Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted last Thursday that out of 34 newly appointed judges and registrars, 21 were women. She had special congratulations for talented lawyer Elazar Bialin, a member of Israel’s Ethiopian community, who will serve as a judge in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. He is the third member of his community to be appointed a judge. Two years ago, two Ethiopian women lawyers, Ednaki Sebhat Haimowitz and Esther Tafta Gardi, made history when they were appointed to the Central Magistrate’s Court and the Haifa Traffic Court, respectively. They were the first members of their community to reach the bench.
Every immigrant community goes through trials and tribulations. Even to this day, the Sabra offspring of Moroccans, when applying for white-collar job vacancies, discover that when they apply under an obviously North African surname, the application is rejected. Yet if they send identical details under a fictitious Ashkenazi surname, an appointment is made for them to be interviewed. Russian physicists and other highly qualified immigrants from the former Soviet Union during their initial years in Israel worked as street sweepers, janitors and security guards. French immigrant nurses and doctors with years of experience and the highest qualifications are both frustrated and indignant that their qualifications are not accepted in Israel. By the way, that happened to Russian doctors, too.
But the Ethiopian community has suffered not only the usual bias against new immigrants but also from a degree of racism, with police often mistaking members for unwanted African refugees seeking asylum in Israel. They have been apprehended, beaten up and arrested for no valid reason.
Now it seems that members of the Ethiopian community are coming into their own. There are numerous Ethiopian university graduates working in hi-tech, law, medicine and other professions. Ethiopian politicians are and have been members of Knesset. Ethiopian kessim were recently accorded full rabbinic rights, and now all that remains is for a member of the Ethiopian community to be appointed a Supreme Court judge. That could well be Bialin in five or six years’ time, or it could be some other judge or lawyer who has shown great promise.
But the real test will be when members of the Ethiopian community will be appointed to high-ranking positions without mention of their ethnicity, just as the day will come when female appointees will no longer figure as successes in the gender equality wars but simply as deserving individuals.
■ “THERE ARE judges in Jerusalem,” declared the late prime minister Menachem Begin, who is often quoted when an issue of acute controversy or dispute makes media headlines. Former Supreme Court judges, some who were presidents of the court, and some who used to not only work in Jerusalem but live in Jerusalem, will be returning to Jerusalem to participate in a weekly Friday morning series at Beit Shmuel run under the auspices the Open University’s Eshkolot informal education series. They include Aharon Barak, Dorit Beinisch, Elyakim Rubinstein (who still lives in Jerusalem), Salim Joubran, along with Dalia Dorner and Jacob Turkel, who are both residents of the capital. Given the changes imposed on the Supreme Court by Shaked, they should have some interesting things to say.
■ FOR CANADIAN Ambassador Deborah Lyons and Cyprus Ambassador Thessalia Salina Shambos, their participation in a panel discussion last week at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference was essentially a warm-up for their participation in a broader diplomatic panel on the role of diplomacy in removing barriers to peace agreements, which was one of the many topics of discussion at the International Women Wage Peace conference at Tel Aviv University. Other ambassadors on the panel included Emanuele Giaufret, head of the European Union Delegation to Israel, Ireland’s Alison Kelly and France’s Hélène Le Gal.
Some of the diplomats attending the conference later made their way to Jerusalem for a farewell for outgoing Bulgarian Ambassador Dr. Dimitar Mihaylov, who was hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, which operates under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress.
■ SEVERAL AMBASSADORS and other diplomats were also in Jerusalem on Monday for the Science without Borders conference cohosted by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the French Académie des sciences; and in the evening other ambassadors, mostly representing East European member countries of the European Union, attended a state dinner for Czech President Milos Zeman and his wife, Ivana Zemanova, hosted by President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama.
Zeman, who is a chain-smoker, had to leave the head table to go outside and indulge his passion. And earlier in the day, during a private working meeting that he had with Rivlin in the arbor of the back garden of the presidential compound, he also smoked several cigarettes.
Zeman’s speech at the dinner was probably one of the shortest on record. He said that he had two glasses of wine in front of him – one red and one white. Politically, the red stands for the Left, and white for the Right, but there are some issues on which the Left and the Right agree. Friendship between nations is common to both, he said. Therefore, he was going to do something that he said he had never done before in his life. Raising both glasses, he called out “Cheers!”
The Czechs never quite know what to expect from Zeman, who is not a believer in political correctness and says whatever comes into his head. Happily, he is so pro-Israel and so anti-terrorism, that whatever he says in Israel is treated as an expression of friendship.
Among the guests at the dinner were many genuine Czechs as well as Israelis of Czech descent, such as one of the honorary consuls for the Czech Republic, Dan Propper. Also present was retired diplomat Yaakov Levy, who happens to be a former ambassador to the Czech Republic, and Arye Shumer, who was director-general of the President’s Office when Ezer Weizman was president.
As he did earlier in the day, Rivlin recalled that Czechoslovakia was the only country to lift the arms embargo against Israel in 1948. But the relations of Jews with Czechoslovakia go much further back, he said, calling up the names of the great mystic known as the Maharal of Prague, whose real name was Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, and Rabbi Yehezkel ben Yehuda Landau, the famous 18th-century chief rabbi of Prague.
Today the relationship between Israel and the Czech Republic is strategic, he said, with direct flights between Prague and Tel Aviv and the establishment of Skoda’s new innovation center in Israel, coupled with tourism and trade between the two countries. For all that, said Rivlin, more can be done in business, culture, science, security, energy, tourism and more.
Entertainment was provided by singer Maya Avraham, whose final song was Beatles favorite “Let it Be.” Most of the Czechs present had been children or teenagers when the song was first released during Czechoslovakia’s era of Communist rule, but nearly all of them knew the words and sang along with her.
■ WHEN US PRESIDENT Donald Trump visited Israel in May 2017, people were impressed by images of his wife, Melania, holding the hand of Nechama Rivlin as they traversed the red carpet. The wife of Israel’s president suffers from a respiratory ailment which requires her to wheel a mobile oxygen tank wherever she goes. She can actually manage without anyone holding her hand or her arm, but some people are not sure and instinctively want to help her. One such person this week was the Czech president’s wife, who held her hand as they walked past the reception line.
■ THE RELEASE last Friday morning of Rivlin’s schedule for this week included a state reception for Zeman, but there was no mention of President Idriss Déby of the Republic of Chad. The schedule was updated on Sunday, and reporters who cover events at the President’s Residence were notified in the early afternoon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s schedule was also updated on Sunday.
It is quite a diplomatic coup for Israel to host visiting presidents on two consecutive days, although it has been known to happen before, especially on less happy occasions when several presidents arrived over a 24-hour period to attend the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. But this time, even though Déby’s visit was not a state visit, it aroused considerable excitement because Déby is the first-ever president of Chad to visit Israel.
After severing relation in 1972, Chad twice announced that it was considering renewing them, but this consideration never became a decision and was therefore never implemented.
For more than a week, it had been announced that Netanyahu would be visiting a Muslim country with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, but the country was not initially named. Now it seems that it was the other way around, and that the leader of a Muslim-majority country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel came to Israel’s capital, to test the waters for the reestablishment of diplomatic ties. Déby and Netanyahu met in Paris a little over two weeks ago when both attended the ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
Déby’s arrival in Israel, replete with photograph, was instantly tweeted by Meron Reuben, the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol, who was acutely conscious of the fact that Netanyahu had pulled off yet another historic triumph in his quest to win friends and influence people in Africa.
In Jerusalem, only a couple of hours following his arrival, Déby met with Netanyahu before proceeding on to the President’s Residence, where he received an effusive welcome from Rivlin.
Although most Internet photographs of Déby depict him in smart Western-style business suits, he disembarked from the plane wearing the traditional jalabiya boubou trousers, and the tagiya headgear.
Reuben also advised followers of his tweets not to get mixed up. The marine blue, canary yellow and poppy red flag waving in the wind, alongside that of the blue and white flag of Israel, was not a European flag but that of the African nation of Chad. (Romania’s vertically striped flag happens to be identical.)
At 5:15 p.m. members of the president’s staff were still rolling out the red carpets and covering the sections near doorways with large sheets of gray nylon to protect the carpets from the footmarks of anyone walking across. There were vertically striped blue, yellow and red flags in abundance. When asked whether they were Chad or Romanian, the ambiguous reply from both presidential and Foreign Ministry officials was that there is a big supply of flags.
Although the meeting between the two presidents was live-streamed, there was nonetheless a large contingent of local media – mostly stills photographers and video crews who wanted to capture this milestone moment in Israel’s history.
The media area was roped off, as was another section of the hall, to provide a passageway for the two presidents to enter. The meeting was scheduled to start at 6 p.m., but when Rivlin came out at 6:08 to wait on the red carpet, Déby had not yet arrived. At 8:13 Rivlin was informed that Déby was on the way, and, accompanied by all the media, he went out to wait for his guest at the end of the pergola that covers the entrance to the building. He had to wait for another five minutes because Déby could not leave his limousine until the whole motorcade was inside the compound and all his entourage had alighted. Only then did he emerge with a broad smile on his face.
Unlike Zeman, who had been escorted into the compound by a bevy of police motorcycles, Déby came without such fanfare, precisely because his visit was not official.
Rivlin spoke in Hebrew, and Déby in French.
Rivlin declared that it was a great honor to host Déby on this historic occasion. Israel is happy to renew relations with Chad after too long a severing of ties, he said. Relations with Chad are important because Chad, like Israel, is a state that fights terrorism, he continued. “For us Africa is the future, Chad is the future, and we want to share our rich experience.”
Rivlin recalled that from its early years, while still fighting for its very existence, Israel developed agricultural know-how and water-saving techniques and sent experts to Africa to share that knowledge.
Declaring his wish that diplomatic relations would be resumed very soon, Rivlin stated that it would give him great pleasure to receive the credentials of the ambassador of Chad. He also sought Déby’s assistance in calling on all African states that still have no diplomatic ties with Israel to become partners for change. Rivlin is convinced that reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Chad and entering into relations with other African states will help to bring peace to the Middle East.
Déby voiced appreciation for the warm welcome and the hospitality he had received from both Netanyahu and Rivlin.
Relations had not been entirely severed, he said, hinting that a lot of exchanges had continued beneath the radar. There just had not been an exchange of ambassadors, he said. He acknowledged that there had been a freeze, “but now the ice is broken, and the important thing is the future.” He said that he and his delegation had definitely come to Israel with the intention of renewing diplomatic relations. “Your country, like Chad, is under threat of terror, and your country is very developed in all fields. We see a bilateral relationship as an opportunity for cooperation at all levels.”
Déby related to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which he said has to be resolved in accordance with international agreements. “We want everyone in the region to have quality education and health services,” he said, adding that dialogue between nations is very important.
■ FEW THINGS start on time in Israel, including International Flamenco Day, which strictly was on November 16, which is the date on which UNESCO, within the framework of its multicultural Human Heritage project, declared flamenco to be one of the masterpieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Thus, within the context of International Flamenco Day and in recognition of the thriving flamenco academies in Israel, Spain’s Ambassador Manuel Gomez-Acebo and his wife, Maria J. Ortin, will this week host a flamenco evening at which some of Israel’s best-known flamenco dancers will perform, and where the guest performer will be the great Maria Juncal, who has specially come from Spain for the occasion.
■ FRENCH MINISTER for Culture Franck Riester will on Thursday, November 30, be present at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for the closing event from among 120 events held in France and Israel from June to the end of November in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel. The events cover many fields in the diversity of relations between France and Israel, focused on excellence, creativity and innovation.
■ ISRAEL’S PERFORMING arts community breathed a collective sigh of relief this week when Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s proposed cultural loyalty bill, widely perceived as a form of censorship, fell by the wayside. Regev has yet to learn that passion and culture are not always compatible bedfellows.
Many of her outbursts and attacks on fellow politicians border on the vulgar, which may be one of the reasons that Yisrael Beytenu leader and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman said after her attack on him: “I don’t understand how Miri Regev and culture go together.”
■ THE VERSATILITY of veteran broadcaster Dan Kaner continues to surprise. Kaner, who is the chief radio news reader on KAN 11, and who over the years, when working for the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority, trained a generation of new announcers, is also in frequent demand as a master of ceremonies, including at the President’s Residence. Last week, at a bilingual event organized by the National Authority for Yiddish Culture, he surprised most of those present by speaking fluent Yiddish. In addition to being a frequent news reader on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, Kaner also has a weekly musical program of golden oldies, to which he adds biographical and historical details before playing any of the recordings.
He is also the Israeli MC for the 120-member Alexandrov Ensemble, better known as the Red Army Choir, and will be appearing with them for the fifth time, when they perform again in Israel in March 2019. In December two years ago, the choir suffered a severe and tragic blow when most of its members, who were flying to entertain Russian troops in Syria, were killed in a plane that crashed into the Black Sea. Of the 92 passengers and crew aboard, 64 had been members of the choir. From the 1920s onward, the choir had been Russia’s face to the world. Russia is not short of magnificent singers, and the ensemble was quickly re-formed, first performing in February in Moscow and then continuing an international tour.
The ensemble of singers and dancers was last in Israel in November 2015. During the Soviet era, its repertoire essentially consisted of Russian folk songs, the melodies of which were familiar to Israelis, because most of the lyrics had been translated into Hebrew, and there were many Israelis who were totally unaware that popular songs such as “Kalinka” and “Katyusha” were actually part of Russian folklore. There is an annual competition within the ensemble to see which tenor can hold a particular note in “Kalinka” for the longest period of time. He then becomes the “Kalinka” man for the year.
“Kalinka” is also part of the permanent repertoire of Israel’s famous Gevatron choir, which was founded on Kibbutz Geva in 1948, though the kibbutz itself was founded by Russian and Polish immigrants in 1921. The early choir members grew up hearing their parents sing Russian songs. When the Alexandrov Ensemble next performs in Israel in March, it will be joined by the Gevatron choir, which in a sense will be the closing of a harmonious circle.
■ ARGENTINEAN BUSINESS tycoon Eduardo Elsztain, who is reportedly the largest real estate developer in his native country and has considerable investments in Israel, the most notable of which is as controlling shareholder of IDB Discount Investment Corporation, is, according to a report in Globes, looking for a luxury apartment in Tel Aviv to rent or to buy. Up until now, Elsztain, a Chabadnik and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, has stayed in luxury hotels during his visits to Israel, but would prefer accommodation that is somewhat more personal than a hotel.
Through IDB alone, Elsztain has numerous reasons to be in Israel. The IDB portfolio includes Cellcom, Shufersal, Property and Building, Ltd., Elron Electronic Industries and Israir Airlines and Tourism Ltd. Due to frequent changes in Israel’s business world, Elsztain is often in the country to keep his finger on the pulse of developments. Elsztain was one of the people who hosted Shimon Peres during the state visit to Argentina by Israel’s ninth president in November 2009. He also has a close relationship with controversial Jewish billionaire and mega philanthropist George Soros, who has invested in Elsztain’s companies to their mutual benefit.
■ APROPOS SOROS and the raw deal he has received in his native Hungary, James Kirchick, writing in Tablet magazine, in a very long and detailed warts-and-all article under the title of “The Truth about George Soros,” lists the positives and the negatives, which include antisemitic attacks.
Nowhere has this nasty phenomenon been more apparent than in his native Hungary, where, in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz Party have transformed Soros into the target of a nationwide Two Minutes Hate, replete with giant billboards of the grinning billionaire and photos of his face laminated onto the floors of trams, writes Kirchick. This is a classic case of biting the hand that feeds it. Soros has distributed literally thousands of scholarships in different countries, and among the recipients of one of those scholarships to Oxford University was a young Hungarian law student by the name of Viktor Orbán.
■ SENIOR OFFICIALS from local authorities, among them Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon, and Hod Hasharon Mayor Amir Kochavi, along with Philip Azrad, CEO of the Eilat Municipality, Itay Tzahar, CEO of the Kfar Saba Municipality, and lawyer Eitain Atia, the CEO of Forum 15, were participants in the Smart Cities Conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies, Gazit-Globe Real Estate Institute and School of Sustainability.
At the core of the event was the presentation by Prof. Yoav Yair, the dean of the School of Sustainability, of a sustainability index that examines the integration of municipal management, strategy and sustainability with innovative technological compatibility in different cities. The presentation evoked audible reactions of awe, and cameras in cellphones began working firstname.lastname@example.org
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