Grapevine: Friends in the most unexpected places

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March 15, 2016 19:56
 Rudolph Giuliani

Rudolph Giuliani. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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Israel has more friends in the United States – even in Klu Klux Klan territory, once known to be rabidly anti-Semitic – than most Israelis realize. That’s the bottom-line message of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who received a standing ovation following an inspired and inspiring address at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

“I know relations are strained at the highest levels of our governments,” he told his appreciative audience. Nonetheless, he continued, “There has never been a time when your country was better loved in my country than today. Forget about the president.

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You’ve got a lot of fans in the United States, so don’t be guided by what’s coming out of Washington.”

Giuliani, who makes no secret of his admiration and affection for Israel and the Jewish people, was the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by the World Jewish Congress and Greenberg Traurig Cybersecurity and Crisis Management Practice, of which Giuliani is a global chairman.

Speechifying is a Jewish disease, one which Jews not only reserve for themselves but foist upon their fellow beings. Giuliani was the cherry on top of the cake, or if you will the dessert after the main course – both literally and figuratively. But before he got to stand behind the microphone, Sam Grundwerg, the director-general of WJC Israel, who was moderator for the evening, called on a series of speakers, who included Shai Hermesh, chairman WJC Israel; Social Equality Minister MK Gila Gamliel; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office Eli Groner; and Gary Epstein, senior shareholder in Greenberg Traurig, who in terms of Jewish geography has known Grundwerg since the latter was a boy and went to school with Epstein’s son in Miami, Florida.

As a young lawyer, Grundwerg joined Epstein’s law firm, which incidentally was the first international law firm to open offices in Tel Aviv, practicing multidisciplinary law and providing Israeli clients with global services, but not practicing Israeli law. Epstein quipped that he talk for as long he liked, because he knew that everyone would stay to listen to Giuliani.

“That’s why we hired him,” he said.

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Speakers praised Giuliani for his courage, his conviction, his truth and his ability to raise the morale of his constituents after the trauma of 9/11.

For his part, Giuliani said: “My achievements rest on the shoulders of giants.” He almost wept as he recalled the heroism and dedication of police, firefighters and rescue workers in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy in 2001.

His inspiration in restoring morale, he said, came from Jerusalem, where in March 1996, 44 people had been killed in bus explosions caused by terrorist suicide bombers. Giuliani had called Ehud Olmert, who was then mayor of Jerusalem, offering to help in any way he could and asked what he could send. “Send yourself,” Olmert replied and urged Giuliani to ride the bus with him in order to restore Jerusalem’s morale. Giuliani unhesitatingly cleared his desk, came to Jerusalem and rode with Olmert on the No. 18 bus route.

He had been pleasantly surprised to see the resilience of Jerusalemites and their ability to resume life as normal. It was something that impacted on him in 2001.

Giuliani also spoke with pride of how he had kicked Yasser Arafat out of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations and how he had considered prosecuting Arafat for the death of Leon Klinghoffer.

Among the guests were Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and his wife, Ornella, who spent eight years in New York, and regard Giuliani as their mayor; Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz, Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici and Dominican Republic charge d’affaires Alexander de la Rosa.

Also present was World WIZO president Esther Mor, who delayed a trip abroad in order to attend. She was accompanied by her two immediate predecessors, Tova Ben Dov and Helena Glaser, and all three sat together at one table. Aside from her organizational status, Mor had a particular interest in being there, as her husband is Italian, and she has lived in both New York and Italy.

Actually, Mor can be classed as a stereotype of the wandering Jew. She was born in Pakistan to Russian parents, has lived in India, the US, Japan, Italy and Israel and speaks English, Hebrew, Italian, Bukharan, French, Japanese, Hindustani and Urdu, and is studying Chinese.

■ MOST EMBASSIES and ambassadorial residences in Israel are located in rented premises. Many foreign governments have signed long-term rental contracts, and their representatives have been at the same address for so long that few people realize that the property does not actually belong to them.

When a series of modern office blocks with marvelous panoramic views of the sea and the urban sprawl went up near the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange, several embassies previously located in Tel Aviv proper relocated to the new premises, forming diplomatic clusters in three or four buildings which are within easy walking distance of one another.

There’s another diplomatic cluster in Ramat Aviv, but the Koreans prefer to be in the Herzliya Pituah Industrial Zone, which is only a few minutes’ drive from the ambassador’s residence in Rishpon, enabling him to avoid the heavy traffic at certain times of the day between Herzliya and Tel Aviv.

Most ambassadors live in Herzliya Pituah or neighboring Kfar Shmaryahu and often endure a frustrating waste of time when caught in traffic on the way to or from work, especially if they have to be in the north or south of the country early in the morning.

In November 2013, Kim Il-soo, who was then Korea’s ambassador to Israel, hosted a ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the new embassy on land adjacent to the existing embassy that was purchased four years earlier on behalf of the government of the Republic of South Korea by his predecessor, Ma Young-sam, following negotiations for the purchase which had been initiated by Ma’s predecessor, Shin Kak-soo, who was Korea’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2008. Construction of the project was expected to take approximately two years.

Current Ambassador Lee Gun-tae hosted the completion of the magnificent embassy building at a glittering reception Thursday night, and unlike those of his colleagues who host receptions in their residences or in their embassies, made sure that the sumptuous catering comprising both Korean and Mediterranean fare was kosher, so that all his guests could partake. The catering was by the Sheraton Hotel, and at every food island there was an explanatory notice in Hebrew and English of the ingredients in what was being served.

Background music was provided by a fivepiece string quintet composed of members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Guests took pleasure in showing off their mobile Samsung phones, in solidarity with Korea. Prior to the opening of the buffets following the official ceremony, an army of waiters and waitresses in pristine white uniforms bearing trays of drinks and delicacies glided among the guests.

Lee Gun-tae said that he had hoped to have the opening at Korea’s official national day celebration in October, but the building had taken longer to complete than anticipated. There were good-natured mutterings in the crowd of “welcome to Israel.”

The chancery building illustrates Korea’s commitment to Israel, said the ambassador, pointing out how difficult it had been to purchase the land and secure the agreement of six different owners.

With all the frustrations that delays had entailed, the ambassador hinted that Korea would nonetheless be willing to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. “The Korean government will be happy to follow others when the time comes,” he said.

Korea’s Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs Shin Dong-ik, who specially came to Israel for the occasion, spoke of the similarities between Korea and Israel, ancient countries which both “regained” their independence in 1948.

Both have overcome adversity, he said, and have become global icons of economy and technology, he underscored.

The Israel government was represented by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who delivered his address in Hebrew, and who relied on the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol Meron Reuben, who stood behind him, for simultaneous translation of the speeches that had been made in English.

Ariel recalled that in 1950, the fledgling State of Israel had sent aid to South Korea during the Korean War. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1962, and today include cooperation in security, trade, scientific research, culture and other areas, he said.

He also noted the prominence in Israel of Korean electrical appliances and electronic devices, and noted that Korean Air was the first Asian airline to fly to Israel and has been bringing tens of thousands of Korean tourists (mostly Christian pilgrims) on direct flights three times a week.

In addition to Korean electric and electronic goods with which Israelis are so familiar, there will soon be Korean kosher food items on the Israeli market.

Guests at the festive event included Korean- born Ziporah Rothkopf, who introduced the recently certified products to the Israeli market at the South Korean Embassy’s booth in November at the annual Israfood expo in Tel Aviv. Her enterprise has the catchy name of KOKO Food, an abbreviation for Korean Kosher.

Among the other guests was Israel’s ambassador-designate to Korea, Chaim Choshen, who will take up his position in August, and who was told by Korean honorary consul Eitan Haber that he was going to one of the most beautiful of countries.

Advocate Amichai Orkaby, another Korean honorary consul, was also present, as were representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Herzliya Municipality, members of the Korean community in Israel, and a large representation of the diplomatic corps, including newly arrived Indian ambassador-designate Pavan Kapoor.

■ FORMER PRIME MINISTER, foreign minister and defense minister Ehud Barak was among participants at the 4th Global Baku Forum last week and was a member of a symposium on security. In relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Barak declared that Israel will never yield to terrorism.

In a reference to the possibility of Israel and the Palestinians reaching some form of accommodation, Barak said: “Conflict resolution is not a love story, it’s more like a painful divorce.”

Much as forum participants were interested in what Barak had to say, they were no less interested in his new sophisticated image. Barak, 74, is these days sporting a nicely trimmed beard, which is quite flattering.

Men are fortunate in that they can hide signs of aging, such as double chins and turkey necks, by growing a beard. A veteran member of the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post who is now deceased had an imposing beard that made him look like a biblical prophet. During the Gulf War, when many Israelis wore gas masks, he gave priority to safety over vanity and shaved off his beard.

Without it, his image was definitely in decline. From the dramatic appearance of a biblical prophet, he suddenly looked more like Kermit the Frog.

■ FOR THE first time in 28 years, Avshalom Kor, the traditional moderator of the annual International Bible Quiz for youth conducted on Independence Day, may not be at the microphone at the Jerusalem Theater. In a call for tenders published by the Education Ministry, Kor lost his longtime role to Channel 2 reporter on religious affairs Sivan Rahav-Meir, who quoted a lower price than he did.

Ministry personnel allegedly tried to contact Kor by phone to inform him that he would not be the master of ceremonies this year, but were unable to reach him. So they used the next best means of communication and sent him the news via SMS and email. They did this without consulting Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who, when he learned of it, immediately called Kor to apologize.

Kor is also a well-known radio and television personality, and the loss of his position in the Bible Quiz was a blow to his ego.

Nonetheless, he was sufficiently gracious to contact Rahav-Meir to congratulate her and to wish her well.

Rahav-Meir had been unaware that Kor had wanted to continue moderating the quiz, and when she learned the whole story from the media, she wrote to Bennett, saying that inasmuch as she would dearly love to moderate this important event, she cannot do so, knowing how much it means to Kor.

One of the tenets of Judaism – unfortunately not practiced much in Israel – is not to deprive a person of his or her livelihood.

Admittedly, Kor has other sources of income, but the Bible Quiz has been part of his persona for more than a third of his lifetime.

Rahav-Meir and her husband, Yedidya Meir, are the hottest couple on the religious horizon, appearing separately and together in front of both religious and secular audiences.

A super-bright student, Sivan grew up in a secular family in Herzliya and completed high school at age 16. By the time she was old enough to go to the army, she had already attained a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tel Aviv University.

She had begun writing for youth magazines while still at school, and also appeared in various television shows for children.

At age 18, her interest in Judaism was sparked by a book written by controversial religious philosopher Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz.

Yedidya Meir, who is the eldest of 11 siblings, is a Kol Chai Radio broadcaster and a Yediot Aharonot satirist. He is the son of Rabbi Eliav Meir, until recently the rabbi of Moshav Gimzo. Yedidya was a reporter for the army magazine Bamahane. Sivan also wrote for Bamahane, but her main assignment in the army was to work for Army Radio. The two met at a birthday party of one of the other people who wrote for the magazine.

After they were married, they were frequently invited to lecture as a couple. They also wrote a book together, and produced a number of children. Sivan gives weekly lectures on the Bible portion of the week, speaking one night in Jerusalem, and another in Tel Aviv. The lectures are very well attended, and this factor also figured in the decision of the Education Ministry to appoint her as moderator for the Bible Quiz.

Even without the Bible Quiz, Rahav-Meir has a lot on her plate. She will be one of the speakers at a mega event for women only under the heading of Renewal on Thursday, April 7, at the Jerusalem Arena. Also on the program are Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel, Sarit Hadad, Yuval Dayan, Din-Din Aviv and Ruhama Ben Yosef.

■ RUSS IAN-ISRAELI businessman Arkadi Gaydamak, who began serving a threeyear prison term in France last November, was released toward the end of last week. It was not the first time that his sojourn in a French jail was cut short, but this time he was released with an electronic bracelet.

Gaydamak, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Jerusalem in 2008, losing out to Barkat, is a former owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team and of Bikur Cholim Hospital, which he sold just over a year ago to Taaman Real Estate, which is owned by Shalom Haim and which is operated by Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

At the time of purchase, Haim was investigating possible investments the income from which would pay for the hospital’s maintenance. He has now decided to give the building a face-lift and to transform what used to be the hospital’s outpatients department into a series of private clinics, the rental of which will pay for the hospital’s upkeep. The proximity of the clinics to the hospital will also benefit patients when urgent tests or instant hospitalization are required.

■ AUSTRAL IA’S FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop is due to visit Israel in coming weeks, thus putting an end to any misconceptions about hostile repercussions in the wake of the postponement of the state visit to the southernmost continent by President Reuven Rivlin.

However, there should be some fireworks over Iran in discussions that Bishop has with Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Writing in The Australian on March 11, Jared Owens reported: “Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been accused of turning ‘a blind eye’ to Iran’s human rights abuses and anti-Israeli rhetoric in her efforts to repatriate thousands of rejected asylum-seekers.

“As Ms Bishop alleged a ‘reckless campaign of hysterical misinformation’ over Australia’s ties to Tehran, Labor front-benchers seized on revelations in The Australian that the frigate HMAS Darwin had on February 27 intercepted illicit arms apparently originating from Iran and bound for rebels in Yemen.

“The Australian Defense Force’s official statement on the interception did not mention Iranian involvement. However the US Navy believes Iran was the origin of the boat, its crew and its cargo – about 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 50 heavy machine guns concealed under fishing nets.

“Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is scheduled to visit Australia this week and is expected to discuss possible arrangements to deal with a backlog of failed asylum claims....”

■ HAPPIER NEWS from down under concerns Jewish community leader Jeremy Jones, AM, the director of international and community affairs for the Australia/ Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Jones last week was the recipient of the 2016 NSW Premier’s Harmony Award. He received his award from NSW Premier Michael Baird at a gala dinner attended by 1,400 people.

A former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Jones is a 26-year veteran of the executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and a member of the NSW Police Commissioner’s Multicultural Advisory Council.

As a high school student, Jones was involved with helping indigenous children.

At university he was also involved in ethnic affairs, advocating minority rights.

In the Jewish community, he quickly rose through the ranks to leadership roles, and was active in interfaith relations in Australia and abroad. He has also been a leading figure in battling anti-Semitism.

Jones’s services to the nation and to humanity have been previously recognized.

Among his other awards are the Australian Human Rights Medal and the Order of Australia.

■ SOME OF the people who over the past two Wednesdays watched on Channel 1 the intriguing documentary Netanyahu at War will be present in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, March 16, at the by-invitation-only lecture and discussion on the upcoming US elections and possible influences on US foreign policy, Israel, and the Jewish community by Dennis Ross.

Co-chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute, Ross was the director of Policy Planning in the US State Department during the presidency of George W. Bush and special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton. He was also a special adviser for the Persian Gulf and South Asia, including Iran, to former secretary of state and America’s would-be 45th president Hillary Clinton.

Ross, who featured quite prominently in the documentary, will have a lot more to say on Wednesday, though not necessarily about Netanyahu. In the promos for the documentary, he is shown several times commenting on reactions to Netanyahu having the temerity to lecture Obama. Ross was shown exclaiming “Outrageous! Outrageous!” From 2002 to 2008, Ross was part of the founding group of JPPI and served as its first chairman. He serves as a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

He is the author of several influential books on the Middle East and US foreign policy, one of which, Doomed to Succeed: the US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, was the winner in the history category of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award.

■ CONCENTRAT ION, DEATH , forced labor and transit camps which the Nazis set up in Poland have been publicized for more than seven decades, whereas those in Germany, Austria and other parts of Europe receive considerably less attention from Holocaust historians and the media. That’s one of the reasons that such camps on Polish soil are mistakenly referred to as Polish camps, when they were in fact Nazi camps.

It’s also one of the reasons that the lecture to be given at 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon, March 16, by Dr. Barbara Gluck, director of the Mathausen Memorial Department for Memorials and Tending of War Graves of the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior, will be of particular interest.

Gluck will talk about the history of the Mathausen concentration camp and what is being done in the development of Austria’s main site of remembrance of the crimes of National Socialism and its victims. Her lecture at the Maiersdorf Faculty Club, on the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University, is under the joint auspices of the university’s Center for Austrian Studies, the Austrian Embassy’s Austrian Cultural Forum and the European Forum at the Hebrew University.

greerfc@gmail.com

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