It will in a sense be a double Oscar for Yad Vashem next week when Croatian filmmaker and Holocaust survivor Branko Lustig, as one of the producers of the Academy Award-winning film Schindler’s List, will present the Oscar that he received to Yad Vashem. Oskar Schindler, a Czechborn ethnic German industrialist, despite being a member of the Nazi party, saved the lives of 1,200 Jews by employing them in his enamelware and munitions factory plants. He was initially able to protect them from deportation by giving them essential work, but later he defended them by bribing senior officials with luxury gifts.
Lustig, 83, survived Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen and believes that if he was spared to win an Oscar, the best place for it to be in perpetuity is at Yad Vashem. The presentation is timed to coincide with the state visit to Israel by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. The Croatian president will be checking into Jerusalem’s King David Hotel at the same time as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
■ AMONG THE guests at the opening last week of the Jerusalem Film Festival was Hollywood actor and Brooklyn, New York, resident John Turturro, who received a life achievement award and was one of the stars in the film Mia madre, the Nanni Moretti movie that set the pace for this year’s festival. Turturro who came to Israel together with his Jewish wife, Katherine Borowitz, and their son Diego stayed in the luxurious Noble Suite of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where general manager Guy Klaiman and his staff were prepared to go out of their way to make his stay enjoyable and memorable.
But Turturro didn’t give them the opportunity.
During his three-day sojourn, he refused to behave like a prima donna. He didn’t ask for any special foods or favors, nor did he want his meals to be served in his suite. He wanted to be like any other guest and sit in one of the hotel’s restaurants.
This included breakfast. He told Klaiman that he had heard that the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem serves one of the best kosher breakfasts in the world, and he wanted to try it out for himself. He also chatted informally to hotel staff and to Klaiman, sought advice about where to go and what to see, and in fact behaved like a regular good-natured tourist instead of a self-absorbed movie star. The hotel management had hoped to make a good impression on Turturro, but instead he made a good impression on them.
■ IN TANDEM with the 100th anniversary this year of the ill-fated landing in Gallipoli of the Australian New Zealand Army Corps – better known as ANZACs – is the 100th anniversary of the Zion Mule Corps, which, led by Joseph Trumpeldor, was an outgrowth of the Jewish Legion founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky and other dedicated Zionists.
The Zion Mule Corps went to Gallipoli at much the same time as the ANZACs, initially to deliver supplies to the British troops. However, due to the situation at hand, it became the first regular Jewish fighting force to participate in a war in some 1,800 years. As far as was known, there had been no such force since the Bar Kochba era.
The Zion Mule Corps was made up largely of volunteers from Palestine and Jewish refugees living in Egypt, many of whom had been expelled from Palestine by the Turks. They were interested in joining the British in fighting the Turks. The only problem was that the British under the Army Act could not enlist foreign nationals as fighting troops. However, they could train them, which they did. There was opposition from certain quarters – not only British, but also Russian. The Russians wanted Russian refugees to be returned to them to fight in the Russian army. But in the final analysis, with the help of Jabotinsky and several influential people, that attempt was foiled, and the Zion Mule Corps was integrated into the British forces.
Not only did its troops fight, but they were commended in dispatches. They will be commemorated together with the members of the Jewish Legion at a gala event Thursday evening, July 16, at the entrance to Mount Herzl, following a state ceremony in their memory and in memory of Jabotinsky, whose vision may well have planted the seeds for the Israel Defense Forces.
Speakers at the event will include Ran Ishai, the deputy director-general at the Prime Minister’s Office; Yaakov Hagoel, head of the World Zionist Organization’s department for combating anti-Semitism; and Yossi Ahimeir, the executive director of the Jabotinsky Institute. There will also be a film on the life and times of Jabotinsky.
■ FOR YEARS it was a given that the Israeli representative at the Bastille Day reception hosted by the French ambassador was Shimon Peres. No other minister had so close and so long a relationship with France, and the love affair continued throughout Peres’s seven-year presidency. Last year he made it with less than two weeks left in his term. That Peres is now out of office has not affected his honored place on the guest list of French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave, who told him last year that he would always be welcome and that he was happy that they were going to be neighbors. The Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa is relatively close to the French ambassador’s residence.
Even though Peres, as in the past, was one of the speakers, he was not an official representative. In fact, Maisonnave introduced him as “a friend of the family.” The task of representing the government fell to Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai, who is the only minister who is not an MK and therefore is less strapped for time than his ministerial colleagues. Gabai stood alongside Maisonnave and Peres to convey the greetings of the government of Israel. Last week Gabai represented the government at the South Sudan national day hosted by South Sudan Ambassador Ruben Marial Benjamin at his residence in Kfar Shmaryahu, and this week he will yet again be representing the government at the Colombian national day reception.
Peres, one of Israel’s most frequent flyers, returned to Israel from Canada in time for the French reception but is off again next week, this time to Brazzaville and other parts of Congo, and later in the year he is scheduled to fly to Mexico. Whereas Maisonnave and Gabai read their speeches from a prepared text, Peres spoke for almost 20 minutes without a single note in front of him, but that in no way diminished the eloquent and dramatic abilities of translator and interpreter extraordinaire Giselle Abazon, who embellished on Peres no less than on Maisonnave and Gabai.
Maisonnave said that France is aware of the vicissitudes experienced by Israel and declared that France admires Israel for its talents, determination, tenacity and hope.
He voiced appreciation to all those who have contributed to the bilateral relations between France and Israel not only on political and economic levels but through the many cultural exchanges in literature, film, art, dance and music. He emphasized France’s determination to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, as well as the efforts that France is making to bring about peace in the region, and called for enhanced peace initiatives between Israel and the Palestinians. The breadth and depth of the connection between Israel and France, he acknowledged, has been augmented by the fact that 150,000 of his fellow countrymen now live in Israel. In view of the fact that a series of ecological conferences are taking place in France this month and throughout the rest of the year, Maisonnave was particularly pleased to welcome Gabai to this year’s Bastille Day celebration.
Gabai responded that Bastille Day is not just a French holiday but, with its message of liberty, equality and fraternity, a holiday that belongs to all who believe in freedom and democracy. Despite occasional differences of opinion, he said, France has proved itself to be a true and enduring friend of Israel. He was grateful for the opportunity to thank France for its contribution to Israel’s security in the early years of the state, for its determined stance against a nuclear Iran, for its commitment to fight terrorism and anti-Semitism and for the efforts it has made to safeguard its Jewish community.
Peres started of by congratulating Maisonnave for the dynamic manner in which he has intensified relations between France and Israel, and said: “We can feel the energy that emanates from this house.” While France is today very pro-Jewish, this was not always so, though, according to Peres, France was the only country in Europe which did not expel its Jews other than when under Nazi occupation. Even so, the anti-Semitism which brought about the Dreyfus trial also gave birth to Zionism, Peres observed. It also provoked the greatest castigation of anti-Semitism when Emile Zola, in response to the Dreyfus trial, wrote “J’Accuse.” Peres said that when he hears French Prime Minister Manuel Valls say that if the Jews leave, France will no longer be France, this sentiment is in the spirit of Emile Zola.
Peres also noted that France had elected four Jewish prime ministers – two of whom, Leon Blum and Pierre Mendes France, were ardent Zionists. Like Gabai, Peres referred to the military assistance which France had given to Israel, but Peres, who negotiated for much of it, outlined this assistance in greater detail.
■ BRITAIN’S NEW ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey, started his posting to Israel at his Tel Aviv office on Monday morning, and in the evening he was already partying in Jaffa at the residence of Maisonnave and joining wholeheartedly in the Bastille Day festivities. Quarrey is scheduled to present his credentials on August 6, when the new ambassadors of Germany, Cyprus, Rwanda and the Seychelles will also present theirs.
Among the other diplomats at the Bastille Day reception was Aliza Ben-Nun, Israel’s ambassador designate to France, whom Maisonnave insisted on inviting to the podium to sit with the guests of honor.
Quarrey, who has previously served in UK missions to the United Nations in New York, in New Delhi and Harar, previously worked as a private secretary to prime minister Tony Blair and as director for foreign policy in the National Security Secretariat.
He sees Israel as “a fantastic posting” and is looking forward to getting to know the country’s different communities.
■ THE ONGOING rivalries between Yediot Aharonot and Israel Hayom were certainly in evidence in the differences of the two in reporting the opening last Thursday of the Entebbe exhibition at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. Almost every living person associated with the Entebbe rescue mission in July 1976 was present. There were the planners, the executors and the rescued as well as relatives of those who were killed or who have died in the interim. While Yediot Aharonot put the focus on dissatisfaction with what it and apparently others considered to be the hijacking of the whole operation so that the only person with whom it is historically associated is the prime minister’s late brother, Lt.-Col. Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed at the very beginning of the rescue mission, Israel Hayom concentrated on the prime minister’s speech.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously been to the Rabin Center unofficially, this was his first official visit, and for that reason it excited a certain amount of media attention, especially as the Rabin family had all but snubbed him while Lea Rabin was still alive. Lea Rabin blamed Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Moshe Katsav and other Likud luminaries who a year prior to his assassination had stood on a balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square and, she alleged, uttered or endorsed words of incitement against prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. During the demonstration there were posters circulating in which Rabin was depicted in SS uniform, something from which the above politicians failed to dissociate themselves, nor did they condemn the perpetrators.
After her mother’s death in November 2000, Dalia Rabin embarked on a policy of reconciliation. In a sense she had little choice, since Katsav became president of Israel in 2000 and the series of memorial events for Yitzhak Rabin traditionally begin with a candlelighting ceremony in the President’s Residence. Because her father had been prime minister during the Entebbe rescue operation and final approval of it rested on his shoulders, Dalia Rabin thought it appropriate to have the Entebbe exhibition at the Rabin Center.
Yediot Aharonot reported that Muki Betser, who had taken charge after Yoni fell, and who for years claimed that he had been more involved in the planning than Yoni, left the hall when the prime minister rose to speak. Other IDF veterans who had been involved in the operation were reported to have been angry that all the credit had gone to Yoni Netanyahu, as was the family of the late IDF chief of staff Dan Shomron, who was actually the commander of the mission, and who argued that it could be accomplished when other military experts were convinced otherwise. None of the controversy appeared in the Israel Hayom report, which mentioned some of the people who were there, such as former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak and his wife, Nili, outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, former Mossad chiefs Shabtai Shavit and Danny Yotam, former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and others. The rest of the report was largely devoted to Netanyahu’s remarks.
Netanyahu said that the Entebbe Operation proved that nothing was impossible for Israel. Having served for 10 years as prime minister, he said, he knew what a momentous decision it had been for Yitzhak Rabin to approve the mission. As prime minister one has to weigh all the risks involved as well as the possibility of failure. In the case of the Entebbe Operation, which he referred to as “Operation Yonatan,” failure would have left the best of Israel’s combatants alone in the heart of another continent with no ability on Israel’s part to come to their assistance. Had it failed, it would have been a devastating blow for the army. Netanyahu also spoke of the pain of his brother’s death which their parents had carried with them all the days of their lives, adding that he was unable to describe what Yoni had meant to all the members of the Netanyahu family.
■ DRESSED IN army uniform, Tzur Goldin, the twin brother of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed in action during Operation Protective Edge and whose remains are being held by Hamas, told a Washington convention of Christians United for Israel that he had come to seek their help in returning Hadar’s remains to Israel.
The thousands of people who came to hear him included evangelicals, senators, members of Congress and public opinion makers. Goldin appealed to international communities to desist from rehabilitating and rebuilding Gaza until such time as the remains of his brother and those of St.-Sgt.
Oren Shaul are transferred to Israel. “I came to take my brother home,” he said. Goldin added that the time had come for the free world to lay down rules that would deter organizations such as Hamas from hijacking dead bodies or living people. This was an opportunity to change a policy of weakness which has prevailed for 30 years, he said. This is the time to bring about change with regard to the psychological weapon which Hamas has been exploiting.
■ JUST A few days ahead of the start of the UEFA European Women’s under-19 Championship Finals which are being held this week in Israel, members of the Israeli team came to the President’s Residence on Monday to receive a blessing from their No. 1 fan, President Reuven Rivlin, who shook the hand of each player and told them that they were the ambassadors not only for women’s sport but for Israeli women’s sport. “The world looks differently these days at women’s sports,” he said.
Rivlin commented that the importance of women’s sport and women playing what used to be a man’s game can be gauged from a breaking news story last week in which it was announced that the US women’s soccer team won the World Cup championship.
For such a story to be breaking news, he said, was indicative of the fact that more importance is being attached to women playing sport in general and to women playing soccer. Playing football, soccer or rugby does not rob a woman of her femininity. None of the members of the team look butch and all have slight figures and long hair.
The team was accompanied by its officials and by Ofer Eini the chairman of the Israel Football Association. Rivlin congratulated Eini for persuading UEFA to hold the championship in Israel and told the team members that he had every confidence in their ability to demonstrate both their athletic prowess and their sporting character. “We were always outstanding with our women athletes,” he said and cited judoka Yael Arad as the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal. Team captain Sahi Pearl presented Rivlin with an autographed soccer ball.
■ EIGHTEEN OF the families evacuated 10 years ago from Gush Katif last Friday began a march from Kibbutz Neveh Yam in the north of the country toward Jerusalem, with the intention of concluding it at the President’s Residence. They are protesting that a decade after being forced to leave their homes within the framework of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, they continue to live as refugees in their own country with no permanent home in sight. Promises made to them by a series of governments have not been honored. Among the marchers is Avi Farhan, who has twice been evacuated, first from Yamit and then from Gush Katif. The marchers represent some 400 families who have not yet received permanent housing. The 18 families expect to find a sympathetic ear when they meet with Rivlin, who as an MK was opposed to the disengagement.
During the coming weeks, many rightwing groups from Israel and abroad will be visiting with displaced families to help boost their morale and to assure them that they are not entirely alone. The International Young Israel Movement - Israel Region (IYIM; www.iyim.org.il), the Gush Katif Commemoration Center and Friends of Gush Katif are organizing a unique and powerful summer program titled “10 Buses for 10 Years: Remembering Gush Katif.”
Because he is in mourning for his sister, Rivlin will not participate in the event but will be represented by his wife, Nechama, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein,who according to law is acting president when the president is indisposed or out of the country.
This interactive project, marking the 10-year anniversary of the withdrawal from Gush Katif, will take 10 busloads of visitors, both Israelis and tourists, to several of the new Gush Katif communities. The hope is to show solidarity to the former residents, hear their stories, and see what has been accomplished in the new communities.
Visitors will additionally tour the powerful Gush Katif Commemoration Center – one of three National Heritage Centers recognized by the Israeli government. The center introduces the story of settling rural Gush Katif in all aspects: the establishment, coping with terrorism, the struggle, the displacement and the renewal. Buses will leave Jerusalem and passengers will visit the Gush Katif heritage museum and the trailer park in Nitzan and explore new communities in Bnei Galim, Lachish, Ganei Tal, Bnei Dekalim and elsewhere. The first bus leaves on Thursday, July 16, and thereafter on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout July and August and until August 12. There will also be an additional bus on Friday, July 24. For further information and registration contact Sara at IYIM: 10buses@ iyim.org.il, (02) 650-5924.
■ VETERAN ISRAELI actor and singer Ili Gorlitzki came into the world on Bastille Day – namely July 14 – but will not be celebrating his 80th birthday until this coming Friday at the Cameri Theater, where he has spent nearly all of his career. Tel Aviv-born Gorlitzki also dabbles in philosophy and has written two books on the subject and is in the process of writing a third. He was the first head of the Israel Union of Performing Artists when it was founded in the 1980s.
Today he heads Eshkolot, which he founded with Sassi Keshet, among others, which seeks to protect copyrights, collect royalties on behalf of performing artists and provides grants for actors, directors and producers to enable the completion of productions.
Gorlitzki, the father of four, has been married three times, and for the last 20 years has been in a fourth relationship without entering into matrimony. His first wife was actress Gila Almagor.
The birthday bash will be moderated by Yair Nitzani and will feature many of the big names of Israel’s stage and screen, among them Gadi Yagil, Matti Caspi, Oshik Levi, Shaike Levy, Gali Atari, Moni Moshonov, Margalit Tzan’ani, Tuvia Tzafir, Miki Kam, Hanan Yovel and of course Keshet. Proceeds from the event will be transferred to actors living in conditions of economic distress.