GRAPEVINE: Kenyatta says Israel is ‘a young country full of energy’

News roundup from around Israel

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February 25, 2016 20:31
PRESIDENT UHURU KENYATTA chats with Supreme Court president emeritus Meir Shamgar on Tuesday.

PRESIDENT UHURU KENYATTA chats with Supreme Court president emeritus Meir Shamgar on Tuesday, while President Reuven Rivlin looks on.. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)

 
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Oozing charm and charisma, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta apologized for arriving late to the state dinner hosted in his honor by President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama.

Kenyatta explained that he had been visited at his hotel by a man and his wife who had known his father, and in the case of the man, he had dared to go and see Jomo Kenyatta when he was under house arrest prior to Kenya’s achieving independence from British rule. “He couldn’t stop talking and I couldn’t stop listening,” said Kenyatta without naming the man in question.

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But it could have been none other than Asher Naim, the man sent by the Foreign Ministry to be an Israeli presence in Kenya in the latter half of 1961. Almost immediately after arrival in Nairobi, Naim made his way to Kenyatta’s home, which was heavily guarded by the British, but nonetheless he was able to gain entry. Naim had told Kenyatta that since Israel was a country that had already freed itself from the British, he had been instructed to come to Kenya and offer its experience in nation-building.

Naim met Kenyatta several times after that and a warm friendship and close cooperation developed both before and after Kenya’s independence. Naim had initially gone to Kenya for two months, but he stayed for three years and helped plan the cornerstone ceremony for Israel’s embassy in Nairobi, which was attended by Golda Meir, who was then foreign minister, as well as by Kenyatta.

There was another aspect of Kenyan-Israeli history awaiting Uhuru Kenyatta at the dinner at the President’s Residence. Sitting one table away from the head table was the president emeritus of Israel’s Supreme Court, Meir Shamgar. In 1944, the British exiled Shamgar and others who later became prominent figures in Israel to various detention camps in Eritrea, Sudan and Kenya. In the opening of his address of welcome, Rivlin noted Shamgar’s presence and his internment in Kenya together with other Zionist activists such as Yaakov Meridor, Shmuel Tamir and Haim Corfu. After the main course of the dinner, Rivlin brought Kenyatta to meet the 90-year-old Shamgar, and they had an animated discussion about Shamgar’s stay in Kenya.

In his own address, Kenyatta referred to a remark made by Rivlin to the effect that 30 percent of the flowers sold in Europe on Valentine’s Day are grown in Kenya. “It is so fitting that your country is the one to send love to the world,” Rivlin had said, to which Kenyatta ad-libbed: “It takes two to make love.” Kenya would not have been in a position to produce the roses which it exports to the world without the help of Israeli technology, he declared.

In listing some of Kenya’s major events and achievements, Kenyatta said that he wants to host the first Israel-Africa Trade Conference in Nairobi. “We as Kenyans are proud of our historic friendship with Israel,” he said.



Relating to his visit, he said that he and his delegation had found Israel to be “a young country full of energy and people of extraordinary achievement.” Relating to the security issues that challenge both countries, Kenyatta said that they must together strive for peace because “peace is a prerequisite for development.”

It’s a known fact that Rivlin has a wellhoned sense of humor, but so apparently has Kenyatta, judging by the peals of laughter that emanated from the head table. Aside from that, Kenyatta had obviously made a good impression, because guests kept coming up to the head table to congratulate him and shake his hand. At the close of the dinner, after he had kissed Nechama Rivlin on both cheeks, he was literally mobbed by people who wanted selfies with him. Just before they left the dais, Rivlin said that this had not been a state reception but a meeting among friends.

If Kenyatta was excited by his meeting with Naim, he was even more excited on Thursday when he met with former president Shimon Peres, who also knew his father and has a fund of anecdotes about him.

GENERALLY SPEAKING, the daily media, with the exception of The Jerusalem Post, tend to ignore the presentation of diplomatic credentials, unless the ambassadors concerned represent the United States, Egypt or Jordan. Sometimes there is coverage of ambassadors of other countries by representatives of media outlets from their respective countries, but very seldom are there more than two or three journalists present.

However, because Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat was listed among the ambassadors scheduled to present credentials on Thursday, the president’s spokesmen were flooded with requests from photojournalists who asked to cover the event. In fact, there were so many photographers, who apparently did not have other assignments at that time, that it was decided in the final analysis that pictorial coverage would be only by the Government Press Office photographer.

Khairat is Egypt’s sixth ambassador to Israel since 1980 when Saad Mortada presented credentials amid great fanfare. He was followed by Mohammed Bassiouni, who maintained the post for 14 years and integrated beautifully into Israeli society as did his wife, Nagwa, who was often suspected of being a spy. Then there was a five-year hiatus without an Egyptian ambassador, although the Egyptian Embassy remained operational.

Muhammad Assem Ibrahim was ambassador from March 2005 to September 2008, and was promptly succeeded by Yasser Reda who remained in office till August 2012, after which there was Atef Mohammed Salem, who spent more time in Egypt than in Israel, but no alternative appointment was named until June of last year. However, Khairat did not arrive till early this year, more than three years after Salem’s return home.

■ IRISH CHILDREN’S rights activist, philanthropist and writer Christina Noble, who founded the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation in 1989, was in Israel last week for the Middle East premiere of her autobiographical film.

She herself has lived through the experience of being a child at risk in her native Dublin.

Only 10 years old when her mother died, she was sent to an orphanage and was falsely told that her three siblings were also dead. Conditions in the orphanage were cruel, so she ran away and was gang-raped, which resulted in the birth of a son who was forcibly taken from her and given out for adoption. Burying her pain somewhere in her subconscious, she married and gave birth to three more children.

Much too familiar with abuse, which she also suffered at the hands of her husband, she began her global crusade on behalf of abused children after the Vietnam War, when she had a dream that children were calling to her and crying for help. Since then she has established more than 100 shelters for children at risk. She has been decorated by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of her dedication to children’s rights.

While in Israel, she met with the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who is a child psychologist.

The two spoke about family and love and the individual work that each has done with children. Netanyahu also went to see the film at the end of last week at Cinema City Glilot, where it was made available for philanthropic purposes by brothers Moshe and Leon Edery, the owners of Cinema City, and Benny Shvili of Shoval Films. Proceeds from the sale of tickets went to the Lilach organization, which maintains club houses for youth at risk. Moderator for the evening was actress Esti Zakheim, whose mother, Varda Zakheim, is the Lilach chairwoman.

■ ISRAELI SUPERMODEL
Bar Refaeli, who annoyed store holders in the Negev Azrieli Mall in Beersheba, not to mention wouldbe shoppers, when she had the whole place closed down for two days in advance of the grand opening of her store, continues to be in trouble with the tax authorities. She was again questioned for a lengthy period on Wednesday, this time on suspicion that she was selling off couture gowns that had been given to her by leading designers. Refaeli’s lawyers have stretched the imagination in the effort to prove their client’s innocence, and indeed according to law she is innocent until found guilty, but the tax people are not making it easy for her.

■ ANOTHER ISRAELI
supermodel who is making news is Galit Gutman, 43, who has been chosen as the presenter for an underwear company. This in a sense counters the recent decision by Golbary to break its long-standing contract with actress and model Ayelet Zurer, 46. British supermodel Naomi Campbell, 45, who is due to arrive in Israel in time for International Women’s Day, this week led the Burberry new season’s fashion show in London, and earlier in the month appeared in Kanye West’s Yeezy Fashion Show in New York. Slightly older at 50, eternal supermodel Cindy Crawford is still in demand and looks like a million dollars. Every time she thinks of retiring, she gets another offer she can’t refuse. Then again, 50 is the new 30, which is the actual age that Refaeli has reached now.

■ IN ISRAEL
for the Tel Aviv Marathon, and more than 20 kilos lighter than when he was in Israel last year, Shimon Zakai of New York was inspired by his visit to the city’s Reut Medical and Rehabilitation Center. A member of the American Friends of Reut, he wanted to view the center’s work close up. While touring the facility, he met with Dudi Kanterovich, a young man who had been seriously injured in a cycling accident and had undergone a long period of rehabilitation, to the extent that he had to learn to walk again. In the course of the moving conversation between them, Kanterovich invited Zakai to join him in running the marathon on behalf of the hospital and in memory of his fellow cyclists and friends who had also been involved in the accident but had met their deaths. Zakai, who weighed 120 kg. at the time, was very moved, and returned to the Big Apple determined to get into shape for the run. He went on a strict diet, worked out regularly and returned to Israel considerably thinner and in fine form.

■ THE ISRAEL Project seems to have been a stepping-stone for several members of its staff. Calev Ben David, who was the founding executive director of TIP, is now a senior correspondent for Bloomberg News. Eli Ovits, who was director of communications with TIP, went on to become executive vice president and CEO for Jerusalem U, and was recently appointed executive director of the Global Limmud Network, which necessitates his relocating from Jerusalem to London.

Sharon Segel, who was a communications associate with TIP, is now press officer at the British Embassy. Laura Kam, who was TIP’s executive director for global affairs, now has her own global strategies agency.

And the latest news about former TIP personnel is that Marcus Sheff, who is a former TIP executive director, has been appointed CEO of IMPACT-SE, an interdisciplinary organization that monitors peace and cultural tolerance in school education. Sheff, who has a strong background in journalism, marketing communications and international business development, and is also a major in the reserves in the IDF Spokesman’s Office, says that he’s excited about meeting the challenges of his new role.

“We need to know what kind of education drives a 13-year-old to pick up a knife and stab another 13-year-old boy in Jerusalem, to expose it and to demand change,” he says. “Extremism is threatening the safety of whole societies, while the most vulnerable of all – children – are being dragged by the thousands into hate and violence.”

Since its establishment in 1998, IMPACTSE has researched textbooks, teacher’s guides and curricula used in the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran. Its reports have been used by members of the US Congress, the European Parliament and the Knesset, to demand changes in the curricula and textbooks of Middle East countries, and to condition the allocation of funds accordingly.

■ ONE OF the greatest tragedies in Israel is the lack of concern for girlfriends of fallen soldiers or of young men who have died unexpectedly in traffic accidents or as a result of a sudden heart attack. According to Jewish law, the mourners at the shiva – the seven-day mourning period – are only the immediate family. The girlfriend doesn’t count, even if she was a fiancée. For young women all over the country, this has been an enormously traumatic experience, especially in such cases where she had no previous contact with the deceased’s family or they simply didn’t like her. While families of the deceased are being visited by relatives and friends who are paying condolence calls, the girlfriend mourns alone.

Or Lemishpahot (Light for the Families) ensures that the girlfriend is given recognition and at the beginning of this week, the organization held a very moving meeting in Tel Aviv with the participation of the president’s wife, along with bereaved mothers, wives and girlfriends.

Rivlin described the girlfriends as “widows without wedding rings.” She praised the organization for encouraging the mothers of the deceased to form close relationships with their daughters-in-law or with the young women who in time might have become their daughters-in-law. Among the mothers present was Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons and was accompanied by Shlomit, the widow of her son Eliraz Peretz.

■ TOWARD THE end of last year, the Health Ministry issued a statement to the effect that it and the Social Equality Ministry were jointly initiating a national program to provide subsidized dental treatment to Israel’s elderly population Israel via the HMOs (kupot holim).

Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel held a work meeting to advance this initiative, with the aim of improving the quality of life of senior citizens.

Participants in the meeting discussed steps required for including dental health services for persons aged 70 and over in the health services basket under the responsibility of the HMOs, taking into account aspects of funding, formulation of appropriate criteria, determination of a basket of treatments, operation and implementation of the move.

The ministers announced that the two ministries were setting up a joint task force, which would submit its recommendations within 60 days.

Litzman said at the time: “After having carried out a reform in dental treatment for children, we are now working to broaden the reform also for the elderly population of Israel.

Together with the Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, we are working to lead a joint social move that will do justice to the previous generation and ease their heavy burden, medically and economically.”

Gamliel added: “This socioeconomic move, of utmost importance, will benefit the health and welfare of senior citizens in Israel, being the step that naturally follows on from the important reform led by Health Minister Litzman in respect of free dental treatment for children. The state has a responsibility for its citizens, how much more so for those who have contributed and given it the best years of their lives.”

The state also has a responsibility to Holocaust survivors, a fact that is repeated ad infinitum when there is a news item about a Holocaust survivor having to make a choice as to whether his or her meager means will be spent on food or medication.

It often appears as if the government is looking toward good-hearted members of the public to do its job for it, as was the case this week when Yediot Aharonot reported that 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Moshe Eliahu is seriously ill and suffers from the most agonizing toothaches, but was denied financial help by the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority in the Finance Ministry unless he could prove that his dental problems are the result of his Holocaust experiences. Many readers immediately contacted the paper, offering financial aid. Even Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who in his heart is minister for social welfare, gave instructions that Eliahu should be assisted immediately.

While grateful for the response, Eliahu’s wife, Osnat, said that her husband had been fortunate, but that there are many others like him who also require aid, and no one is helping them, because their stories were not made public.

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