Grapevine: Between investigative reporting and a vendetta

A round up of news briefs from around the country.

December 1, 2016 20:49
YOSEF, LENA and Julia Zohar with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro (second from right).

YOSEF, LENA and Julia Zohar with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro (second from right).. (photo credit: Courtesy)

FEW PEOPLE would deny that Channel 10’s prize-winning reporter Raviv Drucker is a world-class investigative journalist, but at the same time, one has to wonder if he is not carrying out a vendetta against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his family. Drucker, the chairman and co-founder of the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel, has been Netanyahu’s nemesis for almost a decade, dredging up anything possible that might smack of corruption, and thereby instigating investigations by the state comptroller and the police.

What seems to bother him most are the people of affluence who have formed friendships with Netanyahu, particularly American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and James Packer, an Australian billionaire who owns a house in Caesarea adjacent to one of the Netanyahus’ residences. It’s a known fact that power attracts power. It’s also not uncommon for wealthy people to have a luxury hotel in which they reserve several rooms at any given time for use by their friends and employees. They don’t necessarily think about the cost factor, nor do they necessarily expect anything in return. It’s just part of their lifestyle.

When Drucker can’t find any real dirt to hurl at the prime minister, he starts on Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and son Yair, neither of whom is a public servant. While it is true that some of the gifts they receive, such as free tickets to a Mariah Carey concert, or a ride in someone’s private plane or a stay in a luxury hotel, obviously has something to do with the fact that they are closely related to the prime minister, such favors are usually part of a bulk handout by billionaires who happily distribute freebies to friends and business acquaintances, in the same way as someone on a regular salary might pick up the bill for several friends in a restaurant.

This week Drucker really went overboard in reporting on the close relations between Packer and Netanyahu, especially the fact that Packer was part of Netanyahu’s entourage, along with the late Elie Wiesel and his wife, Marion Wiesel, when the prime minister spoke at the United Nations in September, and may have even had some input into Netanyahu’s speech.

One can only imagine what Drucker will do if Packer happens to entertain any of the Netanyahus during the prime minister’s upcoming visit to Australia, where Packer is among the 10 wealthiest people in the country.

■ JUST OVER three weeks after the results of the American presidential elections, politically minded people around the world are still trying to figure out how and why Donald Trump was elected and how his administration will affect the rest of the world. Such questions are also being asked by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress, which on Tuesday had a panel discussion on the future Trump presidency and what it will mean for Israel and the wider world.

The huge attendance at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Belgium House indicated that the matter is of considerable interest to Israelis. ICFR president Dan Meridor, who lectures annually at Harvard University, happened to be in Boston during the elections and said people there were crying. It was something he had never seen before. “This was not just another election. It was something different.”

Meridor noted the Israeli preoccupation with whether Trump will be good or bad for the Jews and for Israel, and remarked that what Israel needs is a strong America because of competing ideologies in the world today. “If America becomes weak, we will all become weak,” he said.

The two experts on American politics were Charles (Chuck) Freilich, who was a deputy national security adviser in Israel and a senior analyst at the Defense Ministry, and who is currently an International Security Program senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Aharon Klieman, the Dr. Nahum Goldmann professor emeritus of diplomatic studies at Tel Aviv University, and a senior editor of the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs.

Freilich readily admitted that he had never been so at a loss in assessing the policy of a new administration.

With previous administrations, he could base his assessments on past political activities or policy papers written by the president- elect, but Trump has never written a policy paper. Freilich was also unsure as to whether anything could be learned from Trump’s appointments to date, because of the mix. While conceding that all presidents grow in office, Freilich was of the opinion that Trump is more unsuited fundamentally and temperamentally than any other president. Citing some of Trump’s negative characteristics, Freilich said: “He has a total disregard for accuracy,” and his traits include brashness, narcissism and extreme hubris.

Freilich was also worried about Trump’s tendency to speak from the top of his head without following the rules of protocol. “This is an unscripted man who lashes out,” said Freilich, adding that he hoped that Trump would turn out to be a wonderful president, “but a man with his character traits with his finger on the nuclear button is frightening.”

Klieman, echoing an earlier comment by Meridor, said that throughout the presidential campaign the Israeli media focused on who would be the best president for Israel instead of who would be the best leader of the American people.

Klieman perceived a fundamental reversal in American policy, saying the isolationist impulse was gaining traction in America, which is moving from foreign engagement to foreign disengagement. While the 44th president had a liberal and inclusive philosophy, he stands poles apart from the unabashed unilateral philosophy of the 45th president, said Klieman, who despite the fact that Trump “shoots from the lip” thought that it was premature to pass judgment on him.

While global containment was the bedrock of American foreign policy during the Cold War, in a complete reversal of that policy, Klieman suspected that Trump may find it expedient to engage Russia in critical dialogue on the Middle East, especially as Damascus, instead of Cairo, will become Moscow’s center of operations in the region.

Whereas Israel is widely referred to as the “Start-Up Nation,” Klieman opted to describe Israel as the “upstart nation” for prejudging the incoming American administration, and suggested that it would be far more prudent to take a wait-andsee position.

■ BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY of the Negev, which has been at the forefront of providing higher education for members of the Beduin community, has included a Beduin activist in addition to the six awardees who will be conferred with honorary doctorates next Tuesday. Naama Elsana will receive the Ben-Gurion Negev Award in recognition of her efforts to promote gender equality and to empower women in Beduin society. Elsana, one of the founders of the Lakiya Association for Improvement of Women’s Status and of the Beduin Tourism Forum, heads the Desert Embroidery Project, which offers women employment and a way to express themselves, develop leadership and improve their status.

Honorary doctorates will be conferred on ALEH Negev–Nahalat Eran founder and chairman Maj.- Gen. (res.) Doron Almog and composer Nurit Hirsh, who each received the Israel Prize earlier this year, academic and former MK Prof. Naomi Chazan, prize-winning author Dan Benaya Seri, 2013 Israel Prize laureate scientist Prof. Nathan Nelson, and former Spanish parliamentarian Gabriel Elorriaga Pisarik, who initiated the bill granting citizenship to Jews of Spanish ancestry.

■ AS OF press time, a new US ambassador to Israel has yet to be announced, but incumbent Dan Shapiro is so popular, that people are making the most of his presence for as long as he remains in office.

To celebrate the expansion of its operations in the US, Julia, Lena and Yosef Zohar, proprietors of Al Arz Tahini, invited Shapiro, Ramzi Gabbay, the chairman of the Israel Export Institute, Oded Rose, the CEO of the America Israel Chamber of Commerce, Ronnie Gat, the CEO of Jafora-Tabori, and Dr. Eli Fischer of Fischer Pharmaceuticals and his daughter Nurit Harel, to a festive tehina-based lunch at their production plant in the Jezreel Valley.

The Zohars surprised Fischer with a cake in honor of his 81st birthday.

Al Arz Tahini CEO Lena Zohar thanked Shapiro for all that he has done toward forging good relations between Israel’s Arabs and Jews, and for the many projects with which he has associated himself through the US Embassy. She also thanked Gat for mentoring the company during its development process.

Shapiro said that two years ago 12 Israeli companies had been encouraged to expand their operations in the US, and the number now stands at 20 and continues to grow. He commended the Zohars on producing great tehina, which he said was very tasty. No doubt it will find its way into the Shapiro shopping list when the family returns to the US.

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