Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has such a jam-packed itinerary that it’s difficult for him to stay on schedule.
Thus, when he came on Wednesday to address the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, he was some 20 minutes late, and Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz had to hold the fort until the prime minister arrived.
Netanyahu was very upbeat, talking about changes in the world and the region and being the personification of change, as he stood on stage at the capital’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The prime minister’s hairdresser must have read the scathing comments of celebrity hairstylist Philip Vazana, who in an interview in last Friday’s Maariv Hashavua, a sister publication of the Post, was highly critical of Netanyahu’s purple rinse, saying that he ought to have white hair. But his hair wasn’t white when he came to the conference. It was considerably darker than usual, giving him a completely different look but not really making him look younger than his 67 years. However, it was most definitely a change.
Netanyahu came into the hotel on the tail end of an address by Mobileye co-founder, president and CEO Ziv Aviram, and commented that he hoped that Mobileye had the sense to sell out like Waze. In June 2013, Waze CEO Noam Bardin sold his global navigation company to Google for $1 billion plus! Aware of Mobileye’s potential, Netanyahu recalled that when he had been a soldier, an Israeli company which didn’t last too long used to manufacture a car known as the Susita. It was made of fiberglass, and on one occasion when Netanyahu was driving, he leaned his elbow on the window, and it went straight through.
“Now we have a car industry,” he said. “There will be interchangeable, safe driverless cars.”
■ KATZ LATER interviewed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and asked him some very probing questions, including a couple related to the German submarine controversy, and wondered whether it was indeed possible for Moshe Ya’alon, who was Liberman’s predecessor in office, not to know about the deal. To which Liberman replied: “Sometimes when people are in opposition, and in a complicated position, they have problems with their memories.”
He suspected that this might be the case in this instance.
When Netanyahu commenced his address, he was buoyant and said that he was optimistic. When Liberman sat down with Katz, he remarked: “The prime minister is optimistic; I’m realistic.” Liberman also offered the opinion that “we shouldn’t take our relations with the US for granted.”
But the best line came at the end of the interview, when Katz reminded him that he had stated prior to becoming defense minister that if he did take on that office, he would put an ultimatum to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to return the remains of two Israel soldiers killed in Gaza, Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, within 48 hours or be assassinated. When Katz observed that Liberman has been in office for six months, and asked about Haniyeh, Liberman replied: “When we’re sitting here again next year, you’ll ask me the same question.”
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin told Israel Radio that when incoming Turkish Ambassador Kemal Okem presents his credentials, Rivlin will ask him to convey a message to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to intercede with Hamas regarding the return of the soldiers’ bodies.
■ IN INTRODUCING US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Katz said that it feels like Shapiro has been part of the Israeli landscape forever, especially when he is interviewed in Hebrew on radio and television.
Shapiro, a Chicago Cubs fan, said that he was going to comment on something they all wanted to hear. The anticipation was that he was going to say something specific about the incoming US administration, but instead he raised a laugh with something related to whether the Chicago Cubs can maintain their edge, now that they’ve won the World Series.
Shapiro, who has been a regular presence at Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conferences, said that he’s lost track of how many he’s addressed. “It is a fixture in my calendar, and I could not be more pleased than to return and be with you again,” he said, knowing that unless he flies in from abroad, it’s most unlikely that he will be at the next one. It was always an honor to appear with so many Israeli public figures and national leaders, he said.
Shapiro will be making several swan song addresses in the weeks ahead, and they will always feature his appreciation for the work done by embassy personnel. At receptions in his residence, he never forgets to thank them, and this time he brought a large delegation with him to Jerusalem.
“We have a dedicated, courageous and talented team, and I want to particularly highlight our consular staff who are responsible for American Citizen Services,” he said. “Replacing lost passports and issuing birth certificates are just two examples of their large and vital portfolio. In the past year, it has sadly also often involved being the US government’s first responders when terrorism and violence have struck American citizens here in Israel, working closely with both victims and their families. In addition to meeting their needs, we have unstintingly condemned such outrageous acts of terrorism and the incitement that can inspire them, whether their victims are Israeli, American or any other nationality.”
Shapiro’s remarks in this context, dovetailed with the Post presenting an award to the OneFamily organization in recognition and appreciation of the sterling work it does to meet the individual needs of people who have been the physical and emotional victims of terrorism.
That slightly less than two months remain before President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States does not mean that the outgoing administration will remain passive in the interim. “You can expect to see this administration continuing to work hard to ensure Israel’s security, defend its legitimacy, oppose BDS, and support steps to advance Arab-Israeli peace,” said Shapiro.
He also reiterated President Barack Obama’s pledge to continue supplying Israel with the world’s most advanced weapons technology, which Obama said “will ensure that Israel has the ability to defend itself from all manner of threats.”
Shapiro repeated the end of the sentence emphasizing the word “all.” “Whether it is conventional threats across borders, missiles coming overhead from rogue actors, subterranean threats like tunnels from Gaza, threats to Israel’s offshore energy resources, or threats by adversaries who are seeking to harm the Jewish state through cyber attacks, we are committed to helping Israel address them.”
Shapiro also mentioned bilateral trade, saying that America is Israel’s largest bilateral trading partner, with annual two-way trade reaching almost $50b. and growing.
“We continue to be Israel’s largest source of tourists, by a large margin,” he said, adding: “American companies employ tens of thousands of Israelis here in Israel, and Israel is now a top-20 source of foreign direct investment in the United States, creating jobs for thousands of Americans.
Other than those who come to Israel as lone soldiers, Americans do not fight for Israel, and Israel has never asked them to.
But Americans do give blood for Israel, and Shapiro can be counted among those who do so. A Magen David Adom team visited the US Embassy this week, and Shapiro and members of his staff donated a total of 40 units of blood.
■ IN THE midweek “Grapevine” column on Wednesday, it was noted that Shimon Peres would continue to have an influence on Israel from beyond the grave, and indeed that appears to be the case.
After completing his term as president, Peres took on other responsibilities, one of which was international chairman of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center. In that capacity he traveled to Dallas, Texas, in March last year to present former US president George W. Bush with the Friends of Zion award in recognition of his unflagging support for the nation of Israel. A video of Peres commending the Friends of Zion to young diplomats was screened at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference by FoZ founder and chairman Dr. Mike Evans, who said that he and Peres had traveled to many places to make friends for Zion.
Moreover, he said there were many more Christian friends of Zion than there were Jewish ones. “Israel’s friends are a thousand times greater than her enemies,” he declared.
■ IT’S INTERESTING where politicians decide to go off record and on record. Eight days before the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett spoke to the Foreign Press Association and, in an off record Q&A session, outlined the manner in which he would ease some of the strictures imposed on Palestinians. When asked afterward if any of this material could you used, he wanted it to remain off record. But he brought up the very same issues when addressing conference, where everything that was said was on the record, and the fourth estate was very well represented.
■ LIKE HER nemesis Benjamin Netanyahu, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni also talked about change, but took a different approach. The world is changing, and it looks like someone pushed a fast-forward button, but it’s more like a rewind, she said, listing wars, refugees, antisemitism and neo-Nazism among the repeat evils and injustices. The difference is that today political leaders are using and abusing technology to spread fear and hatred, she said.