Grapevine: A moment in history

Peres proves that he still retains his keen eye and insight when he says, “This is not just a book, it’s hope.”

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November 10, 2015 19:36
Peres

‘JERUSALEM POST’ Managing Editor David Brinn (left) and Parkinson’s disease therapist Alex Kerten present former president Shimon Peres with a copy of their forthcoming book.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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Israel’s Mission to the UN together with the Yad Chaim Herzog Association and the American Jewish Committee will hold a special event Wednesday to commemorate the UN resolution that compared Zionism to racism.

Attendees will include UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, members of the family of Chaim Herzog, who served as ambassador to the UN when the infamous resolution was passed, and other important guests.

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On November 10, 1975, Herzog, delivered one of his most powerful and eloquent speeches denouncing the UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism. The full text of the speech appeared in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post. The resolution, which was part of the Arab League’s campaign to isolate Israel in the international arena, was adopted by a wide majority and was not repealed until 1991, at which time Herzog was in the midst of his second term as Israel’s sixth president. That 16-year period was the lowest point of Israel-UN relations.

In his historic speech, given on the day the shameful resolution was adopted, Herzog proclaimed: “For us, the Jewish people, this is but a passing episode in a rich and an eventfilled history.” Then, in a dramatic and memorable moment, following the example set by his father, Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, he tore up the UN resolution on the podium of the General Assembly, and declared: “For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we shall treat it as such.”

In May 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the British published the White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine. Rabbi Herzog, after leading a protest procession of unusually united Jews of all stripes through the streets of Jerusalem to the steps of the Hurva Synagogue, turned to face them and said: “We cannot agree to the White Paper. Just as the prophets did before me, I hereby rip it in two.”

Chaim Herzog, who had never wavered in his attempts to have the outrageous resolution rescinded, was overjoyed at the news that it had been revoked. Ambassador Danny Danon, who is Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, said with regard to the commemorative event: “Forty years ago, a dark chapter was written in the UN’s history, and despite the retraction of the resolution, the hypocrisy and delegitimization against Israel still echo in the halls of this organization. The UN must tear this page from its history and open a new page of fairness and equality among all its member states.

Another event marking the 40-year anniversary will be held in Israel at the President’s Residence on November 22, where members of the Herzog family will again be in attendance, and a third event on the same theme is being organized by the Ambassadors Club in Israel with tentative dates in either December or January.



■ IN A sense the meeting last week between internationally known Herzliya-based Parkinson’s disease therapist Alex Kerten and former president Shimon Peres represented the closing of a circle. When Kerten arrived at the Peres Center for Peace, in Jaffa, to present Peres with a copy of his upcoming book Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello life! the former president looked at him somewhat strangely. There was a certain déjà vu in the atmosphere, but Peres, who usually has an extraordinary memory for faces and events of yesteryear, was still trying to pinpoint the identity of his visitor.

“You remember me, right?” asked Kerten playfully as they shook hands.

“I’ll tell you why.”

Kerten began to list an incredible convergence of circumstances where the two had crossed paths in the past. In the 1960s, Kerten ran two Tel Aviv cafes where Peres frequently held political meetings with the likes of Moshe Dayan. The Kerten and the Peres families were then neighbors in the same building on Oppenheimer Street in Tel Aviv for close to 20 years, where Alex served as the head of the house committee.

Even stranger, Peres’s two sons, Chemi and Yoni, studied music as youngsters with famed music teacher Agon Kerten, Alex’s father. And if that wasn’t enough to seal the connection, Kerten’s son Arik, now a noted security expert, served as Peres’s personal body guard for many years, and was with him on the night of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination 20 years ago.

After reminiscing about their common bonds and acquaintances, Kerten then handed Peres a copy of his book, which is based on years of experience successfully treating Parkinson’s patients. Written with Jerusalem Post Managing Editor David Brinn, Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello life! is being published by Divine Arts in the US and will be available in bookstores and online retail outlets in January.

Looking the book over, Peres proved that he still retains his keen eye and insight when he said, “This is not just a book, it’s hope.”

■ EGGED, ARGUABLY the most ubiquitous example of the Zionist enterprise since long before the establishment of the state, was this year’s winner of the annual Hamagshimim (Realization) award given by the Council for a Beautiful Israel.

Each year, the council, which has been in existence since 1968, chooses a particular category of the environment as the theme for the contest, and companies and institutions within that category compete. The award ceremony is always conducted with the participation of the president of the state.

This year’s category was transportation, and the award ceremony was held at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, where most of the rows in the auditorium were filled with members of the Egged secretariat and Egged drivers in their signature marine blue shirts.

Former agriculture minister and Labor MK Avraham Katz-Oz, who is chairman of the council, said that 17 companies had competed, and Egged had come out ahead in all the criteria, most significantly in service and attitude to the public and the environment.

There are 2.5 million private vehicles on the roads in Israel and more coming, said Katz-Oz, adding that use of private vehicles in a country that has such a good public transport system is a waste of money, time and nerves.

Arguing in favor of public transport, he said that public transport facilities are involved in only 17 percent of all traffic accidents. Moreover, there is less overall pollution from buses than from private vehicles.

Yet despite the benefits of public transport, its use is unfortunately decreasing instead of increasing, said Katz-Oz. This was the key reason that the category of public transport was chosen this year – so as to emphasize the need for a change of attitude and direction.

Egged, which was established 82 years ago, was one of the early manifestations of Zionist endeavor, said Avi Friedman, the chairman of the secretariat of the Egged Cooperative, which was given its name by national poet Haim Nahman Bialik after several small companies joined forces and became a cooperative venture.

Friedman is proud of the fact that Egged has made every kibbutz, moshav, village, town and city in Israel accessible.

It sees itself, among other things, as the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces. During wartime it makes hundreds of buses available to the army to transport soldiers to their bases or to the front lines. During Operation Protective Edge, it made 400 buses available at two hours’ notice, he said, adding that drivers left their homes and families without complaint to transport the soldiers.

Egged has also been involved in taking immigrants from points of arrival to their absorption centers, he said.

Egged drivers risk their lives as they continue to serve the public during war and terrorist attacks, Friedman emphasized, noting that the cooperative’s 6,500 members and employees include all sectors of Israeli society.

“I cannot imagine Israel without Egged or Egged without Israel,” he said.

Both Katz-Oz and Friedman referred to the derogatory remarks directed at President Reuven Rivlin by Ran Baratz, who had been named as the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Katz-Oz said that he was insulted by the comments, and he believes that every Israeli was insulted. “Anyone who harms the president of the state harms all of us,” he declared, “and the idiot who caused the harm refuses to apologize. No one is better suited to be president than Ruvi Rivlin.”

Friedman said that during this troubling time when Rivlin is under attack, “we strengthen and embrace him.”

Remarking that he is six years younger than Egged, Rivlin said that he had ridden plenty of Egged buses in his youth, and praised Egged as “an efficient public transport system” that links the north and the south and east and west of the country.

He also had warm words for the council, which, despite the fact that Israel is still engaged in a war of survival, has succeeded in promoting environmental consciousness.

This was not always a priority, said Rivlin, but with its encouragement of the creation of parks and gardens and the preservation of nature, it taught Israelis to appreciate the quality of life beyond survival itself.

■ QUITE A lot of people were disappointed by their inability to hear Boris Johnson, the ebullient mayor of London, speak at the inaugural, annual Winston Churchill lecture at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem within the context of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Jerusalem Foundation. The Tuesday night lecture, which was advertised last Friday in the English-language media, was instantly booked up, leaving Orly Abuloff at Mishkenot with the task of responding apologetically to scores of email requests from around the country that she was sorry, but there were no more tickets left.

However, those people who had been advised several weeks earlier that Johnson would be one of two keynote speakers at the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association’s annual Balfour Dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton, and had reserved places, had a great time on Monday night laughing uproariously at Johnson’s sophisticated ability to poke fun at himself.

But what heartened them even more was Johnson’s unmitigated admiration for Israel. Johnson, 51, had first come to Israel as a 20-yearold to volunteer on a kibbutz. He had dreamed of picking oranges in a kibbutz orchard in the Galilee, but instead was put to work washing and sorting dishes. He quickly came to the realization that this was a waste of his economic potential, but this in no way diminished his admiration for Israel, and in later life he returned to visit.

He finds certain similarities between London and Tel Aviv and London and Israel, with innovation at the top of the list. He had become very enamored with Israeli innovation after then-ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub had given him a copy of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. Johnson quoted the succinct definition of Israel’s innovation as coined by Peres: “from oranges to Apples.”

Israel has more companies on the London Stock Exchange than any other country in the world,” said Johnson, adding that he had unconsciously modeled himself on Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. In fact, earlier in the day, the two had gone on a bicycle tour of Tel Aviv.

After stating that both Britain and Israel have moved away from state socialism to stronger free markets, Johnson made the point: “You can’t have free markets without the democracy that permeates Israel and London.” The society that is willing to frequently change governments is more likely to change everything else, he said, adding that argument, exchange and debate are signs of a society that is free, plural and open.

“A free and open society in this part of the Middle East is the most amazing legacy of the Balfour Declaration,” asserted Johnson. Whatever criticism of Israel there may be, it is still the case that Israel is by far the most democratic country in the region,” he said, “which is why I reject completely the suggestion that of all the countries in the Middle East, this country should be the subject of a boycott.”

■ YESH ATID chairman Yair Lapid, who was the Israeli speaker at the dinner – IBCA Balfour dinners always feature one British and one Israel speaker – after thanking Johnson, whom he has known for years, for being “a true friend” of Israel, chose to focus on the basic good of individuals in high office. “The real truth is that in relations between nations and between leaders, more often than most people think – and definitely more than most journalists think – the real driving force is actually a higher purpose, significant, even noble.”

While every month there are thousands of people who join the ranks of Islamic State and other terrorist groups, said Lapid, many more join charities and dedicate their lives to a greater good. “The vast majority of humanity will do anything for their children, for their elderly parents, for their friends – not because it is in their best interest, but because it defines them in a profound way.”

In the 98 years since the Balfour Declaration, the world has proven time and again that it is willing to act against its interests in the service of the right idea, said Lapid.

“When history judges these 98 years, it will be forced to admit that human nature is not motivated only by territorialism, greed and lust for power. In contrast to everything the cynics say, the world is driven most of the time by the need to create a better universe, more caring and generous.”

It was this attitude, he pointed out, that achieved victory over the Nazis, brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall and inspired Dr. Martin Luther King’s Million Man March, Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution and the movement for women’s liberation.

Lapid defined the Balfour Declaration as “a moment of political kindness – a moment in which empathy overcame interest.... It is made up of only nine short lines, but what sits between those lines is an ability to really see the other, to understand his pain and to take action to help.”

Harking back to 1917, Lapid said that in those days it was already clear that oil would power the world and that whoever stands with Jews will pay a price.... But it was the right thing to do, he insisted. “The Jewish people waited 2,000 years to return to their homeland. At that moment in time, Britain was the only country that was able to bring that tormented journey to an end and allow the Jews to return to their land.” Jews are people with a long historical memory, Lapid concluded. “We will not forget this act of goodness....”

■ THE UPCOMING visit to Israel on November 13 of Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades is the second in a period of less than six months. He was most recently in Israel this past June, and six weeks later Netanyahu visited Cyprus. According to Thessalia Salina Shambos, the ambassador of Cyprus, there is tremendous chemistry between Anastasiades and Netanyahu, and the two genuinely like each other.

While it is not unusual for a head of state to visit Israel more than once during his or her tenure, especially if that head of state is reelected, it is extremely rare and possibly an outstanding precedent for a head of state to come twice in the same year, let alone in a period of less than six months.

Shambos, while acknowledging that it is true that energy and security issues have brought Israel and Cyprus to closer relations than ever before, says that there is much more to the relationship – such as political dimensions, tourism, economic exchanges, agriculture and hi-tech.

Israeli tourism to Cyprus is on the rise, and not just because bridal couples who can’t or won’t get married in Israel opt to tie the knot in Cyprus. Of the 2.2 million tourists who visited Cyprus up until the end of September this year, 83,000 were from Israel, and this figure does not include 25,000 Israelis who did not specifically visit Cyprus but were on a cruise ship that included Cyprus in its itinerary.

■ SITTING NOT far from the stage at the premiere of the Israel tour by the Alexandrov Ensemble of the Russian Armed Forces, more popularly known as the Red Army Choir, was Dorit Golender, who in September wound up a five-year term as Israel’s ambassador to Moscow.

The former head of the Russian Department of Radio Reka, Golender was the subject of much criticism when appointed by then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman. Moscow is one of the plum postings for any diplomat, and several professional diplomats at the Foreign Ministry had eyed the position with anticipation. Golender had no background in the Foreign Service, but she was fluent in Russian, and from her connections within Israel’s Russian community, she knew a lot about where she was going. The fact that she was not replaced during a five-year period speaks volumes in attesting to her ability to overcome diplomatic pitfalls and challenges.

During the first half of September, Golender and her husband, Elik Golender, were given farewell receptions by the Russian Jewish Congress, the Congress of Religious Jewish Communities in Russia, and the chief rabbis of Russia, who were all unanimous in their praise of the work she had done. At the reception hosted by the Russian Jewish Congress, part of the entertainment was provided by famous singer Josef Kobzon, who happens to be Jewish, and who also sings with the Alexandrov Ensemble.

In addition to being a celebrity entertainer, who has gone to disaster areas to bring cheer to the local populace as well as to Russian troops, Kobzon has also been active in politics and has been a member of the Russian Parliament. He was also instrumental in promoting the renewal of diplomatic ties between Russia and Israel. He has been the recipient of many honors, and it stands to reason, that he and Golender came into frequent contact. So that when he came to Israel to sing with the ensemble, it was only natural for the Golenders to be in the audience.

They were also in Jerusalem this week at the vin d’honneur at the King David Hotel for five new ambassadors who earlier in the day had presented their credentials to Rivlin. One of the five was Russian Ambassador Alexander Petrovich Shein, who wore his ambassadorial uniform for the presentation but changed into a business suit for the vin d’honneur.

■ SOME MEN have a series of kippot for different occasions – a large black velvet kippa for haredi events, a crocheted kippa for religious-Zionist events, and a rainbow-hued kippa for events hosted by Orthodox gays. But Arieh O’Sullivan, the editor in chief of IBA English News, has lapel pins with different insignia.

When he went this week to interview Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who is spending a week in Israel with a delegation of state economic development employees and private business executives, the pin on O’Sullivan’s lapel featured the Confederate flag.

This is not the first time that Bryant has led a business development delegation to Israel, but the current delegation is the largest to date. Bryant was one of the speakers on Monday at a defense conference in Tel Aviv and focused on Mississippi’s role in researching unmanned vehicles.

Bryant was in Israel a year ago and spoke at a conference on homeland security.

■ ISRAELI AND British transport security experts will be able to work much more closely with one another following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Transport Security between the Israeli and British governments. The memorandum was signed by Transportation Minister Israel Katz on behalf of the government of Israel, and by British Ambassador David Quarrey on behalf of the British government.

Israel and Britain cooperate in many areas, especially hi-tech and security, and the memorandum is a means of strengthening the bonds between the two countries.

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