If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan can be counted among those who laid the paving stones. When he was communications minister, Erdan set the ball rolling for the closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the establishment of a new public broadcasting service. His intentions were good, but the results so far have caused enormous turmoil and anxiety.
Similarly, his decision to appoint Gal Hirsch as inspector-general of the Israel Police has caused widespread havoc and a major upheaval within the police force and among bereaved families of soldiers killed while serving under his command.
Although the defense minister and the chief of staff have come out in Hirsch’s defense, some of the less than complimentary things that have been said about him in recent days would have a traumatic effect on a person of weaker character.
In fact, the fallout will be that fewer people will be prepared to stand for public office. We saw this during the period in which candidates were being considered for the role of governor of the Bank of Israel. When it became obvious how revelations of tiny misdemeanors could lead to huge embarrassment, most of the candidates dropped out of the race.
Erdan seems to court controversy. When he was minister for environmental protection, he called for Israel to stop supplying power to Gaza in order to prevent a power failure in Israeli towns and cities.
One can only imagine the reaction of the international community if Israel had plunged Gaza into darkness. Erdan is a lawyer by profession, and if he ever leaves politics he may go back to practicing law.
But meanwhile, he seems to have made a practice of rocking the boat.
■ ASIDE FROM the police, the Broadcasting Authority issue is a crisis of major proportions, especially with letters of dismissal reportedly starting to go out next week. At an emergency meeting this week of IBA staff members and journalists from other media, veteran Israel Radio broadcaster Arye Golan said that he had heard that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not overly pleased with the bill for the dismantling of the IBA that was introduced last year by Erdan. Golan suggested that Netanyahu was looking for a face-saving means to extricate the government from a complex predicament.
When Golan called on Carmela Menashe, who has been broadcasting on Israel Radio for 40 years and covers everything related to the IDF, he noted that she was the recipient of almost every possible prize and citation in the field of broadcasting, and that on September 3 she would receive another document which was not as rewarding.
The general feeling was that Netanyahu wants to have complete control over the Israeli media. “Netanyahu wants a media that will serve him and reflect his views,” said Channel 2 political correspondent Rina Matzliah, whose broadcasting career had its genesis at Israel Radio.
“Netanyahu doesn’t want a free, independent press with a diversity of views,” declared Matzliah, hinting that she had discussed the subject with him.
Itai Landsberg who heads the documentary division at Channel 1, noted that in totalitarian regimes the first thing that comes under attack is the freedom of the press. “We are not only fighting for the preservation of the IBA and public broadcasting,” he said. “We are fighting for the preservation of democracy.”
What irked IBA employees the most was that they are the victims who will be made to pay for the mismanagement of the IBA by a series of incompetent directors- general who were approved by Netanyahu or his predecessors.
THERE’S A sad Palmah joke that has circulated in recent years about someone inevitably remarking at Palmah reunions that they could not recall having had so many Filipinos in their ranks. Indeed, many of the old soldiers who came together at the Bronfman (formerly Mann) Auditorium in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Palmah were in wheelchairs or pushing walkers and accompanied by Filipino caregivers. But there were those, who despite the ravages of time, still walk with straight backs, albeit not quite as tall as they used to be.
One such person is Maj.-Gen. (res.) Shaike Gavish, the head of the Palmah Veterans Association, who was celebrating his 90th birthday and still walks ramrod straight and speaks with a clear, authoritative voice. Gavish, who is in charge of the Palmah Museum and is also the elder statesman of the IDF Veterans Association, was a battalion commander in 1948 and OC Southern Command in 1967, in which capacity he was credited for conquering Sinai in a near flawless operation.
Gavish said at the celebration – which was actually nine months ahead of time to ensure that the most feeble of the generation of the Palmah could attend one last milestone reunion – that no other country in the world could boast a fighting force like that of the Palmah, which was the elite commando unit of the Hagana.
Gavish is actually not the oldest Palmah veteran. That honor belongs to Pini Weinstein, 97. But Gavish and Weinstein are only two of 250 Palmah nonagenarians.
Someone else who recently turned 90 is Reuma Weizman, the widow of Israel’s seventh president, Ezer Weizman, who celebrated her 90th birthday last week.
Israel’s 10th president, Reuven Rivlin, joined in the Palmah festivities along with present and immediate past chiefs of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Lt.-Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz. Noting the number of national leaders in politics, the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) as well as academia who emerged from the Palmah, Rivlin said that he could not think of any other group whose ratio of leadership was so high. Eisenkot characterized the Palmah as, more than anything else, the interfacing of leadership with camaraderie.
■ ON THE evening following the Palmah event, Rivlin was in Holon for the ninth Payis Education Forum, the main gist of which was overshadowed by eminent American broadcaster Larry King, whose assessment of Donald Trump’s chances in the American presidential race received much more media attention than anything said by anyone else present, and photos of King and Rivlin were widely published.
Perhaps of more interest to veteran Jerusalemites was the reunion between Rivlin and his former leader in the Scout Movement – who happens to be one of Israel’s most renowned novelists – A.B. Yehoshua.
A fifth generation Jerusalemite, Yehoshua, who was dubbed by The New York Times as the Israeli Faulkner, was raised in the Kerem Avraham neighborhood and went to school at Gymnasia Rehavia, which is the same school that was attended by Rivlin and by former justice minister and current president of the Jerusalem Press Club, Dan Meridor. And they were not the only Gymnasia Rehavia alumni to achieve fame. The list is actually very long and also includes MK Nachman Shai. It was the first time that Yehoshua and Rivlin had seen each other since Rivlin became president, and they literally fell into each other’s arms.
■ AFTER DROPPING a couple of bombshells in interviews to promote his autobiography and provoking indignation and disgust at his revelations about what was discussed behind closed doors, former prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister Ehud Barak took himself off to Eilat, where he was photographed going for a stroll in a jaunty hat, a bright red polo shirt, khaki shorts and dark-hued shoes and socks. That some people are calling for him to be put on trial for divulging state secrets didn’t seem to bother him at all ■ CULTURE AND Sport Minister Miri Regev has become very hot under the collar over the possible performance in Tehran by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of conductor Daniel Barenboim, whose multiple citizenships include that of the State of Israel.
Barenboim has a history of political and cultural iconoclasm. In 2001 he stirred up a storm when, as conductor of the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Israel Festival, he had the orchestra play for its second encore a piece from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.
Barenboim had initially wanted to include Wagner in the program, but festival organizers refused to allow it. Wagner, who was a notorious anti-Semite and one of the favorite composers of the Nazis, is taboo in Israel, out of consideration for the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors who had been forced to listen to Wagner in the concentration camps. Barenboim puts greater focus on the music itself rather than its creator.
He followed the instructions of organizers till it came to the second encore, at which point he asked the audience at the Jerusalem International Convention Center if they were willing to hear Wagner. This provoked an angry debate, in which many insults and curses were hurled at Barenboim, but there were even more people who actually wanted to hear Wagner. In the final analysis, those who were opposed stormed out of the auditorium, but many more stayed and afterward gave Barenboim a standing ovation.
What had prompted Barenboim to break the rule, he told the audience, was that at a press conference that he had given earlier in the week, someone had forgotten to turn off their cellphone, and when it rang, the ringtone was from Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Barenboim had asked himself: If it was permissible to have Wagner on an Israeli ringtone, why should it be forbidden to have him on a concert stage? In another controversial move, Barenboim, more than a decade ago, established a music center in Ramallah, and in August last year conducted a free concert in his native Argentina in which the orchestra was composed of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians. In addition to his Israeli citizenship, Barenboim also holds Palestinian citizenship and strongly believes that music can help break down barriers between Israelis and Palestinians.
If he does eventually perform in Iran, he is well aware that much of the publicity will center on his being Jewish and his Israeli citizenship, which could well be the reason for his wanting to go there. While Regev and many other Israelis believe that he will be committing a sin, he may well be performing a service.
■ THE AUSTRALIAN Embassy is proud to have a hero in its midst in the person of Deputy Chief of Mission James McGarry, who recently rescued a woman from drowning. McGarry, who is very modest about the whole affair, finds it more interesting that it took place on the same day that he hosted an embassy event for Nippers, the iconic Australian young surf lifesavers who have launched an Israeli nipper pilot program. The original plan with regard to a reception for the Australian Nippers was that it would be hosted by Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who is quite a seasoned swimmer himself.
But Sharma was abroad at the time, so it fell to McGarry to do the honors.
McGarry lives in Jaffa and goes for a long swim in the late afternoon of each day, from the southernmost end of the Tel Aviv beach and back. Later in the day, as he was doing his return swim, he lifted his head out of the water and saw a group of some 10 to 15 people waving at him frantically and pointing to somewhere behind him. His first thought was that a shark had penetrated Israeli waters, but when he turned to look, he saw a woman with an inflatable tire around her body being dragged out to sea by the undertow.
McGarry immediately swam out to her, and when he reached her, he saw that she was exhausted and in a state of panic. He gave her his hand and began pulling her through the water. He suspects that she is Palestinian because she was wearing the traditional dress of Arab women, which is not as common among Jaffa’s Arab community as it is among Arab women from the West Bank. Her water-saturated clothing made it difficult for her to remain afloat; and without the tire and McGarry pulling her, she most probably would have drowned. It became easier for him as they drew closer to the shore and he was able to stand up and pull her in with both hands.
The moral of the story is: If you can’t swim, don’t go into water that is deeper than your ankles. Not a year goes by without reports of drowning incidents involving Palestinians unable to swim but eager to get into the water. If the international community wants to do something really positive and relatively inexpensive for the Palestinians, it should build them swimming pools, where they can learn how to swim before they go to the beach.
■ JUST OVER a year ago, Jared Gehn of New Jersey was looking forward to coming to Israel for his bar mitzva. But then Operation Protective Edge went into effect, and his family, not knowing the full extent of the situation in Israel, thought it wiser to remain in the US. But that didn’t mean that they had put Israel out of their minds or had decided not to visit.
Gehn, with his parents, David and Betty, and members of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun of New Jersey along with their rabbi, Matt Gewirtz, arrived in Israel last Sunday to contribute an ambucycle in memory of the 67 Israeli soldiers who fell in action during the operation. The ambucycle was funded by Gehn’s bar mitzva money. He had asked all his relatives and friends to refrain from giving him regular gifts and to give whatever sum they though appropriate to enable him to present an ambucycle to United Hatzalah, so that the paramedical organization – whose volunteer responders can get to sick or injured people faster than a regular ambulance and can access places that are impossible for an ambulance to penetrate – would have an additional vehicle at their disposal.
Although Jared may have missed out on celebrating his own bar mitzva in Jerusalem, there were other youngsters in the group who specially came to Israel at this time to celebrate their bar mitzvas in the holy city. When he met with United Hatzalah founder and president Eli Beer, Jared said that it felt great to be able to make a contribution to Israel’s emergency lifesaving efforts.