It’s been a truly hectic week for Canada’s ambassador-designate Deborah Lyons, who will not be among the five ambassadors presenting credentials next Monday. There are currently so many ambassadors-designate in Israel that it is impossible to fit them all into the same month. So on November 7 it will be the ambassadors of Fiji, Belgium, Latvia, Switzerland and Greece, and hopefully Lyons will make it into the December group. Meanwhile, she has been busy with arrangements for the visit of Canadian Governor-General David Johnston and his wife, Sharon, and escorted them on their journey around the country.
At the state dinner that President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, hosted for the governor-general, his wife and members of his delegation, the usually informal Rivlin said that the governor-general was equivalent to the president of Canada, and as a consequence addressed him as president, though when welcoming him in the morning he addressed him as “Your Excellency.”
But Johnston was not into standing on ceremony, and both in the morning and the evening addressed Israel’s president as Reuven, and said that as president, Rivlin had “ served as Israel’s conscience” in the move toward peace in the region.
As he had done in the morning, he also made heartfelt reference to Shimon Peres, but raised a laugh when repeating a conversation that he had held with a member of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
When he’d asked what made Israelis so innovative, he had given three reasons, the first obviously the need for defense, and the third was a lack of discipline, which Johnston preferred to call “the spirit of spontaneity,” and which in the wider world is known as chutzpah.
Rivlin mentioned in his address that next year Canada will be celebrating its 150th anniversary, “and there is so much to celebrate.”
Given the closeness of relations between the two countries, it would not be at all surprising if Rivlin goes to Canada for the central celebration of this milestone anniversary, providing of course that it doesn’t clash with Israel’s centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration.
What most of the guests appreciated was that Rivlin took Johnston on a tour of all the tables so that everyone present could meet him personally and shake his hand.
Even at a state dinner, the most dignified of people could not resist a selfie.
■ THERE IS almost always a musical interlude at state dinners, and at the President’s Residence that always includes a singer – in this case David D’Or, who did not include a Canadian song in his repertoire, but who nonetheless wowed the guests with his incredible vocal range. Even though he has sung the songs he chose countless times, he was busy rehearsing for the best part of an hour before the first of the guests arrived.
Obviously, practice does make perfect.
The guest in highest demand was Dr.
Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician from Gaza, who had worked in Israeli hospitals and speaks fluent accent-less Hebrew. Abuelaish, who counts many Israelis among his good friends, lost three of his daughters and a niece in January 2009, toward the end of the war, when his family’s home was struck by an Israeli army shell.
Abueleish found it too painful to remain in this part of the world and moved with his surviving five children to Toronto. In December last year, he was granted Canadian citizenship. In Canada he established the Daughters for Life Foundation, which provides university scholarships for young women from all over the Middle East, including Israel, and which also advocates for peace in the Middle East.
He was part of the governor-general’s entourage, and was warmly greeted by Israelis whom he had known before. He was also seen in earnest conversation with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who told him that he would like to set up an appointment with him.
■ SHAPIRO AND Rivlin will be meeting again before the US presidential elections.
Rivlin is scheduled to address the Israel- America Chamber of Commerce early next week, and will reiterate the great and enduring friendship between the two countries, regardless of which party is in power in either country. Obviously, he will be careful not to show favoritism to either presidential candidate. Israel and America will remain close allies no matter who wins the race.
On election night itself Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, together with American Embassy staff will host a true American- style election night party, as it did four years ago, but the party will be over long before the election results are announced.
This is being done deliberately, said Shapiro, so as not to favor any candidate. “It’s really a celebration of democracy,” he said.
■ APROPO PHYSICIANS, according to a report in Yediot Aharonot, Gonen Segev, a former minister of Energy and Infrastructure and before that a physician who has been struck off the register, wants to be reinstated. Segev, who has been living in Nigeria for the past five years, working as a doctor, wants to return home, but his return is contingent on his ability to work in the profession for which he is qualified.
After leaving the Knesset, he became a businessman and was arrested while attempting to smuggle a huge consignment of ecstasy pills from Amsterdam to Israel while using a forged diplomatic passport. Following a plea bargain deal in 2005, he was sentenced to five years in prison, and following his release, left the country. Now aged 61, and homesick, he wants to return to the country which he once served and to whose society he wants to contribute.
He is hopeful that the Health Ministry will understand that he has paid for his crime, has rehabilitated himself professionally, and would now like to use his abilities to help fellow Israelis in need of medical care.
■ THOUSANDS OF young Jews from all over the world come to Israel within the framework of the Israeli government’s and Jewish Agency’s Masa program which offers numerous opportunities of volunteerism and study for periods ranging from five to 12 months. It offers opportunities for Jewish young adults in gap year, as well as study abroad, post college and volunteer projects.
At the opening in Jerusalem last Monday of this year’s Masa intake, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told some one thousand young Zionists from abroad who had flocked to the capital from all over the country: “Masa is an incredible program and an incredible journey.
You’ve come from around the world to learn about the Jewish people and the Jewish state. You’ve come in order to be active participants in our common future. I’m confident that after Masa you’ll all be unofficial ambassadors for the State of Israel. Come to think of it, some of you, if you make aliya can become official ambassadors.” Netanyahu quipped that in such cases, he could put in a word with the foreign minister.
It’s not certain that all those who were present were aware that the prime minister also holds the portfolio of foreign minister among his various ministerial portfolios, and as many a true word is spoken in jest, it indicated that Netanyahu expects to be in office for a long time to come. “Israel is powerful because of the deep connection of our people to this land,” he said. “Masa is a critical part of strengthening the Jewish identity of so many young Jews from around the world and connecting them to this land.” Thirteen thousand people are expected to participate in Masa this year.
Among those present at the event were Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office and Masa chairman Aaron Abramovich.
Earlier in the day, Sharansky had headed a delegation from the Jewish Agency Board of Governors that met with President Rivlin at the President’s Residence.
The usual procedure is that the president, when he’s not sitting in the front row of the audience with a number of dignitaries, sits either on stage or at one end of the room with the leader of the delegation. The president sits on the right and the leader of the delegation sits on the left. On this occasion, for some odd reason, the president sat on the left and Sharansky sat on the right.
Sharansky is one of the people tipped to be the next president of Israel as is his good friend and former political colleague Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Sharansky has already announced that he will not seek another term as chairman.
However, he may find it daunting to have to wear a suit and tie every day because there is a certain formality attached to being president. Still, it’s too early to think about that because Rivlin still has almost five years to go before he completes his tenure.
Also, earlier in the day, several Australian and New Zealand Masa and Shnat Sherut (a year of service) representatives of Australian and New Zealand Zionist youth groups, namely from the Australasian Zionist Youth Council, Betar, Bnei Akiva, Habonim Dror, Hineni and Netzer were in Beersheba for the annual commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba in which the victory was in no small measure due to strategy and courage of the Australian and New Zealand light horse.
Rebecca Helfenbaum, deputy chairperson of the Australasian Zionist Youth Council, speaking on behalf of Australian and New Zealand Zionist youth, said that Zionist youth movements when formed, were inspired by revered Zionist figures. But it is equally important she said, to recognize the contribution of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, because without them, the visions of Zionist leaders might not have been realized. None of the battles they fought were designed to perpetuate war, but to bring about peace, she said.
Indeed, the presence of diplomatic and military representatives of countries that had once been at war with each other and are today allies, lent credence to what Helfenbaum had said. Aside from Australia, New Zealand and Israel, countries represented included Turkey, France, Germany, India, United Kingdom and the United States.