With ongoing proof that truth is stranger than fiction, veteran broadcaster Eliezer Yaari, in his weekly “From time to time” spot in Yaron Enosh’s Reshet Bet program “Kol Shishi,” which can be translated as either “Friday Voice” or “Sixth Voice,” shared a dream.
Yaari, a former television program director and presenter at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, said that he had dreamed about the whole Bibi-Noni affair as a movie in which he envisaged Roy Bar-Natan playing Ari Harrow.
The dream did not include the potential cast for the roles of Benjamin Netanyahu, Noni Mozes, Sheldon Adelson, Arnon Milchan, James Packer, and Sara Netanyahu. But there is no doubt that the story would indeed make a fascinating movie, especially as it becomes increasingly Machiavellian. Calls for the prime minister to step down, in view of what has so far been leaked to the press, pose a dilemma.
Interviewed on Israel Radio, Dalia Dorner, retired Supreme Court justice and head of the Israel Press Council, said that the law does not require Netanyahu to resign, but that he has a moral obligation to do so.
From the mammoth quantity of material published so far, it is difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. The public does not know what is based on hard evidence and what has been surmised by some journalist and subsequently embellished by others. One of the stories going around is that Milchan plied the Netanyahu family with gifts because he wanted Netanyahu to intercede on his behalf with US Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure that Milchan did not have to reapply for a visa every year, but could do so every 10 years as he had done previously.
Be that as it may, the media focus, which has largely been on the “revelations” involving the prime minister, has all but ignored the source of the leak. After all, this is a very high-level police investigation, and while the public certainly has a right to know, once the investigation has been completed, leaks point to a very disturbing situation in either the police force or the Prime Minister’s Office, but this is apparently less important than nailing the prime minister.
■ ARI RATH, former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, was buried on Monday at the Givat Hashlosha Cemetery. Among the mourners were Doris Bures, president of the Austrian Parliament, who specially came to Israel for the funeral, as did Gertraud Auer Borea d’Olmo, director-general of the Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss, Rath’s longtime Palestinian friend Saleh Turujman, who lives in Washington, former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, who read a eulogy on behalf of President Reuven Rivlin, former ambassador to Austria Natan Meron, Meron Medzini, who was director of the Government Press Office during the Yom Kippur War, Erwin Frenkel, who was Rath’s co-editor-in-chief, members of Rath’s family and a large contingent of former staff members of the Post who worked at the paper during Rath’s tenure.
Bures, knew Rath well, described him as “a passionate journalist and a discerning political observer; a builder of bridges between generations, states and groups; someone who, driven by his profound conviction, tirelessly fought for peace.” She also described Rath as “a constant admonisher against racism, antisemitism and violence.”
Referring to Rath having come on a Kindertransport from Vienna to Israel, where he spent 16 years on kibbutz before embarking on a career in journalism, then returning late in life to Vienna and from there to his final resting place on a kibbutz alongside his brother Max (Meshulam), Bures said: “As president of the Austrian Parliament, it was my profoundly personal wish that his country of birth be represented here today to pay its outstanding respects.”
In the message read out by Burg, Rivlin referred to Rath as “a hero of journalism and a hero of Jerusalem,” who lived a life perfectly balanced between that of the Israeli kibbutznik and the European gentleman.
Rath’s niece Orit Zaslavsky Rath spoke of Rath the family man who had been the ultimate uncle and like a second father to her. He had been her confidant and her best friend. Rath loved parties, and his niece had frequently been the moderator- cum-hostess at his birthday parties. She had never dreamed that she would have a similar role at his funeral. “Ari taught me the meaning of friendship. It means endless giving,” she said.
Sad as the occasion was, for former staff members of the Post, there was also a heartwarming aspect in that those who had not seen each other in years were able to reconnect.
Among them were Joanna Yehiel, Hanan Sher, Amy Levinson-Ducas, Abraham Rabinovich, Margery Greenfeld, Yitzhak Oked, Esther Hecht, Rachel Shefi, Jon Emmanuel, Barbara Opall- Rome, Joshua Brilliant, Judy Peres, Daphna Raz and some others. People with other media connections included Linda Rivkind, the second-in-command at the Jerusalem Press Club, and Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman, whose father, Charlie Weiss, now living in New York, worked for the Post before becoming the Israel Bureau chief of Voice of America, and Issa Ben-Rafael, who used to work at the Government Press Office. Rath would have enjoyed saying hello to everyone in his booming voice.
People who delivered the various eulogies spoke of Rath’s courage, integrity and his many kindnesses. For some two years he had appeared in the stage production Final Witnesses as one of six Austrian survivors of the Holocaust. The production was seen in various countries, and in Austria it was held several times at Vienna’s Burgtheater, where in two weeks’ time, said Borea d’Olmo, a memorial gathering will be held for him.
Meron, who spoke of Rath as a unique and riveting man full of optimism, vitality and energy, recalled that Rath loved to sit in Vienna’s famed Café Landtmann and hold court. When they made an appointment and Meron arrived, Rath was already sitting there, surrounded by mostly female admirers. Inasmuch as Rath had returned to his roots, “he was a proud Israeli and a proud Jew,” said Meron.
■ AS A performer, Shlomo Carlebach could not rely solely on the Jewish calendar. His concert dates were in accordance with the Gregorian calendar, as was the date of his birth on his passport. He was born on January 14, 1925. To mark the occasion, Rafi Kaplan, director of the Ma’aleh Religious Zionism Center, organized a Carlebach concert at Heichal Shlomo, where Carlebach had performed on at least three occasions.
The concert was held under the title of “How a song was born.” Kaplan and various singers spoke of how or where Carlebach’s melodies were inspired. One was at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, while he was visiting wounded soldiers. Another was in the subway of New York. Another was in Soviet Russia, and yet another at the Western Wall – and all were linked to specific events.
In addition to the new generation of Carlebach exponents, there were three veterans – Yehudah Katz, Yankele Shemesh and Chaim Dovid Saracik – who toured with him and played alongside him in Israel and in different parts of the world.
All in all, there were more than a dozen performers, with the musicians led by keyboard player Rabbi Dudi Leibowitz, who also sang. Kaplan stated that many more performers wanted to participate in the memorial tribute to Carlebach, but there simply wasn’t enough time. As it was, the concert went on for more than three hours without an intermission.
The generation diversity was reflected in the audience no less than it was on stage. There were people who had been with Carlebach in the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco in the 1960s, and there were youngsters still in yeshiva high schools, who had not yet been born at the time that Carlebach died. The vast majority belonged to the religious-Zionist camp, but there were also secular people and men with shtreimels. Carlebach appealed to people of all stripes.
In the 1970s and 1980s, many Israelis who were holders of foreign passports were sent to Russia to boost the morale of Russian Jews, who were already standing taller due to Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Kaplan, who was born in the US, was among those who were sent.
People asked him two questions, he said.
One was: “Are you really from Jerusalem?” The other was “Do you know Shlomo Carlebach?” The Singing Rabbi, as Carlebach was known worldwide, had twice visited Soviet Russia and had electrified mass Jewish audiences, miraculously restoring in them that spark of Judaism that Stalin and his cohorts had tried to extinguish.
While the spirit of Carlebach emanated from the stage at the concert, and was almost tangible in the auditorium as people joined in the singing, and toward the end began dancing, the true spirit of Carlebach was missing. Carlebach had a reputation for giving away his money to those in need, and was even known on more than one occasion to take the coat off his back and give it to a freezing beggar on Shabbat in the cold of a New York winter, because he could not handle money on that day. Half way through the concert, an elderly beggar, with a bent back, shuffled through the auditorium leaning heavily on a cane. His other hand was stretched out for coins. He made very little money that night. Hardly anyone gave him anything.
Giving him a single coin of only 10 agorot would still have been a mitzva; Carlebach would most certainly have given him more.
■ IT’S INTERESTING how yesteryear’s personae non gratae have become latter-day heroes. Raoul Wallenberg, who served in Hungary, and Chiune Sugihara, who served in Lithuania, were among diplomats who defied the orders of the foreign ministries of their various countries and issued visas, fake passports and other travel documents to Jews fleeing from the Nazis. In some cases such diplomats were vilified and stripped of their positions. But some years after the Second World War, when Jews who had been saved sought recognition for the diplomats who had risked their own lives and careers in the name of humanity, officials in their respective countries began to look at them with fresh eyes, in the realization that they had brought honor to their positions and to their nations.
This week, Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser held a memorial evening for Wallenberg at his residence and screened a film – now on YouTube – in which survivors who owed their lives to Wallenberg gave testimony. Considering the number of Raoul Wallenberg organizations around the world which for decades sought to discover his fate following his arrest by the Soviets, the Swedes could not help but make a hero of him.
No one knows exactly how many visas Sugihara issued, other than to agree that the total came to several thousand. During the war years, he was reassigned to East Prussia, then Czechoslovakia and Romania before the end of the war. While in Romania, he and his family were arrested by Soviet troops and were placed in a prisoner of war camp, where they remained for 18 months, until their release in 1946.
In 1947, the Japanese Foreign Office asked Sugihara to resign. The excuse was a trimming of the staff load, but several sources, including his wife, attributed the request as a polite form of dismissal for his departure from discipline while in Lithuania. After leaving the diplomatic corps, he worked in a number of menial positions.
In 1968, Yehoshua Nishri, while serving as an economic attaché at the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo, went looking for Sugihara.
Nishri, who was born in Poland, had fled to Lithuania as a teenager and had been the recipient of a Sugihara visa. It took a while, but Nishri finally succeeded in his quest, and in 1969 Sugihara visited Israel and met with some of the people who had benefited from his humanity. They began to lobby for him to be recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations, but that recognition was not forthcoming till 1985, by which time Sugihara was too ill to travel.
Today, the Japanese are very proud of Sugihara, so much so that on Thursday, January 26, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and Sunday, January 29, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita will host a screening and panel discussion on Sugihara, who in Lithuania was generally known as Sempo, because it was easier for people there to pronounce. The title of the film is Persona Non Grata.
■ BY CONTRAST, the people of the Philippines have always been proud that president Manuel Quezon, in a humane gesture, was more than willing to take in thousands of Jews fleeing from the Nazis. In keeping with International Holocaust Day, and as a kick-start to the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Philippines, the Philippine Embassy together with the American Jewish Committee and in cooperation with Filipino-American filmmaker Noel “Sonny” Izon will premiere the documentary An Open Door: Holocaust haven in the Philippines at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Wednesday, January 25.
■ IT IS not often that Rivlin corrects a newspaper headline, nor does he look a gift horse in the mouth, but on Monday, when he was presented with a facsimile of the front page of the New York Daily News from the day of Israel’s declaration of independence, he could not help but note that the headline stating in huge bold letters “4 Arab armies move on Zion” was incorrect, and said that the number should have been seven.
The occasion was a meeting with Mort Zuckerman, the chairman and editor-inchief of US News & World Report and current chairman and publisher of the Daily News, who, together with representatives and scholars of Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Zuckerman Institute trustees Eric J. Gertler and James S. Gertler came to celebrate the first anniversary of his long-term $100 million philanthropic initiative that enables top-level cooperation between American and Israeli scientists technologists and academics.
Rivlin, who is the son of a professor, told Zuckerman that it was a pleasure to start the morning in the company of so many professors.
“Maybe you can teach them something,” said Zuckerman. “I don’t teach, I only learn,” replied Rivlin.
Zuckerman, who has easy access to people in high places, had but one request of the president: “When you come to New York, please do not contact people on an alphabetical basis.”
■ GREATER COOPERATION between Israel and African states on bilateral and multilateral issues will help Israel in its quest to gain observer status at the African Union, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone, told Rivlin when they met last week. Koroma, who came to the President’s Residence with an 11-member delegation that included four ministers, was warmly welcomed by Rivlin, who immediately broached the subject of observer status at the African Union and raised the matter again toward the conclusion of the meeting, asking how Israel could achieve this ambition.
“You are on the right path,” replied Koroma, adding that the increase of countries that have bilateral ties with Israel will effect change “and you will become observers.”
The inability to be accorded observer status has long been a sore point with Israel.
“New thinking is emerging and it will come out openly,” said Koroma, referring not only to African states but also to Arab states.
Also attending the meeting was nonresident Ambassador to Sierra Leone Paul Hirschson, who is based in Senegal and is also nonresident ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Cape Verde. Koroma made it clear that his country wants a full-time Israel ambassador and an Israeli Embassy in Freetown.
■ TEARS OF joy and sadness mingled last Thursday when Or-Hadash Uriel – the eldest son of Maj. Eliraz Peretz, 32, of the Golani Brigade and a resident of Eli, who was killed in March 2010 in an exchange of fire with terrorists who were planting explosives along the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip – celebrated his bar mitzva.
The bar mitzva boy had been named after his uncle Lt. Uriel Peretz, who was also killed in action in Lebanon in 1998, and who had also served with the Golani Brigade.
The Peretz family was joined by many friends at the celebration, held at the Uriel Synagogue in Givat Ze’ev, which had been built by Or-Hadash’s late grandfather Eliezer and was named after his uncle. His grandmother Miriam Peretz, who has known so much sorrow, and his mother, Shlomit, beamed with joy. The prayer shawl and tefillin (phylacteries) that Or-Hadash had received on attaining maturity once belonged to his father, and his uncle Elyasaf, the younger brother of Eliraz, was the one who helped him to put them on for the first time. The Peretz family had also prepared a very special gift: Eliraz’s military backpack with a number of souvenirs inside: a Golani beret, a Hebrew Bible, a flag of Israel, a prayer book and even a letter that Eliraz had written to Shlomit when their first son was born.
An equally meaningful surprise was prepared for Or-Hadash by way of a film in which people from all over the country spoke about his father, Eliraz. The film was screened during the bar mitzva celebrations.
“This is not just a backpack. It is a backpack of life,” said Miriam Peretz. “Every time your life will become difficult and you will miss your father – you should open this bag and everything you find inside will give you strength.”
Since the death of her two sons, Miriam Peretz, who has a gift for emotional oratory, has become a symbol of bravery and steadfastness, and has embraced all soldiers, especially those serving in the Golani Brigade.
Peretz said she felt a jumble of emotions.
When she saw her grandson, a great sadness swept over her because his father was not with him. But then he reminded her so much of his father that she had taken comfort in the fact that so many people had come to rejoice with him on his great day.
Shlomit Peretz told her son that there was a reason that his father had chosen his name, which means new light, because he had indeed brought light into their lives.
Or-Hadash said that he would walk in the path that he knew his father wanted for him.
Among the guests were IDF officers, retired army personnel and OneFamily founders Marc and Chantal Belzberg, who have stood beside the Peretz family for years, and were delighted to have so happy a reason to be with them last week.
■ VETERAN JOURNALIST Dan Margalit, who broke the story of Leah Rabin’s illegal bank account in the United States at a time when Israelis were bound by draconian foreign currency laws, was working for Haaretz at the time. Both a television and print media journalist, Margalit has moved around a lot and currently works for Israel Hayom, where, given all the publicity about the relationship of the paper to Netanyahu, it could safely be assumed that none of the paper’s writers, including someone of Margalit’s prestige, would dare write anything that could be construed as negative with regard to the corruption probe into the gifts received by the prime minister and his family and the deal that never came off between him and Yediot Aharonot publisher Mozes.
But Margalit is very clever and, via both Twitter and Facebook, succeeded in writing an opinion piece that could be interpreted as either pro or con. If no charges are brought against Netanyahu, Margalit can point to what he wrote; and if the prime minister is destined to a fate similar to that of his predecessor, Margalit can boast that his integrity is intact, because he more or less challenged Netanyahu to submit to whatever interrogation was necessary.
He was far less charitable with Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who in bygone days was one of Margalit’s close friends. Margalit is the country’s No. 1 Olmert basher, and even after Olmert went to prison, did not stop denigrating him.
■ THOUGH VILIFIED and regarded as traitors in some quarters, the people engaged in Breaking the Silence consider themselves to be patriotic, and have broken the silence in a bid to restore Israel’s moral values, which they claim have been eroded.
The new spokesman for Breaking the Silence is Dean Issacharoff, who is taking over from Achiya Schatz, who is moving into another position in the organization.
Anyone who cares to investigate the new spokesman’s pedigree will see that he belongs to as patriotic a family as they come, and that he himself has displayed many signs of patriotic pride. Yet another case of not seeing the forest for the trees.