■ ISRAEL HAS several good friends at the United Nations, but none as outspoken as its US ambassador, Nikki Haley, who visited Israel last week.
During three hectic days, accompanied by her Israeli counterpart Danny Danon, she traveled the length and breadth of the country, capturing many hearts with her unabashed affection for and defense of Israel.
Everyone she met was charmed by her, partially because she’s so natural and doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. She wept in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, and wherever she went, she appeared to be keenly interested in what she was being shown.
Whoever it was in the Defense Ministry who thought of giving her a miniature pearl-encrusted high-heeled shoe symbolizing her arrival in high heels at the UN, where she said she wore them to kick anyone who vilified Israel, deserves a medal for creative thinking. Some of Haley’s predecessors at the UN were also good friends of Israel.
In October 1947, Herschel Johnson announced American support for the partition plan and went out of his way to promote it. In 1967, following the Six Day War, Arthur Goldberg was significant among the drafters of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called for Israel’s withdrawal from the captured territories, but Goldberg was very explicit about having deliberately omitted the word “all,” and thereby leaving the extent of withdrawal undefined but dependent on secure and recognized borders.
In 1975, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was a personal friend of Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s representative at the time, made no bones about his solid support of Israel and roundly condemned UN Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism. His address at the time became the keystone of his career. Jeane Kirkpatrick was another staunch supporter, frequently speaking out against the double standards to which Israel was held, just as Haley does today. In July 2014, during the conflict with Gaza, Samantha Power expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
America has been and will be critical of Israel, but the record of support in times of crisis speaks for itself.
■ EVEN BEFORE the arrival in Israel of openly gay British Ambassador David Quarrey and his partner Aldo Henriquez, the British Embassy had a very empathetic policy with regard to the LGBT community.
Quarrey and Henriquez are not the only gay couple amid the foreign diplomatic corps in Israel, but they are the most open in their relationship. There are also gay diplomats in Israel’s Foreign Service. This year’s Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv had record-breaking attendance.
The slogan was “Let it Be” and the theme was “Bisexuality Visibility,” while the overall celebration was that of diversity. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has announced that he will not participate in the Gay Pride festivities in the capital so as not to offend the sensitivities of the haredi population.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai had no such qualms and happily welcomed the merrymakers.
The British Embassy had its own float in the parade, spreading the message that “Love is Great.”
■ IN APRIL of this year, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Australia’s next ambassador to Israel would be Chris Cannan, a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), who was most recently assistant secretary with the Global Development branch. In Canberra, Cannan held a range of positions in DFAT, including chief of protocol.
He served overseas with DFAT in Vienna and Manila, and with the Bougainville Peace Monitoring Group, as well as with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva. Cannan holds a BA in Journalism from the University of South Australia, a BA in Asian Studies from Flinders University and an MA in Foreign Affairs and Trade from Monash University.
In making the announcement, Bishop thanked outgoing ambassador Dave Sharma “for his outstanding contribution to advancing the Australia-Israel relationship since 2013.” Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, have been going through a round of farewells and had a genuine Australian shindig, replete with the Australian dietary staple of pie and sauce, at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation on Sunday night, hosted by the staff of the Australian Embassy.
Lord, a human rights lawyer, is also a DFAT diplomat, and much as she is sorry to leave Israel and the many friends she has made here, her career has been on hold for four years, and she’s itching to get back to work. Sharma and Lord threw themselves wholeheartedly into the Israel experience, way beyond regular diplomatic activities and also beyond the enhancement of Australia- Israel relations.
In accordance with Australian tradition, Sharma was given a tough roasting by Deputy Chief of Mission James McGarry, who said in serious vein that diplomacy is a strange profession in that you’re sent overseas to a place that you know hardly anything about, thrust into working relations with people you don’t know and just when you start to get friendly, they leave. McGarry has attended several farewells for Sharma and Lord in recent weeks, and said that they have done an amazing job. “They love Israel and Israel loves them. They will be missed personally and professionally.”
During the roasting, he all but charged Sharma (an Iron Man candidate in Oz), with being a fake athlete, saying that Sharma liked to talk about running or biking the 16-km. distance between their residence in Herzliya Pituah and the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv – but then, McGarry showed a video of Sharma in his running gear, getting into an armored car some 300 meters from the embassy.
It’s possible that Sharma, who likes to make and star in crazy videos, may have staged the entry into the car for one of his spoofs. Certainly a longer video of the changing of the guard, which Sharma subsequently tweeted, and which is also on the embassy’s Facebook, showed Sharma allegedly briefing his successor about all he needs to know in Israel, including three important words, sababa, walla and nuu, which he illustrated in a three-way conversation using only these words.
Sharma proved that his Hebrew vocabulary is a little more extensive then that, when he said in Hebrew: “After four years in Israel, we’re going home on Thursday, and can say sincerely that Israel will forever remain in our hearts and in our blood.”
■ WHEN THE Slovenian residence was located in Herzliya Pituah, a series of ambassadors hosted National Day and other receptions in the cramped and somewhat humid garden of the house. Current Ambassador Barbara Susnik moved to the new residence in the heart of Tel Aviv’s culture belt, where she much prefers to be. She lives within easy walking distance of her office and just a little bit further from the sea than when she was in Herzliya Pituah. The only problem is that her apartment is not big enough to accommodate a large gathering.
So she followed the example of several other embassies and opted for the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which in itself represents the values held dear by many embassies.
The Slovenian National Day reception also marked the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Israel and was enhanced by the presence of the president of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr. Milan Brglez, who was accompanied by a parliamentary delegation, and Slovenia’s Minister of Education, Science and Sport, Maja Makovec Brencic, who had signed a cooperation agreement with Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked represented the government of Israel for the second consecutive year.
Susnik noted that in April 1992, then-foreign minister David Levy signed a letter recognizing Slovenia, and soon afterward, diplomatic relations were established.
Cooperation between the two countries is good and trade is solid, she said, adding that each year some 60,000 Israelis visit Slovenia.
The political dialogue between the two countries is getting stronger, said Susnik, noting that this year marked the first visit to Israel by a president of the Slovenian parliament.
She was pleased that the delegation’s meeting with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein had gone well. She was also happy to be celebrating her country’s national day in the Peres Center because “Shimon Peres was a good friend of Slovenia.”
The Peres Center is an appropriate place to celebrate friendship, peace and innovation, she said. It is also a fitting place to reflect on the past and on solutions for the future, she added, voicing hope that Israel would have the wisdom, courage and determination to make the right decision for future peace and stability in the region, and would reach a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians.
Brglez, who had met earlier in the evening with Chemi Peres, said of Shimon Peres that he was a man who believed in peace and worked for peace. With regard to his own country, he said that the Slovenian nation was very fortunate to live in peace.
He also spoke of Slovenian diplomacy in the international community and regretted that in so many countries, there is “the negative phenomenon” of antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, populism and terrorism.
Quoting Peres, Brglez said that “War cannot solve anything. War is never a solution, and opportunities for peace should not be wasted.”
Shaked spoke of the beauty of Slovenia and of the similarities between Slovenia and Israel, which she said are two small countries without many natural resources, but which have successfully developed their human resources. Both are modern democracies that value freedom and human rights, she added.
■ FOR MANY years, the outstanding feature at the National Day reception of the Russian Federation was the number of veterans of the Red Army, who proudly strutted around the banquet hall, their suit jackets weighed down with medals. At this year’s celebration, however, there were far fewer veterans at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, prompting the somber thought that just as survivors of the Holocaust are fading out, so too are their liberators. There were no Russian singers at the event, though there had been in the past. However, there was an accordionist who played traditional Russian melodies, which long ago were plagiarized by Israel.
It was interesting to see how much importance members of Israel’s Russian community attach to the national day of their former homeland. Most of the women came in cocktail or evening dresses and the men wore suits. At many other similar receptions, the majority of male guests dress in open-necked, short-sleeved shirts without jackets. Ambassador Alexander Shein wore the dark olive green and gold embroidered ambassador’s uniform that he wore when presenting his credentials. Unfortunately, Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin did not show the same degree of pride in his appearance: his shoes were covered in dust and his suit was rumpled with baggy pants buckling over his feet. Whereas Shein delivered his address in Russian, which was translated into Hebrew by an interpreter as he went along, and a printed version in English was provided for guests who understood neither language, Elkin was his own translator, reading his long speech in Hebrew and translating into Russian after each paragraph against a cacophony of background conversation.
Shein emphasized that in just over a quarter of a century, since Russia has become democratic, it has become a powerhouse of economic integration in Eurasia. Attempts to contain Russia are doomed to failure, he said, adding that Russia is a reliable friend to all those who have good intentions toward it.
Over the past year, Russian-Israeli relations have been on a positive track, with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in regular and trusting contact, said Shein, who also referred to the high-level exchanges of delegations engaging in intergovernmental, interparliamentary, economic, public, humanitarian, scientific and cultural dialogue.
There is also military cooperation and coordination, he said.
Elkin said that next year Israel will celebrate its 70th anniversary of independence and will remember that Russia was among the first nations to recognize Israel. Last year, the two countries celebrated the 25th anniversary of renewed diplomatic relations.
Elkin found it symbolic that Russia’s National Day was being celebrated ahead of time on June 6, when 50 years ago, it severed relations with Israel during the Six Day War, an outcome of which was the mass migration of Russian Jews to Israel.
Including himself in this category, Elkin said he was very pleased to see so many immigrants in attendance. Confirming that the leaders of the two countries have a close and open dialogue, Elkin suggested that Russia preempt the Americans and immediately move its embassy to Jerusalem. There were shouts of “Bravo!” from the crowd, but Shein merely smiled.
■ THE INTERNATIONAL Women’s Club comprising mainly wives of foreign diplomats, business people and academics as well as women living permanently in Israel, though not necessarily born here, is an amazing organization of cooperation, pluralism, knowledge enhancement, charitable endeavor and public diplomacy in which each of the members engages on behalf of her own country.
Many of the members are high achievers in a variety of professions. No president serves for more than a year, and each year there is a rotation between a foreign president and a local president. Every summer there is a festive end-of-year luncheon marking the conclusion of tenure of one president and announcing the identity of her successor, who convenes a meeting in the fall.
Last week, outgoing president Tsippi Ben-Sheffer passed the baton to Louise Beschoor Plug, the wife of the Netherlands ambassador, at a luncheon at the Cassiopeia restaurant at the Herzliya Marina attended by more than 130 members. There was consensus that under Ben-Sheffer’s leadership, the IWC had its best year ever. There were more and varied events than there had ever been, and Ben-Sheffer’s love of music played a vital role. In fact, she trained the IWC’s 10-member multi-national choir, which was a great hit at the luncheon whose attendants included Julie Fisher, the wife of former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, who has decided to stay in Israel for at least another year. Ben-Sheffer, who frequently played piano at the American residence, told Fisher how delighted she had been to do so and how thrilled she was that the family has not left Israel.
Artist Sali Ariel, who is a former president of the IWC, also thanked Fisher for allowing her to exhibit her work at the residence, and suggested that perhaps Fisher, her husband and their children might eventually decide to make aliya. Fisher thanked everyone for making her feel so welcome from the day of her arrival in Israel six years ago. One of the sad things about the IWC is that it so frequently has to say goodbye to members whose spouses have been transferred elsewhere or who have simply concluded their tenure.
When Barbara Wisman, a member of the executive board, and a long-time treasurer of the IWC attended what was to be her final meeting, she never anticipated that she would get a mention at Ben-Sheffer’s closing lunch. But she got more than a mere mention from Yvette Trubowitch, who said that before Wisman joined the IWC, very few of the members had ever met a member of the Bahai faith. Wisman and her husband, Kern, are returning to the US after 21 years in Israel.
Praising Wisman for her “kindness, integrity and honesty,” Trubowitch said, “We saw you as one of us.”
Wisman said that she was leaving Israel a much wealthier person than when she came, “because I won the women’s lottery of friendship. You gave me a wonderful experience. Thank you for enriching my life.”
■ AT THE Iftar dinner hosted by President Reuven Rivlin, there were many more guests than in previous years because the event was not confined to Muslims and Druze, but also included Jewish representatives of national and international companies such as Teva, Strauss and Osem, who are all part of a nationwide initiative to integrate more Arabs into all branches of industry and commerce as well as into academia and cultural institutions.
Noting the presence of Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat, Turkish Ambassador Kemal Okem, Jordanian Ambassador Walid Obeidat and Kazakhstan Ambassador Doulat Kuanyshev, the mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of the Committee of Arab Municipal Authorities Mazen Ganaim said that their attendance was a political statement of togetherness, indicating that Muslims and Jews can live together in harmony and security.
■ INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED American cookbook author Joan Nathan, who is currently in Israel for International Book Week, will be joining the Nechama chapter of Hadassah Israel at a dessert supper reception at the Eden Café and Hotel in Jerusalem on June 15. The event is a fund-raiser to help purchase an essential computer program to monitor babies in the Neonatal Unit at Hadassah University Medical Center.
This electronic record-keeping software system is urgently needed to capture, manage and report the vast amount of data related to each prematurely born baby.
Nathan, who is the recipient of the prestigious James Beard Award for her latest book, King Solomon’s Table – A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking Around the World, will discuss what went into the compiling of recipes for the book, will share some of the recipes and their traditional backgrounds and will also autograph copies of the book, which will be available for purchase at a reduced price.
■ CONTRARY TO conventional wisdom, one can go home again. Case in point is controversial columnist Dan Margalit, who was fired last week from Israel Hayom, where he had worked since the paper’s inception.
Margalit and his daughter, Shira, both attributed his ouster to a demand by Sara Netanyahu. Margalit was the only journalist working for Israel Hayom who dared to publicly criticize the prime minister and his wife. Current editor of the freebie tabloid, Boaz Bismuth, wasted little time after taking office to give Margalit the boot, a move widely believed to be the upshot of orders from above. However, the Netanyahus last Thursday issued a statement denying any involvement in Margalit’s removal from the paper. Meanwhile, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken was quick to take Margalit back into his stable.
More than four decades ago, Margalit was a political and diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, and the paper’s Washington correspondent from 1974-1977. In 1992, he served as editor of Ma’ariv and was a columnist for the newspaper from 2002-2007. He authored the books Dispatch from the White House and I Saw Them. Margalit also has a long career in television as a moderator and commentator.
■ ALTHOUGH GENERATION Z children of the post-millennial era who were born into the digital age seem so attached to their devices that they are oblivious to anything else, such impressions are often based on false perceptions. Case in point is 12-yearold Shira Futornick of Palo Alto, CA, whose contribution to making the world a better place is the donating of monies she received as bat mitzva gifts.
Fifty-thousand dollars is no mean sum for a 12-year-old, and it’s going to the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), which is located in the valley that stretches from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Eilat. Characterized by saline soil, blazing sun and less than 40mm. of annual rain, the Arava has a worldwide reputation as a desert that blooms thanks to cutting-edge agricultural technologies. The Arava center offers a 10-month program in the use of these technologies, each year training some 1,000 students from developing desert-climate countries in Asia and Africa, thereby helping countless communities to sustain themselves and develop their economies.
Not all the money came from Futornick’s bat mitzva gifts. She inspired her entire synagogue congregation to join in her effort by dedicating her bat mitzva speech to the cause and publishing the online donation link in her party invitation. Her donation will go toward expanding the Arava campus.
On June 15, she will speak at the AICAT graduation firstname.lastname@example.org