Several months before US President Donald Trump received the globally publicized bear hug from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Reuven Rivlin had been locked in Modi’s embrace during Rivlin’s November 2016 visit to India. The two are due to meet again on Wednesday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where one suspects that despite the heat of the day, Rivlin will get a bear hug even warmer than the time before.
Modi is also scheduled to meet on Wednesday with Moshe Holtzberg, who was barely two years old when his parents, Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg, Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, were murdered in a terrorist attack on Chabad House in 2008. The Indian prime minister expressed the wish to meet Holtzberg, now 10 years old, and Sandra Samuels, the Indian nanny who saved him and came with him to Israel to be with him. In view of the circumstances, she was given honorary citizenship and permitted to stay. She could not quite believe it when Moshe’s grandfather, Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, told her that she had been invited to meet her country’s prime minister, and needless to say, she feels greatly honored.
The ever-increasing close relationship between Israel and India can be illustrated in some respects in separate interviews conducted by Kan 11’s Yaakov Ahimeir with India’s Ambassador Pavan Kapoor and Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon. Ahimeir asked each of them why Modi was not visiting the Palestinian Authority, and each replied, “Because he is visiting Israel.” Kapoor said that while India continues to support the Palestinian cause, relations with Israel and the Palestinians are independent of each other, and India has explained this “to our Palestinian friends.”
Carmon said that, 30 years ago, Indian passports had printed on them that they were not valid for entry to Israel. Modi’s visit comes at a time when Israel and India are celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations.
The website of the Israel Embassy in India, in reference to the cabinet’s resolution to strengthen ties with India, stated: “This resolution is a direct result of the Israeli prime minister’s instructions to concentrate governmental efforts on strengthening political, economic, scientific and cultural ties with India.
“Celebrating 25 years of Indo-Israel diplomatic relations, the government resolution aims at combining the capabilities of both the Indian and Israeli economies for the benefit of both countries. The measures to be taken by the government ministries stress the importance of our growing partnership in various fields: agriculture, water, innovation and research and development, space, cyber, health and more.
“In addition, the resolution has placed an emphasis on bringing the modern peoples of two ancient nations closer together, through deepening cultural ties and encouraging tourism. A flagship project will be undertaken by both governments in the field of water and agriculture, which will demonstrate Israel’s capabilities while providing solutions to current Indian needs. The project will include solutions to the following concerns: water conservation, reducing pollution along the Ganges River, using recycled water in irrigation and increasing agricultural production.”
The website of the Indian Embassy stated: “The time is ripe for our two countries to explore the full potential of commonality and the complementary nature of our respective economies and work in tandem for the mutual benefit of our peoples. We are joining hands with the Israeli government and Israeli Embassy in India to commemorate the year in a befitting manner and take steps towards our shared goal of further strengthening our ties.”
■ A NEW broom sweeps clean, and although there was much that was familiar at the American Independence Day reception at the US residence in Herzliya Pituah on Monday night, there was much that was different. Among the thousands of people who did not go to listen to the canned music of lip-syncing Britney Spears at Hayarkon Park, but opted instead to accept the invitation of US Ambassador David Friedman and his wife, Tammy, were representatives of West Bank communities and people with right-wing sympathies, who had not been included on previous Fourth of July invitation lists. Among the male guests, there were many more kippa-wearers than in past years, with the range going from tiny postage-stamp, knitted skullcaps to big, black velvet versions and everything between – mostly of the variety worn by the National Religious camp.
The most familiar face was that of former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who said that it was very nice of Friedman to invite him. Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, who is currently in the US, hosted last year’s American Independence Day reception at the residence and the four before that. Shapiro came with his eldest daughter, Liat, and was instantly swamped by people who wanted to hug him or shake his hand. He stayed till well after the spectacular fireworks display at the end of the evening.
For as long as anyone could remember, it was the first time during the official part of the evening that there had been no speech by the president of Israel. In past years there were speeches by the US ambassador, followed by the president and the prime minister of Israel. Rivlin had committed to address the opening session of the Makor Rishon Conference, which was held on the same evening at the Tel Aviv Hilton. But as someone who never tires of repeating that America is Israel’s closest ally, Rivlin could not ignore the Independence Day celebrations, so he came early and sat and chatted for a while with the Friedmans before taking up his next engagement for the evening.
Many of the guests were waving fans, which were not very effective under conditions of crowding and intense humidity. One couldn’t help feeling sorry for all the haredim present who sweltered in their kapotas and black hats.
The official proceedings started later than usual – in fact, a whole hour and a half later than usual, partially due to the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, had earlier in the day toured the USS George H. W. Bush, which was anchored off Haifa, and which Netanyahu described in his address as “a floating piece of America.” During that tour he had repeated what he has said so often: “Israel has no better friend than the United States, and the United States has no better friend than Israel.”
During the singing of the anthems at the American residence, there was excitement among certain guests who noticed that both Friedman and his wife sang “Hatikva.” Friedman is the fourth Jewish ambassador of the US to serve in Israel, and Martin Indyk, who was the first, actually served twice. All four have strong personal connections to Israel, but Friedman was the first to sing “Hatikva,” though ambassadors from other countries, including non-Jewish ambassadors, have no problem singing “Hatikva” at their receptions.
Mentioning the artwork inside the residence, Friedman referred specifically to a painting by Lt. Hadar Goldin, one of two missing Israeli soldiers, believed dead, whose remains are being held by Hamas. Friedman noted that Goldin’s parents were among the guests. Friedman also noted that the Fourth of July is a sad day for Netanyahu, because it is the anniversary of the death of his older brother Yoni, who was killed in the Entebbe rescue mission on July 4, 1976.
In introducing Netanyahu, after having made his own speech in which he drew parallels between American and Israeli soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in fighting for peace, Friedman called Netanyahu “one of the most prominent leaders on the world stage” and also made the point that Netanyahu “is a personal friend of President Donald Trump.”
Netanyahu commented that, by a twist of fate, Friedman had celebrated his bar mitzva in Israel, whereas Netanyahu had celebrated his bar mitzva in America.
Going back to the beginning of US independence in 1776, Netanyahu said it was “a nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Exactly 200 years later, he said, he and his family had received the devastating news that his brother had been killed securing the freedom of the hostages held at Entebbe. It was the darkest moment of his life and of the lives of his parents, he said, something that has made him always remember the fallen sons of Israel and the grief that accompanies their parents.
Like Friedman, Netanyahu also related to Goldin and to St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, and pledged: “We are committed to bringing them home. We will bring them home.”
■ NEWS, LIKE time, waits for no man. What was big news on Sunday morning was the release from prison of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, for which many journalists, photographers and TV crews had to get out of bed in the wee small hours to cover his first moments as a free man. He was out before 6:30 a.m.
Kudos to Kan’s police reporter Rom Lior, who, even though Olmert left by the rear door of the prison, was able to tail Olmert’s car, almost bumper to bumper, until the car temporarily turned off the highway. There was some suspicion that Olmert would change cars to prevent being followed, but in the final analysis, he remained in his car.
Media people following him then wondered whether he would go to his home in Motza or to his other house, in Tel Aviv, or perhaps to the office of his lawyer Eli Zohar. But Olmert fooled them all and went shopping in the Gindi TLV Fashion Mall, where he was greeted by Avi Zamir, the former head of the Personnel Directorate of the IDF, who is currently CEO of the mall, and who took him on a tour of the spacious, ultra-modern premises.
Although Olmert has come in for a lot of criticism since being charged with corruption, he lost very few friends or supporters during the period of his trial, and it’s a well-known fact that many of his friends who are lawyers by profession were able to visit him in prison, on the grounds that they were giving him legal counsel. While he was strolling through the mall, many passersby stopped to wish him well. It wasn’t just a tour; he actually did purchase a few items that caught his eye.
■ LEADER OF the American Reform movement Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who canceled a scheduled meeting with Netanyahu following the growing rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry in the immediate aftermath of the government’s decision to suspend implementation of the construction of a pavilion for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall, is fed up with Israeli officialdom, but not with Israel per se. He is angry about slurs made against the Reform movement, but not so angry as to turn his back on good things that are being done in Israel.
For instance, accompanied by Shapiro and Dr. Scott Levinsky, a former senior adviser to the US ambassador, he visited the Ziv Medical Center, which has a phenomenal record of caring for patients wounded in the Syrian civil war and brought across the border for treatment. The trio were received by Dr. Morshid Farhat, the deputy director of the hospital, and social worker Fares Issa, who is responsible for the treatment of Syrian patients. In addition to meeting some of these patients, the trio also inspected other units and departments, including the new, specially protected children’s hospital, which opened a year ago, and the new radiation therapy department for cancer patients.
■ MEMBERS OF the Foreign Press Association in Israel gathered this week at the Adom Restaurant in Jerusalem’s First Station compound to celebrate the FPA’s 60th anniversary. In addition to veteran members and newcomers, seen mingling in the crowd were Government Press Office director Nitzan Chen and one of his predecessors, Uri Dromi, who currently heads the Jerusalem Press Club; Maj. Arye Shalicar, who is in charge of the European Desk of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit; as well as a couple of representatives of The Israel Project. The most veteran FPA member was Robert Berger from CBS Radio, who came early and stayed to the very end. People were having such a good time that the function went on for longer than initially anticipated.
Other veterans in attendance included photographers Debbi Hill and Heidi Levine, Chris Mitchell and July Stahl from CBS News, Ann Ponger, who writes for various German publications, and former FPA chairman Samer Shalabi. Some of the members, such as Isabel Kershner of The New York Times, brought their partners or spouses. Kershner came with her husband, Hirsh Goodman, the founding editor of The Jerusalem Report and a former military correspondent of The Jerusalem Post.
Sorely missed at the event was David Rubinger, who died in March. Rubinger, who in 1957 was one of the 31 founding members of the FPA, would have celebrated his 93rd birthday on June 29. A very loyal FPA member, he used to attend most of the functions throughout the year, and till the very end never went anywhere without his camera.
The founding chairman of the FPA was Francis Ofner, a Yugoslavian Holocaust survivor of a slave labor camp, who, after fleeing from Budapest to Turkey, was Balkan press liaison officer in Istanbul for the US Office of War Information. After settling in Tel Aviv in 1945, he worked as foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor and The Observer. He also contributed articles to German and Swiss publications and to the International News Service, New York. In Israel, he contributed to the Post and to L’Informacion. He was also vice chairman of the Israel-German Friendship Society and was Middle East consultant to the Alex Springer Foundation, Berlin and Hamburg. He was also a lawyer and diplomat. In later years, he served as senior lecturer in journalism at Tel Aviv University. He died in Tel Aviv in 2011 at age 98.
The FPA currently numbers some 400 members representing TV, radio, photojournalists, print and Web media from 32 countries, who mainly cover the many aspects of the Middle East conflicts but also focus on other developments in the region.
■ TO MARK the long-standing relationship between the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and the Republic of Italy, the powers that be at the Peres Center on Tuesday hosted a farewell reception for Italian Ambassador Francesco M. Talo, who is returning home in the near future. The event, which was attended by an Italian parliamentary delegation, was specifically in appreciation of the ambassador’s support for the center’s work. Also present was Italian member of Parliament Lia Quartapelle of the Democratic Party, who is in Israel as a special guest of the Peres Center, and who shared details of her work with the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network, which seeks to promote the participation of women in conflict prevention and mediation.
Nadav Tamir, former diplomatic adviser to the late Shimon Peres during his service as Israel’s ninth president, and currently on the center’s staff, lauded Talo as “a fantastic partner for the center and a true friend on both a personal level and as an exceptional supporter of our goals and vision and, today, in promoting the legacy of president Shimon Peres.” Tamir also recalled the deep affinity that Peres held for Italy and her people.
“Throughout his life and public service, as minister, prime minister, president and indeed post-presidency, Shimon Peres held special ties with Italy and its leaders,” said Tamir. “Italy was the last country that he visited before passing away and was a place that he visited on a yearly basis.”
■ “WHEN REPORTING from a war zone, truth is often the first casualty” was one of the statements in the Australian press release for the premiere of the documentary film Eyeless in Gaza, which was shown at the Jewish International Film Festival in Sydney and Melbourne last November. Angered by inaccuracies and what he considered to be outright bias, Sydney businessman Robert Magid, the owner of the Australian Jewish News and Polaris Films, spent a year producing this documentary directed by Martin Himmel, which is basically an investigative report on how, in Magid’s perception, the media skewered the news coming out of the conflict in Gaza in 2014. The film has since been screened in different parts of the world, with Magid participating in panel discussions on its content.
The China-born Magid, who came to Australia as a child in 1950, has pursued a variety of careers. Currently a real estate developer, hotelier, publisher, filmmaker and investor, Magid, who has lived in China, Israel, England and Australia, has had a varied career as a banker, economist, grain importer, toy designer and manufacturer of windows. During his seven years in Israel, he also served in the IDF.
With the kind of wealth that enables him to fix the world as he sees fit, he was able to make a film that would probably have great appeal for Trump, as it exposes fake news or news that is not exactly true. When he didn’t like the line adopted by the Australian Jewish News, which was a sufficiently liberated Jewish publication to feel free to criticize certain policies in Israel, he bought the paper and fired all the lefties.
Magid is back in Jerusalem, where he used to live and where his film has been previously shown. It will be screened again Wednesday night, July 5, at the Begin Heritage Center, under the auspices of NGO Monitor. Joining Magid in the panel discussion will be former IDF spokesman Peter Lerner, NGO Monitor president Prof. Gerald Steinberg, and journalists Ben-Dror Yemini and Michele Chabin.
■ ZAKA RESCUE and recovery organization chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav last week accompanied his paratrooper son Netanel, at Ammunition Hill at the ceremony marking the end of basic training. Writing on Facebook, Meshi-Zahav noted “what an honor to accompany my son, together with the best of Israel’s youth, on the last leg of the beret march. A time of satisfaction! Am Yisrael hai.”
Up until 28 years ago, Meshi-Zahav was a fervent anti-Zionist who was in and out of prison for anti-Zionist activities. But a leopard can change its spots, if not exactly its uniform, and Meshi-Zahav is proud of the fact that all of his sons have served either in the IDF or in civilian national service. His youngest son, Daniel, is about to go into the army. Netanel, who was a brilliant yeshiva student, received an exemption from army service without asking for it, and his father had to muster all the protekzia at his disposal to have Netanel’s profile changed so that he could become a combat soldier.