Grapevine July 14, 2019: Is Putin prescient?

A roundup of news from around Israel.

July 15, 2019 22:16
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (photo credit: REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV)


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Political pundits quipped last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin has already determined the outcome of Israel’s upcoming elections. In a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Monday, Putin invited him to come to Moscow in May 2020 for the 75th anniversary celebrations of the victory of the allied forces over Nazi Germany.

Last month, at the Russian National Day reception hosted by Ambassador Arkady Viktorov, President Reuven Rivlin hinted that Putin might be coming to Israel in January 2020 for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army. A couple of weeks later, in the course of a news conference in Osaka, Japan, Putin was asked about which world leaders he would be inviting to the Victory Day festivities.

“We believe that the anniversary of victory over Nazism is the most important event in the world, if only because by remembering such events, we must do everything possible so that nothing of the kind happens again,” he said. “If we consign it to oblivion, the threat of renewed large scale conflicts will increase,” he warned. “The world is explosive even today.” Putin noted that this explosive situation is talked about a great deal and reported at length by the media. With regard to invitations to world leaders, Putin said: “It is not up to us if they come or not. Our business is to invite them. We respect our partners and we always underscore the role and significance of our allies during the years of fighting Nazism.” He added that Russia also thinks of the underground anti-Nazi fighters in Germany as allies. He will be happy if Russia’s invitations to world leaders will be accepted, he concluded, “but if not, it is not critical, and in any case, we will celebrate this date in the proper way.”

■ ONE OF the oft repeated expressions in efforts to bring about change is that one person can make a difference. Sometimes that’s actually true, as in the case of Yael Robinson, a final-year high school student from Zichron Yaakov. While participating in a Holocaust memorial ceremony, she noticed that the memorial prayers adopted by Yad Vashem referred only to the Jews of Europe. Her grandfather, who came from Tripoli in Libya is a Holocaust survivor, and it angered her that the prayers omitted victims from Arab lands. She voiced her dismay to a Holocaust-oriented organization participating in the ceremony, and the complaint was passed on to Yad Vashem with the result that the text was changed to include North African Jews.

■ EVERY COUNTRY which has a milestone anniversary in its bilateral relations celebrates this in a big way. Ever since the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, several East European countries have been celebrating milestone anniversaries of their renewed diplomatic relations with Israel, but other countries with longer relationships have more recently been celebrating other milestone anniversaries, especially those countries whose relationship goes back to the earliest years of the state. But one country has a somewhat more special relationship than others – and that is Switzerland, where the first Zionist Congress was held. There have been some ups and downs in the relationship between Switzerland and Israel ever since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in January 1949, especially over the hidden accounts of Holocaust victims, but generally speaking the relationship is a solid one. Swiss Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch is excited about the upcoming week-long Swiss festival in the last week of September to mark the 70th anniversary year of diplomatic ties, and is working closely with the World Zionist Organization to create a Basel aura for the occasion. Of a total of 37 Zionist Congresses, 15 were held in Switzerland. The next is due to be held in Jerusalem in October 2020. The ideal place to celebrate the 70th anniversary of bilateral ties would be at the Herzl Museum on Mount Herzl. But for political reasons, that might be too much to hope for. The closest that Switzerland has come to holding a Swiss National Day event in Jerusalem was at Neve Shalom – the Oasis of Peace – a village founded by Arabs and Jews and situated midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

■ HADASSAH MEDICAL Organization Director-General Prof. Ze’ev Rotstein took time out from his hospital woes to enjoy some classical music at a special concert organized by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation and the Friends of the IPO, in honor of Lizika and Ami Sagi, who are major patrons of the arts in general and of classical music in particular. Together with their son Teddy, they have contributed most generously to the IPO, the Israel Opera and other cultural outlets. The Sagis were among the early members of the Friends of the IPO and Lizika Sagi knows many classical works note for note. The concert conducted by Maestro Zubin Mehta, whose relationship with the IPO spans half a century, was attended by many friends and fans of the orchestra including Rotstein and his wife Ruthie, Alfred Akirov, Sara Lahat, Sara and Prof. Michael Sela, Elana and Yair Hamburger, Italian Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti and his wife Sabina, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu and his partner Ravit Tralovski, Tova and Sami Sagol, Janice Gillerman, Rachel Adato, Irit Rapaport and IPO Secretary-General Avi Shoshani.

■ AT AN event attended by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai at the President’s Residence last week, he received one of the greatest compliments that a mayor of Tel Aviv can receive from a die-hard multi-generational Jerusalemite. President Reuven Rivlin dubbed him as Tel Aviv’s version of legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. Huldai responded that Rivlin is an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv. Rivlin declared that he likes Tel Aviv very much, but what he likes best about it is the journey back to Jerusalem.

■ THE NIGHTMARE of every employee, especially those in high-profile positions is to receive a dismissal notice. That’s what happened to prize winning long-time editor of The Forward, Jane Eisner, who headed the paper’s editorial team for more than a decade. But in January this year, Eisner became one of the victims of the paper’s drastic cuts. When that happens in any enterprise, management looks first and foremost at salary scales, and not necessarily at what the people earning those salaries have contributed to the success of the enterprise. Those with the highest salaries are usually the first to go. After a few months of being at leisure, Eisner announced that she has joined the Columbia Journalism School as director of academic affairs, overseeing the Masters of Arts program. She is delighted with both her faculty colleagues and her students. Yet another proof of clouds having silver linings.

■ THE CONCLUSION of the postings in Israel of Irish Ambassador Alison Kelly, who has already returned home and retired from the Foreign Service, Slovenian Ambassador Barbara Susnik and French Ambassador Helene Le Gal, who is today hosting a Bastille Day reception, will deplete the ranks of female ambassadors to Israel, although there are still well in excess of a dozen. Susnik, who will take a position in her country’s Foreign Ministry, says that after nearly four years in Israel, she is beginning to feel like a tourist whenever she goes home, so she is pleased not to be taking another post abroad in the foreseeable future. Among the female ambassadors who are still in Israel is Croatian Ambassador Vesela Mrden Korac, who is busy preparing for the state visit toward the end of this month of her president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic who previously visited Israel in July 2015. It is customary for all visiting heads of state, prime ministers and foreign ministers to visit Yad Vashem. For some, whose countries collaborated with the Nazis during the World War II, it is often embarrassing and heart-breaking to realize the cruelty of which their fellow countrymen were capable.

Visiting Yad Vashem is a particularly traumatic experience for young German men and women whose grandparents were engaged in the Nazi death machine. Terrified that this is part of their DNA, many young Germans do volunteer work in Israel with Holocaust survivors and with children with disabilities, who under the Nazi regime, would surely have been destined for death. Croatia was a particularly vicious collaborator with the Nazis, but is now part of the global struggle against antisemitism and other forms of racism. Moreover, Croatia does not try to whitewash its past and has confronted it head-on. When she was previously in Yad Vashem, Grabar-Katarovic stated: “As president of Croatia, I express my deepest regret to all the victims of the Holocaust that were killed by the hands of the collaborationist Ustasha regime during World War II.”

■ PUBLIC SECURITY Minister Gilad Erdan, who is scheduled to represent the government at the Bastille Day reception, is still debating with himself as to whether to temporarily bow out of national politics and move into the international arena as head of the Israel mission to the United Nations. In the event that he decides to stay put, another name mentioned is that of Science Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, who said in an interview on Reshet Bet that he has not yet been approached. He declined to give a direct response to what his decision would be if he is approached, saying only that he will do whatever is asked of him for the well-being of the State of Israel.

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