Grapevine: En route to normalization

By
November 1, 2016 20:43
Turkey Israel

TURKISH CHARGE D’AFFAIRES Cem Utkan with National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz. (photo credit: TURKISH EMBASSY)

En route to normalization One of the first people to arrive at the Turkish National Day reception held at the exquisitely elegant Turkish residence in Kfar Shmaryahu last week was Pini Avivi, a retired diplomat, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Ankara from 2003 to 2007. He was one of many Israelis who were delighted to be back in the residence after a long absence.

Although a Turkish ambassador has yet to be appointed to Israel following a sixyear rift in diplomatic relations, invitations to the event were sent out by the Turkish Embassy, rather than by Turkish charge d’affaires Cem Utkan, who as Turkey’s most senior diplomatic representative in Israel was host for the evening. That the invitations were sent out in the name of the embassy was considered by several other foreign diplomats present to be a sure sign that the freeze in diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey had begun to thaw.

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Mingling with the numerous diplomats were members of the Turkish Jewish community in Israel, and Utkan’s mother had specially come from Turkey for the occasion, to contribute to the festivities with her gift for gracious networking. Utkan’s father is a retired ambassador.

Utkan and other embassy personnel stood in a receiving line greeting guests as they arrived, and the one they were happiest to see was Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who two weeks earlier had been in Istanbul to attend the 23rd World Energy Congress and to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Berat Albayrak. Steinitz was the first Israeli government minister to visit Turkey in the last six years, and the first to enter the Turkish residence in the same time frame.

When Steinitz arrived at the residence last Thursday, Utkan lamented that it was raining and said that the weather had given embassy staff a heart attack all day, especially as the buffets had been set up on the expansive rolling lawns, and no marquee had been put up. For all that, Utkan was delighted to see such a turnout of members of the Israel’s Turkish Jewish community who had come to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey, and noted that this was “the first time in a long while that we are having a minister at our national day.” Utkan said that Steinitz’s presence was “an ongoing show of support for the normalization process.”

Steinitz said that rain was a blessing, and that it should perhaps be considered as blessing the resumption of full diplomatic relations. He voiced the hope that after six years of tense relations, there would soon be a Turkish ambassador in Israel. He looks forward to a future relationship of peace, security and friendship.

When the anthems of both countries were sung, neither Utkan nor Steinitz was silent. Each joined in the robust singing of his country’s anthem. That both anthems were sung with equal enthusiasm by Israel’s Turkish Jewish community was indicative of how much they want to have a foot in each camp on an equal basis.


■ AFTER READING the “Driving over 90” Grapevine headline last Friday, a reader wrote that it “has rubbed my open wound!!” She has been trying for 3 months to have her license renewed.

She’s a few months shy of 90, but very with it and in full possession of all her faculties.

She has been driving for close to two-thirds of her lifetime, and has a passion for volunteerism – not necessarily close to home. She has never had an accident, she says – neither in Israel nor in the country of her birth.

Her previous license was valid for 2 years, and before then for 10 years. Prior to her 89th birthday in August, her doctor filled out the required form and submitted it. In reply, she was instructed to go to a neurologist, who had to test her in accordance with a page of questions, and the form had to be returned within 30 days. A fax or email was not acceptable. An original copy had to be delivered in Tel Aviv. The doctor in her health clinic could not give her an appointment before next February, so she had no option other than to go private at the cost of NIS 1,000. The earliest appointment she could get was for two days before the cutoff date, which is November 9, and there is no guarantee that the results of this test will be immediate.

Aside from the fact that she enjoys driving, the writer volunteers for several organizations, and her volunteer activities include driving a blind person to various destinations.

In addition, her grandchildren are scattered around the country, and when she visits them she drives. Her volunteer activities add quality to her life, she says, and give her a reason to get out of bed each morning.

But there still may be hope to get around the bureaucratic hurdles. The British press reports that Eileen Ash, who celebrated her 105th birthday on Sunday and is said to be the oldest living Test cricketer, also drives a yellow small economy car, and attributes her longevity to healthy eating, two glasses of red wine a day and regular yoga sessions.


■ AS PAINFUL as the death of Shimon Peres was for his family, as expressed so eloquently last Friday at the memorial service and tombstone unveiling by his granddaughters Mika Almog and Yael Peres, it was no less painful for people who were part of his extended family.

The people who worked with him and for him simply adored him. They looked out for him, just as he looked out for them. It really wasn’t an employer/employee relationship.

It was simply a matter of being family without the biological input, and Peres’s biological family understood this and accepted it.

One of the people closest to him was the petite, efficient and extremely elegant Yona Bartal, who was deputy director of the President’s Office during Peres’s presidency and later deputy director at the Peres Center for Peace – in both cases being No. 2 to Efrat Duvdevani. Yet in a sense Bartal was No. 1. For more than 20 years she traveled the world and all over Israel with Peres and learned to relate to him with that kind of familiarity that exists only in families or among the closest of friends. He came to her family celebrations, and she to his.

Through this relationship with Peres, she developed first-name relationships with world leaders, famous authors, entertainers and athletes. She probably has better contact access than Bezeq to many such dignitaries and celebrities.

Another person who had a long and close relationship with Peres was the singer Rita, who first met him when she was going steady with composer, singer and musician Rami Kleinstein, from whom she is now divorced. Kleinstein’s parents lived in the same apartment building as Sonya and Shimon Peres, and when Rita came to visit, she often saw Peres waiting for the elevator.

Being the gentleman that he was, he always stood aside to let her enter before him, long before she achieved fame. In later years, he attended many of her performances. For this and many other reasons, she, when addressing him or speaking about him, referred to him as “ish yakar” (dear man).

Rita, who was invited several times to sing at state dinners and luncheons at the President’s Residence while Peres was in office, was asked to sing at the memorial service last Friday and sang “Hachniseini Tahat Kenafech” (Bring me under your wing), whose lyrics were originally a poem by Haim Nahman Bialik. A verse from Bialik’s poem “After my death” is also engraved on the tombstone.

The Bialik connection was strong not only because Peres was a poet in his soul, wrote poetry and admired the poetry of others, but because his father, Yitzhak Perski, had studied in heder with Bialik when they were boys.

On Sunday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella inaugurated a tradition when he visited Peres’s grave on Mount Herzl. Presumably, this will become a custom among visiting heads of state.

On Tuesday evening the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation hosted a study evening in memory of Peres, at which several academics discussed different aspects of kaddish, generally regarded as a memorial prayer, including whether women should recite it. Even though women are usually prohibited in Orthodox circles from reciting kaddish, it will be remembered that Peres left instructions for his daughter Tsvia Walden to join her brothers, Yoni and Chemi, in reciting kaddish at his funeral.

She did so again at the memorial service.


■ WHILE HE obviously could not be in two places at one time, and naturally opted to be at a 20th anniversary memorial regatta for his father, Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, at the Herzliya Marina last Friday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog did not forget to mention Peres in an address that he gave about his father. He recalled that in 1984 his father had given Peres the mandate to form a government. Herzog spoke nostalgically about how much his father had enjoyed sailing, adding that he had frequently shared this pleasure with his family.


■ LAST WEEK while Canada’s governor- general was touring Jordan before his visit to Israel, which officially begins on Wednesday with a call on President Reuven Rivlin, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America announced that former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper would receive its highest honor, the Emet Award, at CAMERA’s annual gala dinner on Sunday, April 30, 2017, at Chelsea Piers, New York City. Harper, who is known for his sterling support for Israel, will share his experiences in confronting antisemitism at the United Nations and other forums. He will also talk about the importance of standing up for the State of Israel and Western civilization.

CAMERA’s president and executive director, Andrea Levin, commented that “in the long history of the Jewish people, there are certain global leaders who are remembered for their courage in taking unpopular but principled stands on our behalf. Stephen Harper is one of those exceptional leaders whose friendship in the 21st century won’t be forgotten.”

George Violin, chairman of CAMERA’s board of directors, recalled that under Harper’s leadership as prime minister between 2006 and 2015, he pledged that “Canada will remain an unyielding defender of Jewish religious freedom, a forceful opponent of antisemitism in all of its forms and a staunch supporter of a secure and democratic State of Israel.”


■ PHOTOGRAPHS OF women are usually taboo in haredi publications, but the Kikar Shabbat website features photographs of Hillary Clinton and Rabbanit Ronit Barash, a female Jewish version of Elmer Gantry, who lectures all over Israel and in the US and takes groups of women to Uman, where she happens to be this week.


■ THE ONGOING saga of the alleged sexual assault by leading former Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit against Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles journalist Danielle Berrin is the old story of Venus and Mars. In other words men and women see things differently and get different signals. The most obvious example of this is when women dress in a provocative manner, which to men is suggestive of promiscuity, but which women say should not be construed as a come-on for men to exercise their sexual instincts, because even when she is stark naked, if a woman says no, she means no.

What Shavit did was not only improper but unprofessional, and in the final analysis had a negative impact on his career and on future sales of his best-selling book. Even if he misunderstood Berrin’s reluctance to participate in his flirtation as merely playing coy, the fact of the matter was that she had come to interview him, and that should have been the basis of their relationship. It wasn’t a date. It was a business meeting.

Unlike some of his journalistic colleagues who were unable to control their libidos, Shavit at least had the sense to own up and to issue an apology of sorts, which was initially unacceptable to Berrin, who wanted him to admit that it was a sexual assault.

Even though it has since been published that this allegedly was not the only incident of this kind, and that he now understands that what he did was wrong and has taken responsibility for his actions, he may genuinely not have perceived his advances as such, and in his own mind may have believed that they were engaged in a flirtation, just as former president Moshe Katsav refuses to express remorse for committing rape, because he denies that he did so, and may truly believe this.

When Berrin spoke to The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov, Berrin told her that she was disappointed with the Israeli media’s focus on the perpetrator’s identity, which was distracting from the real issue at hand – namely, that women feel emboldened to talk about sexual assault after a tape of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitals surfaced. That unfortunately is an Israeli characteristic. The real issue is less important than proving that the idol has feet of clay.


■ ONE OF the questions related to the public broadcasting service, in the event that the Israel Broadcasting Corporation is not annulled, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not succeed in his proclaimed intention to rehabilitate the Israel Broadcasting Authority, is: What happens to the IBA’s extensive archives? Will they automatically be transferred to the IBC? Commercial channels frequently borrow from the IBA archives, which in the case of television go back to even earlier than 1968.

Radio and television broadcaster Yigal Ravid refers to the archives every week in his Friday show on Channel 1 The Way it Was. Usually he has people who were once headline makers in the studio, reminiscences with them and shows them clips of their heyday periods.

But last Friday, his “Shalom Mr. President” segment was all archive material with no studio interviews. It was great to see Israeli leaders who are no longer with us, such as David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin,Yitzhak Shamir and Peres in meetings with US presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

Curiously, the Israeli who featured most in these clips at various stages of his life was Peres, whose tombstone was unveiled earlier on the same day. Also seen were deceased or aging television broadcasters. What was particularly interesting was the warm and special relationship between Nixon and Meir, even though Nixon was known to be an antisemite. A follow-up on last Friday’s program will be screened this Friday at 6 p.m.

The IBA archives, which have been digitized, are a treasure trove of the history of contemporary Israel as well as places around the world whose newsworthy events were covered by IBA reporters. If the archives are transferred to the IBC, will this include a financial transaction, and if so will the money be paid to the Finance Ministry? Another question that arises is if Netanyahu succeeds in his ambition, will the building in Jerusalem purchased by the IBC as its chief operating center and presently in the final stages of construction be automatically transferred to the rehabilitated IBA? If it is rehabilitated, will it continue with foreign-language programs? The IBA English News is scheduled to be terminated at the end of December. When the Engish-language news was previously under threat of closure, the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel mounted a successful campaign to have it reinstated.

Another campaign is currently under way, regardless of the outcome of the battle over the IBC and the IBA. Despite the fact that there are numerous English-language outlets for news about Israel and the region, including online video broadcasts, of which one is operated by the Post, many English-speakers, even in a social media era, want to receive news in English via their television sets.

Supporters of the AACI campaign argue that apart from English-speaking Israelis, the country is packed with tourists, pilgrims, students, overseas workers, diplomats, journalists and so forth, and warn that if they can’t get their news in English in Israel, they will turn to Jordan and get a different slant.


■ FORMER CHAIRMAN of the Jerusalem Journalists Association and senior editor and broadcaster on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet Danny Zaken laments that IBA journalists who have signed up with the IBC are torn between two worlds. They have to divide their time between the IBA and IBC, in addition to which they have to take on extra duties that were previously carried out by colleagues who decided to accept the incentives to leave of their own accord rather than wait for the ax to fall.

Among the people who are in the process of leaving are veteran radio broadcaster and editor Pe’erli Shahar and Channel 1 Foreign Affairs Editor Oren Nahari. It’s not certain whether Shahar is merely retiring or moving to another media outlet. Nahari, who has been with the IBA for 30 years, began his association as a security guard while still a student at the Hebrew University.

He is transferring to Walla!News.

Senior broadcasters Yaakov Ahimeir and Aryeh Golan, who together have worked for the IBA for more than a century, are both obviously past retirement age, but have signed contracts with the IBC, though both fought ferociously against the closure of the IBA, and are still broadcasting for the IBA. Golan, in his early morning news and current affairs program on Reshet Bet, consistently brings up the issue of the IBA and the IBC. The curious thing is that even though it is in the process of liquidation, the IBA keeps introducing programs and program formats on both radio and television.

Commercial television is also facing major changes, and Channel 2 is presumably closing down toward the end of 2017. Actor, comedian and program host Guri Alfi, who has a program on Channel 2, last week announced that he had signed up with IBC.


■ IT IS customary for departing presidents of the United States to leave a note for their successors on the desk of the Oval Office.

The gracious note that George H.W. Bush left for Bill Clinton has been mentioned in Bush’s writings as well as in Clinton’s.

Bush wrote afterward: “I don’t want it to be overly dramatic, but I did want him to know that I would be rooting for him.”

Clinton subsequently left a note for George W. Bush, and referred to it in his autobiography, where he wrote: “I thought about the note to President Bush I would write and leave behind in the Oval Office, just as his father had done for me eight years earlier.

“I wanted to be gracious and encouraging, as George Bush had been to me. Soon George W. Bush would be president of all the people and I wished him well.”

There is no doubt about the nature of the note that Barack Obama will leave if Hillary Clinton succeeds him. But will he find it in his heart to be gracious if the next president of the United States turns out to be Trump?


■ IF YOU ask non-Jews who haven’t really mingled with Jews and haven’t engaged in any study about Jews and Judaism what they know about Jews, the most common answer of a non-antisemitic nature would probably be: “They don’t eat pork.” That most definitely falls into the category of the dietary laws, but it isn’t entirely true.

There are loads of Jews – even in Israel, the Jewish homeland – who eat pork, shellfish and other forbidden delicacies. On the other hand, there are Jews who observe the dietary laws, but because of the location and nature of their work have found it increasingly difficult to do so.

One such place has been the United Nations, where, thanks to the determination of Ambassador Danny Danon, kosher food is now available to all who want it. Following a month of deliberations between the Israeli Mission and the United Nations Secretariat, UN headquarters in New York this week began serving kosher food for the first time in its history.

Ever since he arrived at the UN, Danon has dedicated himself to promoting full equality for Jews in the UN. Examples include the designation of Yom Kippur as an official UN day of rest and the first Passover Seder held in the organization’s headquarters.

Although the UN had designated a kosher caterer for special occasions, the prices, spurred by a monopoly arrangement, were far to high. Danon wanted competition.

He also wanted kosher food to be readily available at all times. Danon wrote to Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon a month ago and requested that kosher food be served at UN cafeterias and restaurants. Until now, food honoring other dietary restrictions such as halal and vegetarian were served, but culinary options were not available for diplomats and UN visitors who keep kosher.

“We continue to walk with our heads held high in the UN. Judaism should be respected at the UN, just like all faiths are,” said Danon. “For many Jews, keeping kosher is a basic tenant of their faith. All the citizens of the world should feel welcome at the UN, and its doors should be fully open to the keepers of the Jewish faith as well.”

greerfc@gmailcom


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