Grapevine: Spokesmen of the future

Although the sandwiches were tasty, they were far from anything traditionally served at a British high tea.

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December 29, 2015 21:59
Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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The apple did not fall too far from the tree, as was observed at the finals of the Siah Vasig Israel Debating Society contest held this week at the Begin Heritage Center in memory of the center’s founder and executive director Zvi Harry Hurwitz, who was himself a great public speaker.

The society was founded by Ann Kirson Swersky, who serves as its honorary president. She told the finalists in the junior English-language division that it really didn’t matter who won. The very fact that they had reached the finals was enough, and proof of their ability to speak before an audience, she said.

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Swersky, who is a South African expat, decided to hold the contest in honor of Hurwitz, who together with his wife, Frieda, were friends of her parents in South Africa. Menachem Begin, when he came to South Africa, was always a house guest in her parents’ home, she said, and Swersky had happily vacated her bedroom to make it available to Begin.

Herzl Makov, the current head of the Begin Heritage Center, commented that it was an ideal venue for such a contest given that Begin was famous for his oratory.

Although the dozen or so contestants were by and large not native English speakers, their command of the language in terms of both grammar and vocabulary were remarkable, with convincing presentations on issues such as the importance of art in education, behavioral disorders, animal rights, cruelty to cows, gender discrimination, an end to conscription and the need for a professional army, global warming and other subjects that have been making headline news.

The speaker who most impressed this columnist was Jerusalem high school student Asher Taub, the son of Israel’s former ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub. As both his parents are British, and he has spent the past four years at school in England, Asher Taub had a certain advantage over other contestants. Indeed, his own accent is a polished British accent, his argument for the abolishment of the draft was well thought out and, judging by the expression on his father’s face, he acquitted himself very well.

Like any anxious parent, Daniel Taub, an internationally acclaimed orator himself, leaned forward in his seat, with tension punctuating his body language. But as Asher launched into his argument, a grin spread over Taub’s face. He leaned back and his facial expression reflected both pride and pleasure.

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A contest of this kind is a wonderful preparation for future spokesmen for Israel, but a little more professionalism has to be introduced to the manner in which the contest is conducted. Programs should be published with the names and portraits of contestants; they should be properly and clearly introduced by their full names, and they should all be sitting together in the auditorium instead of all over the place. Then again, mistakes are part of the learning experience.

■ ALTHOUGH SHE refrained from eating, Col. (res.) Miri Eisen, one of the more eloquent spokeswomen for Israel during her 20 years with the IDF and since then, admitted that she was a little disappointed at the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association’s high tea that was held last week at the Sharon Hotel, Herzliya – because there were no scones. In fact, several of the people who attended expected not only scones but also wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches.

Although the sandwiches were tasty, they were far from anything traditionally served at a British high tea.

A former military intelligence officer and currently a teacher at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a tour guide who focuses on geopolitics and a lecturer in Israel and abroad, Eisen, who was IBCA’s guest speaker, was not out to change anyone’s ideological outlook but to get her audience to think more about the framing of terms and language.

In her perception, one of the key reasons for lack of progress in discussions between Israel and Europe and Israel and America, and even Israel and the Palestinians, has to do with the fact that even though everyone may be speaking English, they’re not speaking the same language. Israel is speaking security and everyone else is speaking human rights, she said.

As a result, there are gaps in perception and discourse, which make for lots of problems in understanding, even when talking with relatives and friends about Israel.

With regard to framing, Eisen said that there is a distinct difference between the way Israel views itself and the way the world views Israel. For more than 35 years, said Eisen, the world has framed Israel as Israel against the Palestinians, whereas Israel is thinking about all the other challenges that are confronting it.

And then there’s the terminology.

There is no neutral term for the Palestinians, Eisen pointed out, observing that news reports refer to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian National Authority, Palestine, the West Bank, Judea and Samaria. “How do you frame it?” she queried. “How do you have a conversation with people who have recognized Palestine as a state with Jerusalem as its capital?” She made it clear that she wasn’t there to provide the answer to the question – just to make people think.

For instance, she continued, the official name of Israel before 1948 was Palestine, though many Jews referred to it as Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel as distinct from the State of Israel). If she uses the term “Eretz Israel” today, everyone will immediately say that they know her politics, said Eisen.

Similarly, if she says settlements or if she prefers to say communities, “you know where I’m coming from.” Yet if a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes a reality, one of the two states will be Palestine.

Whereas Israelis overwhelmingly talk the language of security, which to Europe, America, Canada, Australia and South Africa conveys the concept of being overbearing, monstrous and militaristic, said Eisen, when she talks to someone who talks human rights, she is thinking that they are naïve, liberal and mistaken in their belief of how peace can be achieved.

“When I’m talking security while they’re talking about human rights, I’m becoming their worst stereotype.

When Israel talks about its right to defend itself and its citizens, and talks about soldiers, said Eisen, there is a sense of seeing people who have faces and eyes. But when the other side talks about humanitarian issues, the figure of the soldier becomes negative.

“The IDF are seen as robots at best and monsters at worst.”

But there is a double standard, brought on in part by the refugee crisis and the infiltration of terrorists.

The EU membership countries which talk humanitarianism when they talk to Israel, talk security when they talk among themselves, said Eisen.

■ HOW the mighty have fallen. An intellectual of the caliber of Yossi Beilin has joined Gidi Gov and Gil Hovav in a television commercial for Bezeq. But one can’t escape the truth.

He’s a great actor. It’s probably a skill he acquired as a politician.

■ EACH YEAR, the Tel Aviv Municipality awards the Sokolov Prize in journalism to outstanding representatives of the fourth estate. Each winner receives NIS 18,000. Categories vary from year to year, and this time the emphasis was on investigative reporting in the service of society. The award ceremony coincided with the vote on the bill that requires NGOs who receive most of their funding from foreign governments to make a declaration to this effect.

It is generally believed by people on the Left of the political spectrum that this legislation is deliberately directed against them. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, when giving out the prizes, wore a yellow tag around his neck with the declaration “I am the citizen of a country that receives funds from a foreign country.”

Winners in the Electronic Media section were Ilana Dayan, for her groundbreaking investigative reports broadcast in her program Uvda on Channel 2, and for her pioneering work in television programs of this kind which set an example for a whole generation of electronic media reporters who came after her; and Keren Neubach, for her Reshet Bet program Seder Hayom, which deals with economic and social issues from a critical perspective.

Print media winners were Amos Harel and Gidi Weitz, both from Haaretz. Caricaturist Shlomo Cohen, who works for Israel Hayom and has been drawing caricatures of people and events in the spotlight for 35 years, received the Dosh award. Dosh was the professional name of Katriel Gardosh, one of Israel’s top-notch political cartoonists and illustrators.

Huldai said that the recipients had proved that investigative reporting is not dead, but had been temporarily ignored.

Dayan, who is distantly related to Israel’s famous Dayan dynasty, was born in Argentina and came to Israel with her parents in 1970, when she was six years old. She was drafted into the army during the First Lebanon War and assigned to work at Army Radio, where her distinctive radiophonic voice earned her widespread attention. She was the station’s first female reporter. Other women who had worked for the station had been involved in research, editing and production, but none had been out in the field like Dayan. Even then, she asked probing questions and elicited the anger of many politicians who didn’t like the idea of a 19-year-old twerp challenging their statements and actions.

When she was 23, Dayan, then a law student at Tel Aviv University, was snapped up by Educational Television to become one of the anchors for the current affairs program Erev Hadash. She was the first woman to be given that position. She subsequently continued her studies at Yale University in the United States, where she earned her PhD in law. During this period, she also wrote a regular column for Yediot Aharonot. After returning home, she began to teach constitutional law, and in November 1993, with the advent of commercial television in Israel, she began to host her Uvda program on Channel 2. It is the channel’s longest-running program. She also broadcasts in the morning on Army Radio.

Neubach, who was born in Kibbutz Erez, is the daughter of businessman Amnon Neubach, the chairman of the board of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and a former Israel economic attaché in Washington for five years who was responsible for securing guarantees for the absorption of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In addition, he served as economic consultant to former prime minister Shimon Peres during the 1980s and was involved in implementing the 1985 economic stability program. Prior to this period he was deputy director of the budget at the Finance Ministry and served in other positions in the budget department.

When Keren Neubach wants to know anything about economics and finance, she can simply turn to her father. Like Dayan, she also began her journalistic career at Army Radio and, like Dayan, she is also an alumnus of TAU, having received her BA in history.

In 1991, she became Army Radio’s Washington correspondent, and also wrote for the now defunct Al Hamishmar left-leaning newspaper. Following her return to Israel in 1993, she joined the staff of Channel 1, initially reporting on political parties and later reporting on politics in general. In 1996, she wrote a book about the race for prime minister between Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 2004, Yosef Barel, who was then the director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, transferred her from being a political reporter to a news and current affairs presenter.

In 2008, Neubach launched her Seder Hayom program on Channel 2, in which she deals with social and legal issues, exposes government corruption, is a champion for women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of Holocaust survivors, the rights of children and adults with special needs, and the need for more public housing.

Many problems that individuals who were victims of the system were unable to solve by themselves or even with the help of a lawyer have been resolved through Neubach’s relentless efforts. There have been several attempts to unseat her and to break her spirit, but she has persevered and along the way has won several prizes for the nature of her program and what it has been able to achieve.

■ RUMORS OF the allegedly failing health of Israel’s ninth president, Peres, prompted a flood of concerned inquiries to the Peres Center for Peace.

Peres initially took the queries about his health in his stride, but when they kept mounting, he instructed his spokeswoman to issue a statement of denial. The statement sent out on Monday night insists that the rumors are false, and that Peres is carrying on with his usual schedule. He feels well, works from morning till night and does all in his power to benefit and contribute to the State of Israel.

He appreciates the many messages regarding his well-being, but says there’s nothing to worry about.

The statement was accompanied by a group photograph taken earlier in the evening in which a smiling, straight-backed Peres was photographed with a French Birthright group.

This is not the first time that rumors of this kind have circulated. Two years ago when Peres was in Mexico, he felt faint due to the altitude. Everyone in his entourage had been warned en route that it was quite common for visitors to be affected by the altitude, but when Peres, on the advice of his physician, failed to show up at one of the events on his itinerary, there was speculation that the then-90-year-old president had collapsed. But a few hours later, at the state dinner hosted in his honor by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Peres was in fine form and delivered a speech without notes and without hesitation.

■ THE DATE was purely coincidental, but on the evening of December 24, at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the aliya of Soviet Jewry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin with a framed copy of his immigration certificate.

Elkin, who was born in Ukraine, came to Israel 25 years ago in December 1990. He gained his BA and MA at the Hebrew University and became involved in Jewish education in countries of the former Soviet Union. He was elected to the 17th Knesset on a Kadima ticket, but decided that Kadima was too left wing for his taste and subsequently joined the Likud, and was able to retain his Knesset seat in the 2009 elections. He has traveled to Russia with Netanyahu and has been present when Netanyahu has met with Russian dignitaries.

Netanyahu said that immigrants from the former Soviet Union had changed the face of Israel and that it was impossible to measure the enormity of their contribution to the state or to imagine the state without them.

When looking out into the auditorium, he said, he saw the spirit, the strength and the reality of Israel.

While many immigrants from the former Soviet Union have distinguished themselves in academia, scientific research, entertainment and business, they are not as well known to the general public as those who entered the political arena.

Most of the politicians arrived in the aftermath of perestroika, but some, like Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, came with an earlier group of immigrants in 1978. Among the other politicians and former politicians who were born in the Soviet Union are Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jewish Agency chairman and former deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky, Tali Ploskov, Sofa Landver, Yoel Razbozov, Ksenia Svetlova, Roman Bronfman, Michael Nudelman, Yuri Stern, Marina Solodkin, Gennady Riger, Alexander Tzinker, Robert Ilatov, Stas Meseznikov, Lia Shemtov, Anastassia Michaeli, Faina Kirschenbaum and Alex Miller.

■ COLEL CHABAD is one of the oldest social services organizations in the Land of Israel, and has been functioning since 1788. Jewish travelers stranded abroad know that if they contact Chabad, they can get food and shelter.

In Israel Chabad runs numerous social welfare projects, one of which is Pantry Packers, which provides a dry food packaging experience for groups and families in Jerusalem.

Pantry Packers is celebrating its third anniversary on Thursday, December 31, with a mega family event at the Gutnick Halls in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Participants will be packing ingredients for a birthday cake to be delivered to needy families, take part in a kosher pickle-making workshop and enjoy a master-chef dessert experience.

Rabbi Menachem Traxler, who heads Colel Chabad’s volunteering division, is expecting a huge turnout.

There will be a modest charge for participation, with all the proceeds going to provisions for needy families. People who are unable to attend but who would like to contribute can learn how to do so at http://pantrypackersbirthday.splashthat.com/

■ IT’S HARD to tell which persistent philanthropists give the most money to Israel. First and foremost there’s the Rothschild Foundation, which supported numerous projects and created industries long before the foundation of the state, and continues to do so.

At first glance on the North American front, it looks like it might be Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who usually donate megabucks in the realm of $25 million a time for causes such as Yad Vashem and Birthright.

But they’ve also given large sums to IDC Herzliya, to clinics dealing with drug abuse and to other educational and medical projects.

Then there’s the Bronfman Family Foundation, whose various branches support museums, orchestras and educational projects, among others.

And there’s the Schusterman Family Foundation, which supports numerous initiatives and projects dealing with young leadership, child welfare, education, et al.

And there’s also the Mandel Foundation created by brothers Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel, who seem to be giving away millions of dollars every few weeks for leadership training, management of nonprofit organizations, higher education, museums and urban renewal.

The Mandel Foundation announced this week that it was giving $5.2m. to the city of Yeroham for the construction of an innovative R&D facility adjacent to the Technological Education Center. The new facility will be called MindCET.

Yeroham Mayor Michael Bitton was overjoyed at the generosity of the gift, and said that the new building would be a home for new creative ideas and new ways of thinking.

Former social services minister Amram Mitzna, who chairs the New Yeroham Foundation, which will oversee MindCET, said that this was yet another forward step in the effort to develop excellence in education in Yeroham.

This is not the first time that the Mandel Foundation has contributed to the development of Yeroham. “It’s part of our long-term relationship with Yeroham,” said Mort Mandel, the spokesman for the foundation, which is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. “This contribution is an expression of our desire to keep on supporting Yeroham and the Negev and to advance Israeli innovation.”

■ IT’S SOMEWHAT difficult to believe that the seemingly ageless Moshe Arens celebrated his 90th birthday last Sunday. Family, friends, colleagues and admirers who inter alia included Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and top brass past and present from the IDF came together a few days earlier at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem to salute the man who has had such a lasting impact on Israel’s defense establishment and foreign policy.

Born in Kovno (Kaunus), Lithuania, raised initially in Riga, Latvia, and then in the United States, where in the 1950s he trained in engineering and aeronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and aeronautical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, Arens first came to Israel in 1948. Before that he was a member of Betar, the youth wing of the Revisionist movement, and during World War II served in the US Army Corps of Engineers.

After helping Jewish communities in Europe and North Africa to establish self-defense groups, he returned to Israel and was among the founding members of Herut. He returned to the US in 1951 to study, and after coming back to Israel in 1957, found his niche at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, where he was a professor of aeronautics. Five years later, he was appointed deputy-director general at Israel Aircraft Industries, where he helped to develop fighter planes, and was awarded the prestigious Israel Defense Prize in 1971.

In 1973, following the Yom Kippur War, he threw his hat into the political ring and was elected to the Knesset. Reelected in 1977, he was appointed chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Reelected again in 1981, he spent less than a year in the Knesset before being appointed ambassador to the United States. His deputy chief of mission at the embassy was his protégé, a young man whose nickname was Bibi, and whose power of oratory was an important asset in the court of public opinion.

Arens was recalled in 1983 and appointed defense minister. In 1988, he was appointed foreign minister, and his deputy was the same young man with whom he’d worked in Washington. In 1990, Arens was once again defense minister, but retired from politics in 1992 when the Likud lost the election. He made a comeback in 1999 to stand against Netanyahu for the leadership of the party. Netanyahu emerged the victor, but there were no hard feelings, and as prime minister he appointed Arens to his third and last stint as defense minister.

Arens was one of the few people at his birthday bash who actually met Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder and mentor of the Revisionist movement, and said that more than anyone else whom he had ever met, he was influenced by Jabotinsky.

Arens was always irked by the fact that all credit for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had gone to left-wing heroes under the command of Mordechai Anielewicz, whereas there was no mention of right-wing Betar activists under the command of Pawel Frenkel.

The intensive research that Arens undertook on this issue resulted in his book Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto, which has been published in Hebrew, English and Polish.

Arens was in Warsaw in 2008 to witness the unveiling of a plaque by the Warsaw Municipality commemorating Frenkel and the Jewish Military Union, which he commanded. The plaque was unveiled at the conclusion of an official ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Frenkel was also mentioned in the address given by Polish president Lech Kaczynski.

Arens is chairman of the international board of governors of Ariel University and also sits on the board of the Begin Heritage Center. He is also a columnist for Haaretz – and he still drives his own car.

greerfc@gmail.com

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