July 14 is the 20th anniversary of the Maccabiah bridge disaster, in which four members of the Australian delegation were killed and more than 70 injured. The dead were Greg Small, Yetty Bennett, Elizabeth Sawicki, and Warren Zines. Tennis player Sasha Elterman, then 15, who was one of the many injured, was in a critical condition not for days or weeks but months, undergoing 18 surgeries in the immediate six-month aftermath of the bridge collapse over the Yarkon River, which caused so much grief, not to mention protracted legal issues. At a later stage, she underwent 10 additional surgeries.
Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan last week conducted a memorial service for the victims of the Maccabiah bridge collapse at the monument erected near the site of the disaster in Ramat Gan. Israel has not yet learned from this tragic episode, and faulty structures continue to be built without proper supervision or inspection.
■ HERZLIYA IS home to the overwhelming majority of members of the diplomatic corps, so it was only natural for the Ambassadors’ Club to have its annual awards night for the Diplomat of the Year and the Honorary Consul of the Year in Herzliya.
The Ambassadors’ Club, headed by its founder and president Yitzhak Eldan, a retired ambassador and a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, has entered into a cooperation agreement with the Herzliya Municipal Tourism Development Company to hold many of the club’s future events in Herzliya in general and at the Herzliya Marina in particular.
Attendance at the awards ceremony and reception at the spacious Sailors Club at the Marina exceeded all expectations, and was largely due to the popularity of the two winners, Cyprus Ambassador Thessalia Salina Shambos and honorary consul of New Zealand Gad Propper, who, in the absence of a resident ambassador, has for almost 20 years been New Zealand’s key representative in Israel.
Shambos, for whom this is her first ambassadorial posting, said that she was honored and humbled as a female ambassador because the honor accorded her “comes in recognition of women’s empowerment.”
Affirming her country’s pride in the “strategic friendship between two democratic partners in our volatile neighborhood,” Shambos referred to mutual solidarity and a relationship that goes beyond the independence of either country to the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, when 53,000 Jewish survivors who were sent there by the British Mandate Authorities returned to Israel in 1948. She was happy that some of the children born in Cyprus during that internment period were present to celebrate with her, along with former Israel ambassadors to Cyprus.
Shambos also expressed appreciation to the Israeli doctors who are caring for Cypriot patients who come to Israel for treatment.
In the two years that she has been in Israel, Shambos, in cooperation with Iris Ambor, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Southern Europe, and Ambassador in Nicosia Yael Ravia-Zadok, has handled more than 40 top-level visits from Cyprus, a factor that makes her one of the busiest ambassadors in the country.
Shambos also paid tribute to Greek Ambassador Constantinos Bikos, with whom she has taken the trilateral partnership with Israel to the next level. Together they have organized more than a dozen ministerial and parliamentary trilateral meetings on the Greek-speaking diaspora, energy, water management, academic cooperation, tourism, health, science and technology.
Eldan had two surprises for Shambos. One was a letter from Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, in which he wrote of the great honor she had brought to Cyprus, which is a small country with limited resources. It was also a great achievement for a diplomat on her first posting as an ambassador, he wrote. The other surprise was with the cooperation of Israel Philatelic Service, which issued a special stamp that includes a portrait of Shambos. It was difficult to tell who was more excited – Shambos or her husband, Stavros, who is a visiting fellow of genetics at the Weizmann Institute. Ambor described Shambos as a “talented, energetic and creative diplomat.”
Propper is not one of those people who blow their own trumpet, and had not informed New Zealand’s Ambassador Jonathan Curr of the honor conferred on him. But Eldan had informed Curr when asking that he write a letter, which he did, praising Propper’s dedicated service, especially during a difficult period in Israel-New Zealand relations. He also mentioned that, earlier this year, Propper had received the Honorary New Zealand Order of Merit from New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy. This was a surprise to almost everyone in the room, as Propper hadn’t mentioned it to anyone except his family.
Among the many people present at the event were dean of the diplomatic corps and Ambassador of the Dominican Republic Alex de la Rosa, who spoke in excellent Hebrew, Yoram Naor, honorary consul of Belize, Sara Allalouf, honorary consul of Latvia, and Ruth Amit-Fogel, honorary consul of Paraguay, who are all vice presidents of the Ambassadors’ Club, Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon, Jonathan Jacobovitz, chairman of the Herzliya Municipal Tourism Development Corporation, Ruth Wasserman Lande, a former diplomat and former adviser to president Shimon Peres, who is currently deputy director-general for international affairs at the Federation of Local Authorities.
■ AMBASSADOR to the United Nations Danny Danon achieved two missions simultaneously last week, when, in cooperation with AJC Project Interchange, and together with American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris, he led a delegation of nine UN ambassadors to Israel.
The delegation included ambassadors from Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Togo, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Poland and Estonia. Given the strenuous overtures that Israel is making toward Africa, the fact that the majority of ambassadors were African countries served a dual purpose.
During the five-day visit, which included Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the northern and southern border areas, and even Ramallah, the ambassadors inspected centers for innovation in agriculture and water technology, met with experts in these fields and also discussed developments in the region with government officials.
But the most moving aspect of their visit was at the Galilee Medical Center, where director-general Dr. Masad Barhoum briefed them on the treatment of Syrians wounded during that country’s civil war. Over the past four years, he said, 1,600 Syrians, some suffering critical wounds, have been treated by GMC physicians and nurses. The number represents 70% of all wounded Syrians treated in Israel, he said. The ambassadors also had an opportunity to meet with some of the patients.
■ CONTRARY TO popular myth, not all members of the entertainment industry or the fourth estate are on the left of the political spectrum. Actor and comedian Guri Alfi, who this week co-hosted Army Radio’s current affairs program “What’s Burning?” told the show’s anchor, Razi Barkai, that he had joined a political party. Barkai tried to guess which one and named only parties that were left of center. Alfi surprised him by saying that he had joined the Likud because the only way to have any influence at all on the nation’s policies is to vote for a party whose representatives in the Knesset won their seats in primary elections. The Labor Party didn’t appeal to him, so he joined the Likud, and suggested that everyone should join a political party in order to wield some influence. Of course, Israel still needs to reform its electoral system so that every MK will be responsible to his or her electorate.
■ THERE WAS a time when a raised eyebrow or a single word that could be interpreted as commentary or criticism on the part of a TV news anchor was cause for a severe reprimand if not dismissal. But all that has changed over the years, and news anchors freely express their opinions, leaving neutrality and objectivity as nothing more than words in the dictionary.
Several news anchors, reporters and commentators remarked on the lack of political experience of newly elected Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, but Geula Even-Sa’ar, who is the presenter of Kan 11’s main nightly news program, went beyond what is acceptable, prompting Haaretz columnist and reviewer Rogel Alpher to call for her resignation. According to Alpher, Even-Saar has abandoned her journalistic integrity. What she said certainly went beyond news reporting or analysis.
“A person who wasn’t a member of Knesset even for a single day, and was not a member of the cabinet. Look! A person comes out of nowhere, spends a minute-and-aquarter in Israeli politics, and is a candidate who, on the face of it, Netanyahu will eat without salt. Is he suitable to head a political system that is so challenging, so complex as in Israel? A man who wasn’t an MK for even a day? Wasn’t a member of cabinet for even a day? A man who doesn’t know how to run a complex political system? What does he know about political administration, in comparison to Netanyahu?” Even-Sa’ar said.
Alpher pointed out that Even-Sa’ar’s appointment was problematic from the start, given that her husband is a prominent Likud figure and former government minister who has made no secret of his intention to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to succeed him.