Grapevine: Friends and neighbors

For most of the world, a nuclear Iran is a theoretical problem, but for Israel it is an existential problem.

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June 16, 2015 21:17
Pride 2014

The Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade in 2014. (photo credit: ARSEN OSTROVSKY)

 
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In welcoming Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus and the first head of state to visit Israel in more than a year, President Reuven Rivlin said on Monday that it was always a pleasure to welcome friends, adding, “You are so close, you are almost family.”

He also noted that although this was the first time as president of Israel that he was welcoming Anastasiades, the guest of honor was no stranger to Israel.

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Anastasiades, accompanied by a police motorcycle escort, entered the gates of the President’s Residence to a trumpet fanfare and was met at the entrance by Rivlin, who embraced him. After the playing of the national anthems of both countries, the two presidents, led by Maj. Oded Nahari, head of the General Staff Ceremonies Department, inspected an IDF honor guard before meeting heads of churches and other members of the reception line-up.

In a public discussion that followed official statements and a private meeting, the presidents recalled that after the Second World War, when British Mandate authorities had refused to allow Holocaust survivors to come to the Land of Israel and had interned them in Cyprus – which was then a British protectorate – the Cypriots had been particularly kind and hospitable toward the refugees for more than two years.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Cyprus were established in 1948, though Anastasiades noted that the relationship between the two countries extends back many centuries before that. Politically, the relationship has had many ups and downs; the Cypriots were not happy in the days when Israel enjoyed good relations with Turkey, and the Israelis were far from overjoyed at the close links between Cyprus and the Palestinians.

However, in recent years, especially since the discovery of gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean, relations have been at an alltime high with unprecedented cooperation in the energy field.

“The discovery of gas will take relations to a new strategic level,” said Cypriot Energy, Commerce, Industry and Trade Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, who was part of Anastasiades’s delegation.

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While acknowledging that investors in gas exploration should get a return on their investment, Rivlin made the point that gas does not belong to the government or to private investors, but rather to the people.

In political and security terms, both countries suffer the dangers of extremism. Drawing on his country’s experience with Turkey, which does not recognize Cyprus, Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides agreed with Rivlin about the futility of unilateral moves by parties involved in peace negotiations.

“Unilateral movement will score points but will never bring peace,” said Kasoulides.

“We have to be patient, but we have to persevere.”

He emphasized that when EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini came to Israel last month, she created an atmosphere in which peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could be resumed. Everyone has to be careful not to damage her efforts, cautioned Kasoulides.

Anastasiades, who at the end of April hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Nicosia, and spoke to him by phone last Friday, told Rivlin that he was carrying a message from Sisi to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was related to peace and security in the region.

The two presidents discussed the situation in Gaza, the Iranian nuclear threat, economic boycotts, the civil war in Syria and the dangers that combating terrorist forces within Syria pose to that country’s Druse community as well as to the Druse living on Israel’s border.

For most of the world, a nuclear Iran is a theoretical problem, but for Israel it is an existential problem, said Rivlin.

As for Syria, terrorist forces are fighting each other and there is no indication as to who will emerge the victor. “We know [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, but we don’t know who will replace him,” said Rivlin in a tone of concern.

He welcomed the goodwill attempts of Cyprus as a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians to get the peace process back on track, but warned that the Palestinians are not willing to enter into a two-state solution if they can’t have an army and an airport.

Both presidents agreed that for the sake of peace and security as well as economic prosperity, initiatives must be found that will lead to greater cooperation between countries in the region.

“Through strengthened cooperation we are giving a strong message to everyone in our neighborhood,” said Anastasiades.

Sitting in on the meeting was Israel’s Ambassador to Cyprus Michael Harari, who Anastasiades described as “the best ambassador that Israel had ever sent to Cyprus.”

■ ON THE subject of ambassadors, two former ambassadors who are currently deputy directors-general at the Foreign Ministry stood in for ministers on Monday when the latter, assigned to attend the Independence Day ceremonies of the Philippines and of Ethiopia in Tel Aviv, were summoned to urgent discussions in the Knesset.

Avi Granot, who heads the Africa Division at the Foreign Ministry, is a former ambassador to Ethiopia among other diplomatic postings, so it was entirely appropriate for him to deliver the message that Economy and Development of the Negev and Galilee Minister Arye Deri had intended to impart.

Both Granot and Ethiopian Ambassador Helawe Yosef Mengistu noted that among the common challenges facing Israel and Ethiopia is the expansion of radical Islam, which Granot said can be seen in the al-Shabaab group in East Africa, Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel’s borders, and in the Islamic State in many parts of the Middle East.

“The cooperation between our countries in the regional strategic contest is very important in dealing effectively with this terrorist threat,” he said.

“Terrorism and extremism are becoming a real global threat and expanding to each corner of our world. Ethiopia strongly believes that the fight against terrorism demands a more concerned and coordinated global effort. To that end, Ethiopia is ready to forge and strengthen alliances,” said Mengistu.

He emphasized that Ethiopia is working hard for the restoration of peace and security in the region, in particular in South Sudan and Somalia in collaboration with the United Nations. Mengistu also spoke about his country’s progress in eradicating poverty and in building up its economy.

Over the past quarter of a century, many changes have taken place in countries on the African continent. On May 28, 1991, the ruthless military dictatorship in Ethiopia was overthrown, bringing to an end nearly two decades of war and instability, said Mengistu.

The new Ethiopia offered survival, hope, peace, dignity, development and democracy to every segment of the Ethiopian population, he continued.

As is the case with most African countries with which Israel enjoys diplomatic ties, MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Cooperation, has been active in offering technological assistance and building up the capacities of Ethiopia’s agricultural experts.

■ MOST OF the diplomats invited to the Ethiopian reception were also invited to the Philippines reception hosted by Ambassador Nathaniel G. Imperial.

The reception featured a dance performance by the magnificently costumed Sindaw Philippines Performing Arts Group that is touring the country and will perform in the Castra Mall in Haifa on June 17 and 18 during the Philippine Tourism and Country Fair. The group will also perform at the Independence Day celebrations of the Philippine community in Israel organized by the Federation of Philippine Communities on June 20.

Although Philippine independence from Spanish colonial rule was proclaimed on June 12, 1898 by president Emilio Aguinaldo, there is still a great deal of Spanish influence in the Philippines, especially in the national dress, many examples of which were seen at the ambassador’s reception. The striking gowns worn by many of the women featured exquisite embroideries, embossing and appliqués, and in some cases were fashioned from the finest silks which had been perfectly cut and sewn. The men likewise wore the traditional ivory-hued embroidered shirts.

Representing the government in lieu of Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai was Mark Sofer, head of the Asia and the Pacific Division at the Foreign Ministry.

Various embassies try to find novel ways of singing or playing the national anthems. In this particular instance, a film depicting reconstructed scenes from the Philippine Revolution accompanied the anthem of the Philippines, and a broad-ranging scenic film of Israel accompanied “Hatikva.”

The Philippine Revolution was the first successful anti-colonial struggle in Asia, said Imperial, adding that it produced at the end of the 19th century an elected congress, a democratic constitution, and a new republic that lasted from 1898 to 1901.

“Together with the 25,000-strong Philippine community in Israel, we remember and honor the martyrs of the Philippine Revolution who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we now cherish and commemorate the ideals that shaped our nation and identity as a people,” said Imperial.

Diplomatic relations with Israel were established in 1957 and political relations are strong. As with many other countries with which Israel has ties, MASHAV plays an important role.

Sofer read a congratulatory letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that referred to Israel’s eternal gratitude to Manuel Quezon, the president of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944, who opened the gates of his country to provide a haven for Jews fleeing from the Nazis when so many other countries refused to do so.

Imperial thanked Netanyahu for his letter of congratulations in honor of the occasion and the Israeli government for allowing so many Philippines to work in Israel, where they are helping many families to cope with the challenges of an aging population and enjoy “the best working conditions in the Middle East.”

The ambassador characterized these caregivers as “the Philippines’ most effective ambassadors of goodwill.”

Economically, 2015 is an extremely important year for the Philippines, which will be hosting more than 50 multilateral meetings of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

With regard to Netanyahu’s letter, Sofer said that he had found out about it only a half hour prior to leaving Jerusalem and yet it had already been incorporated in the ambassador’s own prepared address – a factor that worried him, he admitted in jest, “because it means that you have better intelligence than we do.”

■ CANADA’S AMBASSADOR to Israel Vivian Bercovici is a second-generation Holocaust survivor. She is also a lawyer by training, and though her language may be couched in diplomatic terminology, there is no hesitation on her part to call a spade a spade, and to recognize anti-Semitism for what it is, particularly when this is also the policy of the country that she represents.

Last week, when she hosted members of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association at her residence in Herzliya Pituah, she had come home from a Britain-Israel Communications and Research Center and Institute for National Security Studies conference in which a major part of the discussion had centered on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

To Canada, she said, BDS is a symptom for the delegitimization of Israel.

“It’s a tactic, not an ideology, and Israel is the only country in the world targeted in this way,” she stated. The implication was that there are numerous countries guilty of human rights violations that are not singled out for censure, yet “no other country is accused of so many violations,” said Bercovici.

BDS is not about settlements or government policy, she said. It’s anti-Israel, it’s anti-Zionism and that to her equals anti-Semitism. “I’m calling it anti-Semitism because that’s what it is,” she declared.

Coming from a family with a survivor background, Bercovici is profoundly bothered by the continued use of Nazi propaganda language whether or not it applies to Israelis.

One such term that repels her is any grammatical form of the word “exterminate” if it refers to people. “We don’t exterminate people; we exterminate cockroaches,” she said.

When some of her guests asked her what they could do about BDS and other forms of anti-Semitism, her response was: “Start getting real. Start speaking up. Get out there.”

While acknowledging that it was impossible to fight thought and the dissemination of negative attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people, such attitudes can nonetheless be fought and challenged, she said. “Someone has to take charge and run with it.” She instanced social media as one of the battlegrounds of BDS, and this has also created an additional framework for diplomacy. “Digital diplomacy is very important,” said Bercovici, adding that she tweets a lot.

■ THERE WAS a lot of hugging and kissing at the Jerusalem headquarters of the American Jewish Committee this week when past and present diplomats, government officials and representatives of NGOs from Poland and Israel met at a reunion of sorts to mark the 25th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between Poland and Israel.

The camaraderie and the candor between the representatives of both countries was almost palpable, and would have been even more so if former Polish foreign minister, the much-beloved Wladyslaw Bartoszewski who had been involved in the planning and who had intended to participate in the event, had not died last April, and many references were made to him.

Had he lived, he would have been one of three nonagenarians or near-nonagenarians in attendance. Former foreign minister Moshe Arens, who will be 90 in December and who signed the protocol for renewal of relations, was there, and so was sculptor Shmuel Willenberg, 92, who is believed to be the last living survivor of the Treblinka death camp.

Also present were Jan Dowgiallo, who was Poland’s first ambassador to Israel following the renewal of relations, which were cut off following the Six Day War, and Polish-born Mordechai Palzur, whose family came to Palestine with Anders’ Army during the Second World War, as did Menachem Begin. Palzur, who had been ambassador to a number of Latin American countries, was stationed in Santo Domingo when informed that he would have to go to Poland to take charge of Israel’s special interest office in the Dutch Embassy.

This was in 1986, some time before the full resumption of diplomatic ties. Although he spoke Polish fluently, he knew almost nothing about Poland, and the Poles were very suspicious of him, convinced that he was a spy because he spoke Polish too well for someone who had left as a child.

Neither Palzur nor his superiors could understand why it was taking so long for the Poles to follow through on the renewal of ties – it took a year from the time of declaration till the final protocol was signed and Israel could once again take possession of its embassy building.

Two teams of 25 persons each came to rebuild the embassy that had deteriorated considerably in the two decades in which Israel had been absent. The reason for the delay became obvious – the Israelis found hidden microphones in every room including the toilet, as well as microphones from the period before the severing of relations.

Jan Wojciech Piekarski, who served as Poland’s ambassador to Israel from 2003 to 2006, and before that organized the visit to Israel of president Lech Walesa, said that when he had been offered the post in Israel, he had seen it as the jewel in the crown of his diplomatic career.

Former Knesset speaker Szewach Weiss, a child Holocaust survivor who returned to Poland as ambassador and became so enamored with his native country that he also began to teach at Warsaw University after completing his tenure as ambassador, commented, “We are not Jews from Poland, but Polish Jews.” The remark was based on the fact that Jews who came from Poland to Israel have brought with them so much Polish custom and culture.

Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna explained that in November 1947, Poland, which for a time had lost its own sovereignty, voted in favor of the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine because it believed in the right of the Jewish people to return to their own land – the land for which they had yearned for so long. This had been part of his master’s thesis at university, he disclosed.

■ GIVEN ALL the publicity that last Friday’s gay pride parade in Tel Aviv received before, during and after its mega event, one might get the impression that heterosexuals are fast becoming a minority in Israel. Whereas not so long ago, members of the LGBT community were largely afraid to come out of the closet for fear of discrimination and degradation, today it’s really in to be out.

Representatives of the LGBT community were warmly received at the President’s Residence by President Reuven Rivlin and his aides, at the Knesset and in the streets of Tel Aviv. Several embassies hoisted the gay pride flag alongside their national flags, or had gay pride streamers or lights in the gay pride colors on their buildings.

Several ambassadors, along with members of their staffs, joined the parade on Friday, and US Ambassador Dan Shapiro not only joined the parade but hosted a reception at his residence in Herzliya Pituah to welcome some of the people who had come to Israel for the occasion. He also went to the Gan Meir center in Tel Aviv to welcome the delegation from Miami. The French Embassy tweeted that it was proud to have raised the LGBT flag over its building, and some of its staff members participated in the parade.

Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp brought a contingent from his embassy dressed in orange, the national color of the Netherlands, but also one of the colors on the rainbow flag that was so visible in so many business enterprises.

“We cannot take gay rights for granted,” said Veldkamp. “There are so many places where gay rights are trampled on or under pressure, from Uganda to Russia to most countries in the Middle East. Even in our own free countries, we often have to keep defending tolerance these days.”

Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser and members of his staff marched with the Swedish contingent. Nesser also spoke at the LGBT Film Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

The British Embassy posted on its Facebook page “Happy Pride Day and Shabbat Shalom,” adding that “An international index placed Britain in the No. 1 spot in a list of 50 countries in giving equal rights and opportunities to the LGBT community.”

■ “I’M NOT a prostitute, and I don’t do drugs,” states the Facebook post by Avigail Kornilov-Graiver, one of the young women posing in a photograph with Likud MK Oren Hazan in a Tel Aviv bar six years ago.

Hazan was the owner of the bar that Kornilov- Graiver and her friends used to frequent.

The photo, which included another young woman, has gone viral, and the caption has frequently stated that the two women are prostitutes and that the photo was taken in a casino in Bulgaria.

“I’m not a prostitute and never was one,” she wrote. “I’m a normal person who is currently in a wonderful relationship. I work for the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, and I’m a psychology student. I’ve never been to Bulgaria, and I’ve never played poker, nor am I a narcotics addict, and I didn’t vote Likud.”

Kornilov-Graiver, who is sick and tired of people saying they didn’t know she was the type of person described in the erroneous caption, also appeared on Channel 10 to repeat most of what she had written in Facebook post. The moral of the story is: Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions.

The lesson to be learned is perhaps to stop posing for selfies.

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