Pandering to politics

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with founding members of Our Common Destiny.. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Several media organizations have in recent weeks held conferences in which leading figures from most of the political parties represented in the Knesset and/or candidates in the coming elections either delivered speeches or were interviewed.

Among the last of these conferences prior to Election Day, was the one hosted on Wednesday at the Daniel Hotel Herzliya by Maariv and The Jerusalem Post.

Proceedings were briefly disrupted by a serial heckler who frequents conferences and conventions and yells passionately and violently at speakers. He did so during an address by Yamina’s Bezalel Smotrich and had to be escorted out of the room by security personnel who had a hard time subduing him. The temporary excitement prompted a stampede by photographers as well as by several members of the audience who rushed to capture the scene via their mobile phones.

Smotrich waited patiently for calm to be restored. He was familiar with the heckler, who had gatecrashed other events in which he had been a participant or a guest.

Smotrich praised the annexation declaration that had been made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the previous evening but wondered whether Netanyahu would follow through with his pledge if he is again given a mandate and succeeds in forming the next government.

Blue and White’s Yair Lapid said his dispute with the ultra-Orthodox parties is not over Judaism. The fact that he chooses to live in Israel is part of his Jewish identity, he said, insisting he didn’t want to tell anyone how to live their lives Jewishly and he didn’t want anyone to dictate to him how he should live his life Jewishly.

Likud’s Yuval Steinitz got a severe roasting from a panel of journalists, but valiantly continued his defense of Likud’s achievements and of its leader.

Labor-Gesher’s Amir Peretz is still fighting the ethnic genie that re-emerged from the bottle when he rejected the overtures of the Democratic Union, and instead chose to link up with Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abecassis, who, like him, is of Moroccan background, but whose political history and outlook differ substantially from those of Peretz. Differences aside, they have the same social values, he declared.

Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked was dismissive of former prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff Ehud Barak, saying he had gone from being the nation’s number one soldier to number one critic. He finds something else to criticize everyday, she said.

Yisrael Beyteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman, introduced by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz as the “kingmaker,” had the audience roaring with laughter over spontaneous one-liners, and answered the questions that the panel of journalists wanted to put to him before they finished the sentence, saying he didn’t need the questions, he knew what they wanted to ask. If he ever decides to give up politics, he would do well as a stand-up comedian.

Although there were ripples of applause and approval for utterances here and there by every speaker, Liberman succeeded in finding favor in the eyes of people who would never vote for his party, but who delighted in his humor.

Liberman kept on reminding people that – as no one knows what the outcome of the elections will be – that everything is dependent on voter turnout.

Whatever the results, there will be ample opportunity to listen to members of the incoming government, providing that there isn’t a third round of elections, on November 13, when the Post will conduct its annual Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem. The conference will take place regardless of whether or not there is a third round of elections.

“THE MIRACLE of the Jewish people is not only that we survived for thousands of years. The miracle is that, despite the fact that we were spread all over the world, speak different languages and developed different traditions, we always were one people.” So said President Reuven Rivlin to founding members of Our Common Destiny, who came to the President’s Residence this week to discuss, debate and formulate a Declaration of Common Destiny. “Despite our differences, we remained bound by our shared history, our core values and beliefs, our Book of Books, and our commitment to improving the world,” Rivlin told the 30 founders from six continents. “It helped that our enemies always saw us as one people. Our enemies don’t see any difference between one stream of Judaism and another: secular, haredi, Reform, Conservative, Masorti – for them we are all Jews.” The implication was that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew...

Rivlin emphasized the importance of preserving Jewish core values, traditions and identity, while promoting mutual respect for differences and mutual responsibility for each other. “We must embrace our unity, and our diversity,” he insisted. “We must see our diversity not as a source of weakness, but a source of strength.”

To Rivlin, these are important elements in preserving the future of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. This philosophy applies to the founders of Our Common Destiny, whose rabbinical members represent different streams of Judaism from Orthodox to Reform to Reconstructionist.

WHAT IS going to happen to the Middle East in the aftermath of the existing struggles for power? The issue provides plenty of food for thought, even more so following an intriguing discussion between Jerusalem Post op-ed editor and Middle East reporter and analyst Seth Frantzman and journalist and Associate Professor at the Hebrew University Ksenia Svetlova, who is a policy fellow at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies and a former member of Knesset, who has written and commented extensively on Arab affairs. The occasion at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem was the launch of Frantzman’s book After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East.

The two discussed a variety of regional issues, the fate of minorities, the struggle of the Kurds, the eventual changes in places like Iran and Turkey when their present leaders step off the stage due to mortality or are overthrown and whether future alliances in the region will continue to be alliances of the bad rather than of the good. Will the new leaders be better or worse than the current ones? After all the devastation that has occurred in Syria, what will the country look like 10 years down the line? All this and more came up in conversation, as well as the human face, which Frantzman, through personal encounters, has given to a series of political and tragic events, including the persecution of minorities in the region. In Svetlova’s opinion, minorities who have fled the tyranny of Islamic State and other destructive forces will never return. As for her period in the Knesset, which though very involved, was also very short, she summed it up by saying that people were talking more in slogans than about policy.

SEVERAL EASTERN European countries that had severed relations with Israel have over the past couple of years celebrated milestone anniversaries of the renewal of diplomatic relations with Israel, whereas other countries that maintained diplomatic relations but have also reached milestone anniversaries are celebrating those on a somewhat smaller scale. Among the Eastern European countries is Hungary, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic ties with a year of Hungarian culture, which began on March 11 and will continue until October 26.

Hungarian Ambassador Levente Benko invited many guests to join him this week at the in Tel Aviv’s Center for the Performing Arts to see the Hungarian State Opera production of The Queen of Sheba composed by Karl Goldmark with the libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal – both of whom were Jewish. The story line is about Sulamith the daughter of the high priest, who is heartbroken when her fiancé, Assad, decides not to marry her. Assad was escorting the Queen of Sheba to her meeting with King Solomon when he was beguiled by a fascinating veiled woman as he watched her bathing. When the queen meets with King Solomon and removes her own veil, Assad recognizes her as the woman who entranced him.

The queen initially denies all knowledge of Assad, but she cannot control her own love for him and Assad is torn between his love for her and that for Sulamith.

The opera, which premiered at the Hungarian State Opera in 1884, has been performed in different countries over the years, but never before in Israel. In greeting his guests in Hebrew and English, Benko said that for the first time the Queen of Sheba is returning to her original biblical location. “We could say that the Queen of Sheba has come home.”

To say that the audience, composed largely of Hungarian expatriates, was appreciative would be an understatement. The applause during different scenes, the standing ovation at the end, the many curtain calls and the enthusiastic cries in Hungarian testified to how well the opera was received in Israel, with special appreciation to magnificent singers Erica Gal as the Queen of Sheba, Boldizsár László as Assad, Eszter Somogyi as Sulamith, and orchestra conductor Balazs Kocsar.

Describing the opera as one of the veritable highlights of the Festival of Hungarian Culture, Benko said more than 30,00 Israelis have so far attended Hungarian events, which included cinema, operetta, folk dancers, gastronomy, classical music and more.

greerfc@gmail.com


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