HOW REFRESHING it was to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walking into the sea and getting their feet wet: So delightfully candid, so different from the formal handshakes, and so obviously enjoyable to both. The impact could be judged by the number of print media and on-line photo editors who chose a photograph from that series to feature in publications not only in Israel and India but in many parts of the world. It was a photo that simply spoke to anyone who saw it. But then again there are pranksters in the world, and before long, Photoshop whizzes were editing everyone from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to a floating-in-the-Dead-Sea Mariah Carey into online posts.
Another prankster remembered the outrageous action of Likud MK Oren Hazan, who at the welcome reception for US President Donald Trump jumped out of line and took a selfie of himself with the president. Thus, Netanyahu and Modi getting their feet wet was photoshopped to show a triumphant Hazan emerging from the water with camera held aloft to score a double whammy for two prime ministers and a grinning Oren.
■ APROPOS MODI, when dining at the Prime Minister’s Residence with the Netanyahus, he was served some of his favorite Indian delicacies by none other than the Queen of Curry, Reeena Pushkarna. The Indian restaurateur, who produces special culinary delights for conductor Zubin Mehta when he’s in Israel, and actually cooked for Modi during his first visit to Israel eleven years ago as chief minister of Gujarat, is used to vegan and vegetarian cooking. A special section of the kitchen in her restaurant in Herzliya Pituah is reserved for Jains, the Indians who are so vegan that they don’t eat root vegetables because they believe that root vegetables have a soul.
As a mark of respect, Pushkarna who has also run kosher eateries in her time, knows how important it is to people who maintain certain diets for religious or ideological reasons, to be sure that their dietary laws are not violated. Whereas in Israel, many vegetarians are willing to eat fish and eggs, in India, such items are vegetarian no-nos. Netanyahu, anticipating some exotic Indian fish dish, was informed by Pushkarna, that in India fish is not considered to be vegetarian. Nonetheless what she and her staff did prepare appealed so much to Netanyahu’s palate, that he remarked to Modi, that perhaps he might become a vegetarian himself.
Actually Netanyahu is no stranger to Indian cuisine. When he and his wife were still courting, he took her on a date to an Indian restaurant in Tel Aviv, which coincidentally belonged to Pushkarna and her husband Vinod. Netanyahu has since sampled Pushkarna’s famed fish dishes more than once and had been looking forward to doing so again, but in the long run there was plenty to compensate for his missing out. Modi’s favorite food is khichdi, a healthy rice and lentils dish, which naturally was part of the extensive menu.
■ SEEN IN conversation in a corner of the coffee shop at the King David Hotel this week was a somewhat unlikely group of people, including Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Ambassador to Israel Joseph Rutabana, former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein, Ron Prosor, former Israel Ambassador to the United Nations and Avram Grant, an international soccer coach who has also coached the Israel national team. Their connection? Weinstein went to Rwanda in late 2015, while still in office, and met with President Paul Kagame, who was visiting Israel this week, Prosor has been involved in the strategy of enhancing Israel’s relations with Africa. In November, 2014, Grant was appointed coach of the Ghana National Team, which in 2015 was beaten by Ivory Coast on a penalty kick and wound up as runner-up in the Africa Cup of Nations. He resigned in February this year after Ghana lost to Cameroon and Burkina Faso in the ACN semi-finals. Rutabana said that he was trying to persuade Grant to manage Rwanda’s National Team.
■ WHEN SHIMON PERES was alive, most visiting heads of state and government as well as foreign ministers made what could almost be described as a pilgrimage to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation to meet with Israel’s elder statesman who was always more honored and respected abroad than he was at home. This was evident by the number of past and present heads of state and government and other representatives of many countries who came to Israel for his funeral last year.
However even though his son Chemi is doing a masterful job as chairman of the Peres Center, the younger Peres comes to Jerusalem to meet visiting heads of state and government, instead of them coming to him. Thus his meeting this week with Rwandan President Paul Kagame took place at the King David Hotel.
Kagame who had met several times with Shimon Peres, with whom he had a long standing relationship, referred to him as “my friend” and said that he had given inspiration and hope to many people around the world. Kagame and Chemi Peres discussed technology and the building of “a technological bridge” between Israel and Rwanda. It had been part of his father’s vision, said Peres, that every country in the world should strengthen its economy by basing it on advanced technology.
■ WHEN DEFENSE Minister Avigdor Liberman and his wife Ella were invited by their good friends, international businessman Amnon Aharanov and his wife Grenata of Jerusalem, to join them in celebrating the marriage of their daughter Hodaya to Eliya Akiva, Liberman knew from past experience at other people’s celebrations that whether he liked it or not, he would become the guest of honor. But what he didn’t know was to what extent.
It just so happened that the wedding at the Artemisia banquet hall in the capital took place on the eve of Liberman’s 59th birthday.
The Aharonovs are originally from Bukhara where any excuse for a celebration becomes a ceremonial affair. And so the Libermans to much fanfare were attired in the traditional long gold embroidered Bukharan coats, and the birthday honoree also sported a gold head-dress.
But the best surprise was the huge marzipan cake fashioned in the form of a tank to signify how far the defense minister, who had arrived Israel in 1978 as a 20-year-old Moldovan immigrant, had come. The Liberman’s happily entered into the spirit of the Bukharan festivities, but Aharonov later took back the coats.
“I didn’t want anyone to be under the impression that I might be bribing him,” he quipped.
Aharonov met Ella Liberman more than 20 years ago, well before he met her husband. She had been working as a volunteer with Keren Klita, an organization dedicated to helping Russian immigrants in their absorption process. Most came to Israel with little more than a suitcase and a musical instrument. They had no money, no furniture, no household essentials. Aharonov had a huge warehouse filled with diverse items of merchandise as well as delicacies that he imported from all over the world. When Ella Liberman came to see him to ask for his help, she didn’t say whose wife she was. Very modest in her manner, she came to ask whether he could donate anything to Keren Klita. Aharonov had also come to Israel with next to nothing and had worked as a hotel waiter to pay his way through university, so he could certainly empathize with the plight of the new immigrants. He told Ella Liberman to look around and to take whatever she felt was needed. Naturally she returned again and again as more immigrants came into her orbit. She was an important liaison because she spoke both Hebrew and Russian. At some stage she introduced Aharonov to her husband, and the two families became close friends. When Liberman, as foreign minister, when to Africa in June, 2014 Aharonov was part of his entourage.
■ WHILE THE majority of rabbis on the so-called blacklist of the Chief Rabbinate, are Conservative and Reform, the few Orthodox rabbis on the list include Yeshiva University alumnus Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, who has brought literally thousands of immigrants from North America to Israel. The blacklist contains the names of rabbis who cannot perform marriages in Israel and whose conversions of non-Jews to Judaism are allegedly unacceptable in Israel.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau was shocked that a black list of 160 rabbis from 24 countries around the globe had been compiled by Rabbi Itamur Tubul, a clerk from the Chief Rabbinate’s office, who had distributed the list but had not bothered to inform the chief rabbis that such a list existed. The ensuing tumult may hopefully lead to something good, but also provides food for thought that so many negative things that are attributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are lone wolf enterprises which have deliberately not been brought to the prime minister’s attention. It’s yet another example of a chain being no stronger than its weakest link
■ SEVERAL AMERICAN rabbis come to Israel to perform the wedding and/or bar/bat mitzva ceremonies of present and past congregants. Rabbi Hershel Billet of New York’s Long Island Young Israel of Woodmere Congregation, which is the largest Orthodox congregation in the Five Towns, will be in Israel next month to conduct a bar mitzva ceremony at Hazvi Yisrael congregation in Jerusalem on Shabbat Nachamu, the first Sabbath after Tisha B’av.
Quite a large number of his former congregants and other people who used to live in Woodmere are now residents of Israel, and may care to meet him. US Ambassador David Friedman also comes from Woodmere. Billet, a former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, was recently interviewed by the New York Jewish Week’s editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt. He told Rosenblatt that the RCA is seeking to balance its commitment to Orthodox prayer at the Kotel with its respect for members of the broader Jewish community, “who we recognize as fellow Jews, our brothers and sisters, and we do not belittle their sincere desire to pray at the Kotel.”
Billet made it clear that problem was not created by Orthodox Jews in America and emphasized that “the responsibility lies with the Israeli government, including the haredi parties, as well as Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, all of whom agreed in January 2016 to the egalitarian plan.” As if addressing the Israeli government through Rosenblatt, Billet declared: “You backed out of your agreement and then you stuck us in the Diaspora with the problem – that’s the thrust of it.” He suggested that the Israel government “resolve the mess it created.”
■ DURING THE race for the chairmanship of the Labor Party, the ethnic genie once more came out of the bottle, with many media references to the fact that Amir Peretz had been born in Morocco and that Avi Gabbay, who came out of nowhere to win the chairmanship, is of Moroccan parentage. This was going against the grain of what had essentially been an Ashkenazi enclave, with a few noted exceptions over the years such as Shlomo Hillel, Mordechai Ben-Porat, Shoshana Arbeli Almozlino, Shlomo Ben Ami, Shimon Shetreet, Dalia Itzik, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Eitan Cabel among others. If Gabbay, in his victory address, meant what he said about utilizing Peretz’s wisdom and experience, and Peretz meant what he said about being part of a united effort to win more votes and take them away from other parties in the bid to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the two could use their ethnic background to win the hearts and minds of mayors in peripheral areas.
Most of these mayors are of North African background and vote Likud. With Gabbay and Peretz working as a team, they might well succeed where efforts by Ashkenazi party leaders failed. Peretz, during his campaign, consistently declared that he did not want Netanyahu to be indicted as a result of the investigations being conducted by the police. This was not the way he wanted to beat Netanyahu. He wanted to beat him at the ballot box.
Incidentally, the ballot box is an expression that will soon disappear in an increasingly digital age. Votes in the Labor primaries were conducted on digital tablets in which voters’ ID numbers were checked off on a computer, and voters when actually voting typed their ID numbers onto a screen behind a boxed stand, then tapped a portrait on the screen, to signify who they were voting for. Then they tapped the screen again to verify the vote. That’s how the instantly computerized and counted results were known so quickly.
■ IMPATIENT APPEARS to be the name of the game with most Kan broadcasters with the noted exception of Yaakov Eichler, the brother of MK Israel Eichler, The two brothers are both journalists by profession, but whereas Israel Eichler – who used to appear as a panelist on Popolitika on Channel One (the forerunner of Kan 11) with the late Tommy Lapid and the late Amnon Dankner and had a reputation as a screamer –Yaakov Eichler is laid back, soft-spoken and polite and always gives his interviewees a chance to actually say what they want to say.
Not so most other Kan broadcasters, who rudely interrupt their interviewees in mid-sentence and then tell them that their time is up without really giving them the chance to explain an issue or to express their viewpoints. This is very frustrating not only to interviewees but also to listeners who want to hear the interviewees’ opinions on specific matters. What was incredibly annoying last weekend was the fact that MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Itzik Shmuly who were brought on by Tamar Almog and Yair Weinreb to say why they respectively supported Avi Gabbay and Amir Peretz, were constantly interrupted not only by the program’s presenters but also by current affairs anchor Aryeh Golan and chief political reporter Yoav Krakovsky.
To their credit, neither Yacimovich nor Shmuly lost their cool, and each, without getting even remotely flustered, asked for the opportunity to complete what they wanted to say in favor of their candidate for the Labor Party chairmanship. Public broadcasting is supposed to be a vehicle of information, but Almog and Weinreb are fast turning it into a vehicle of brinkmanship. On the other hand it cannot be ignored by regular listeners and viewers than Kan broadcasters are working much harder than they did at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, particularly Krakovsky who seems to be on a radio/TV merry-go-round, with little opportunity for sleep.
Kan has to some extent shattered imagined images of former radio-only broadcasters who now broadcast on both radio and TV and whose faces somehow don’t match their voices. Kan still has an aggravating problem of telephone connection, the delay aspect of which in comparison to Channels 2 and 10 is annoying in itself. But too often, an anchor announces that so-and-so will now report by phone – and there is no phone connection. Still, to be fair, Kan is improving in other areas, for instance in late-night to pre-dawn broadcasts to which it is gradually adding more talk shows. It’s now around the half way mark of its 100 days of grace, so hopefully by the triple digit mark, it will have succeeded in completely getting its act together.
■ ON SATURDAY night, on its television news round-up, Kan introduced a nostalgia corner hosted by Uri Levy. This week marked the 25th anniversary of the inauguration of the second Rabin-led government, which Levy said had some current relevance in that it was shown two days prior to the second round of the Labor Party elections for a new chairman. Levy showed Rabin making his Knesset address prior to taking his government to the President’s Residence to be photographed with president Chaim Herzog.
The camera also caught other members of the Labor Party including a young Amir Peretz with a huge bushy mop of black hair and a large handle-bar mustache, and Dalia Itzik with a black pony tail before she took on her sleek, sophisticated image with a short hair style in shades of russet and blonde. The only member of that government still in office is Interior Minister Arye Deri, who was then a minister without portfolio. Also seen in the camera’s panning of the Knesset were Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir.
■ GETTING BACK to Aryeh Golan, who has from time to time been criticized by listeners for being over-opinionated and for what they perceive as his left wing views, proved on Sunday that when there are non-partisan issues at stake, national unity needs no encouragement. It’s a natural response. To give UNESCO a better understanding of where they had erred, Golan read on air the passage from Genesis in which Abraham the patriarch of the Jewish people, purchases land in Hebron as a burial place for his wife Sara, the matriarch of the Jewish people. Two hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read the same passage and its extension at the weekly cabinet meeting.
■ WALLA REPORTED on a unique reaction to UNESCO’s denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Hebron, and its declaration that Hebron is a Palestinian heritage site. Several years ago, when UNESCO named the Bahai Gardens in Haifa as a World Heritage Site, the Haifa Municipality established UNESCO Square for Tolerance and Peace adjacent to the entrance to the Gardens. Now local resident Nir Shuber is leading a campaign to have the square renamed, because rather than symbolizing peace and tolerance, the square in recent years has become a site for anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Shuber does not believe that this is coincidental. Demonstrators are aware that UNESCO is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel, and as such he sees no reason for UNESCO to be honored in Haifa or anywhere else in Israel.
■ MANY JERUSALEMITES have been baffled for years as to why the Transportation Ministry has allowed Egged to maintain a monopoly in the capital which has Israel’s largest population, whereas Tel Aviv, in addition to hosting several companies operating bus lines within the city, also has a 24/7 sherut (multiple hire taxi) service. There is no official sherut service within Jerusalem, although there is an inter-city sherut service, and some sherut drivers who bring passengers into Jerusalem late at night when buses are few and far between, will sometimes take passengers to their destinations for an additional charge. Airport sheruts take them to their destination with charging extra.
According to Ofer Bekowitz, who heads the Hitorerut faction on the Jerusalem City Council, the Transportation Ministry has accepted Hitorurut’s demand that the Egged monopoly be broken. The Hitorerut demand was made in response to an Egged Watch report that was based on 25 Egged bus routes which were monitored during the month of January this year, and the high ratio of late arrivals in relation to information posted on the electronic boards at major bus stations.
The Transportation Ministry subsequently ran its own research at central bus stations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere, where passengers standing in line and waiting for a bus were questioned on the frequency that they travel by bus, how long it takes them to get from home or work to the Central Bus Station. The bottom line, according to Berkowitz, is that the Minister of Transportation will take some of the Egged buses out of Jerusalem and deploy them in the center of the country and will introduce at least one more bus company. As yet there is no news as to whether Jerusalem will get an internal sherut network.