■ THOUGH CONSTRAINED by orders from the prime minister not to discuss the impact of the American elections or hot political issues of a local nature with the media, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett could not help beaming on Monday morning when he addressed members of the Foreign Press Association at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
He had scored points over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and had proved to him that if anyone was going to unseat him, it was more likely to be someone from the right than someone from the left.
There was a larger than average turnout because journalists representing media outlets in North America, Europe, and Asia came with expectations of hearing about how Bennett viewed Israel-America relations under a Donald Trump-led administration, but even more important, his personal take on Amona, which is scheduled for destruction on December 25, which this year not only coincides with Christmas, but also with the first day of Hanukka. Without a modern miracle, the court order for the demolition of the outpost will be executed as planned.
FPA chairman Joe Federman, who praised Bennett as “a popular, outspoken and savvy politician who has done many things in a short time and has been accessible to the international media, said that in view of the PM’s instructions, Bennett had offered to reschedule the meeting to a later date, but in the end it was decided that he would speak both on and off the record. The most pertinent remarks were of course off the record, and even then Bennett was hesitant about voicing them, but he relented when several journalists protested, saying that Amona had been the subject of radio talk shows all morning and that other ministers had spoken on the subject. Few things are more frustrating to a journalist than off-the-record remarks in the middle of an on-the-record conversation – especially when some of the remarks have been openly stated in the past.
Bennett spoke briefly about his proposed “bill of normalization,” and barely referred to political upheavals in the United States and Europe, saying only that changes in those parts of the world as well as in the Middle East provide Israel with unique opportunities “to reset everything so that we don’t follow old paths which have proven time and again to be unsuccessful.” It was time to explore new alternative paths for Israel, the Palestinians and the whole of the Middle East, he said.
Bennett remained true to his belief that setting up a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel would be a big mistake, and stressed the need to find a different approach.
He was also in favor of easing some of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians without compromising security precautions.
As for opportunities, Bennett quoted a lesson he had learned in the days when he was a high tech entrepreneur. “Opportunities and threats come and go. Seizing the opportunity is the secret.” There is a changing situation in which the Arab and Moslem world are in upheaval, and Europe and the US are changing, he said, noting that under these circumstances, there are opportunities for “restructuring the Middle East.”
Israel is now in a unique position where it can give a lot to the world, he said, listing innovation-driven growth, intelligence on matters related to the region, water, food and energy recycling and conservation, and how to sustain a democratic free state in the midst of ongoing terrorist attacks.
Bennett pointed out to his audience that they all live in Israel and can testify that the ordinary person on the street leads a normal life despite the fact that Israel is “the most threatened nation in the world.”
Notwithstanding the threats from within and without, Bennett, a former minister of economics, said that investment in Israeli start-ups is equivalent in investment to all European start-ups combined, and that investment in 2016 will be in the range of $6 billion.
Bennett also touched on integrating more haredim and Arabs into the workforce and revealed that there is much more prejudice against haredim than there is against Arabs.
He also commented that while cooperation on matters of education and employment with Arab mayors was excellent, there is “a disconnect” with members of the Joint List in the Knesset.
■ MEDIA COLLEAGUES were shocked this week to learn of the sudden death of Tatiana Hoffman, the Czech-born foreign affairs editor on Channel Two. Hoffman died of cardiac arrest at her home in Jerusalem on Monday night.
Her career as a journalist began on state radio in her native Prague. In 1968, she was invited to come to Israel to receive an award from the Israel Journalists’ Union. While she was here, her country was invaded by the Soviets, who were displeased with some of the liberal reforms introduced in Czechoslovakia.
Hoffman elected to stay in Israel, learned Hebrew and enrolled at the Hebrew University where she earned a degree in political science.
After graduating, she found work at Israel Radio, rising relatively quickly to the position of daily news editor.
But she had her mind set on wider horizons, which she believed to be in Germany. She stayed there for 12 years, during which time she married and bore children. Following her return to Israel in 1993, she was invited to join the nascent Channel 2 news team with which she remained until her dying day. Early morning news readers and program hosts on Israel Radio expressed their sadness over the death of the 69-year-old Hoffman who is survived by her mother, her artist husband Aryeh Azan and her children Guy, Talya and Danny.
Veteran radio and television broadcaster Yaacov Ahimeir lauded her for her “modesty, integrity and professionalism.”
■ WHAT DO US President-Elect Trump and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat have in common? Barkat doesn’t take a salary, and Trump says that he won’t take one either. He intends to be a dollar-a-year president.
Whoever missed Trump’s interview with Lesley Stahl on CBS’s 60 Minutes can make up the lost opportunity this evening when the interview that took place last Friday at Trump Tower will be rebroadcast in full on Channel One. The rancor that was the hallmark of Trump’s election campaign has disappeared.
He said of Hillary Clinton’s phone call to concede: “She couldn’t have been nicer. She’s a great competitor. Very strong. Very smart.”
He noted that Bill Clinton and both presidents Bush had called to congratulate him, and had found President Barack Obama to be “terrific, very smart and very nice with a great sense of humor.” Despite the frequency with which Trump declared his intention to lock Clinton in jail, it was obvious that he has since softened his stance, and is unlikely to pursue the matter.
Although it was the electoral college that gave him his victory, he prefers the time-worn method employed in most other countries in which the person who gets the most votes from the electorate is the winner.
Even before he gave the interview to CBS, Trump was interviewed by Israel Hayom’s Boaz Bismuth. It should be remembered that Israel Hayom was founded by Sheldon Adelson in 2007, and that Adelson was one of Trump’s big campaign donors. Adelson’s Israel media empire, which also includes Makor Rishon and the NRG website that originally belonged to Maariv, was enhanced this week with the launch of new app for mobile phones, 360.co.il, which provides news that is palatable to people on the Right of the political spectrum.
■ AMONG THE new appointments being made by the Trump administration will be those of representatives abroad. Trump’s first wife, Czech-born Ivana Trump, who lives in New York, wants to be sent back to her native country as America’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, where, she told The New York Post, she is well known and will not have to learn the language. She also suggested that Trump should continue to use his own plane and turn it into Air Force One.
■ INASMUCH AS Israel Hayom has outrun Yediot Aharonot as the most widely read newspaper in Israel, with due respect to the Trump interview, Yediot is still the tabloid that gets the big scoops. For some reason, Yediot manages to land important interviews when other media find it difficult to get a foot in the door.
When it comes to what in Hebrew is referred to as piquanteria, it is likely to appear in Yediot before it is published in any other newspaper.
Gossip and scandal related to government officials usually make the headlines in Yediot long before the information reaches the paper’s rivals.
An in-depth interview with Chemi Peres in the weekend edition last Friday was a case in point with regard to scoop interviews.
Although he is the youngest of the three siblings who were all close to their father Shimon Peres, on an ideological level, Chemi Peres appeared to be the closest, and was strongly allied his father in projects of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. He is in fact the chairman of the Peres Center, and he is the one who accompanies visiting heads of state and government when they visit his father’s grave on Mount Herzl to lay a wreath.
In the interview, Peres recalled that on the day of his father’s collapse, he had been with his father in the morning when they had met with investors from abroad and with a hightech group. In recent years, Shimon Peres had preferred not to make speeches but to be interviewed on stage. On this last occasion, the interviewer was Chemi Peres, he told Yediot’s Amira Lam.
Afterwards father and son sat together and Shimon Peres, in reviewing what he’d spoken about, censured himself for not having said enough about Israel. It was the last conversation they ever had, and Chemi Peres decided to honor his father’s living will and to speak long and loud about Israel at every opportunity.
Just as Shimon Peres had gone through life with his grandfather’s last instruction to him to remain a Jew, so Chemi Peres has taken it upon himself to fulfill his father’s wish to talk about Israel.
He got his chance to do so yesterday in front of a mammoth audience, when he addressed thousands of participants at the annual Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Washington, D.C. He spoke of issues that were deeply important to his father, including relations between Israel and the US, which Shimon Peres believed was the priority in Israel’s foreign policy.
After speaking to a mega-audience in America’s capital, Chemi Peres will address another large audience in Israel’s capital on November 29, when he will be one of the keynote speakers at what is being advertised as The First Global Start-Up Education Conference. The venue is the Jerusalem International Convention Center, and Peres is scheduled to give a keynote speech at the opening session.
Other keynote speakers include Science Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Prakash Nair, founding president and CEO of Fielding Nair International USA, Yair Seroussi, chairman of the Board of Directors of Bank Hapoalim, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who comes from a high-tech background.
■ WHEN IT seemed that Hillary Clinton would win the presidential race, and people asked Dan Shapiro if he would be staying on as US ambassador, he was non-committal, but didn’t seem averse to the idea of spending another four or five years in Israel. Now it looks as if that won’t happen because American ambassadors traditionally resign with a change of administration.
But if Donald Trump is clever, he will ask Shapiro, who is arguably the most active and effective US ambassador who has ever served here – and there have been some very good ones – to continue to represent the interests of the US in this country. Shapiro who speaks Hebrew and Arabic, has established excellent relationships both on the ground and in the corridors of power with the Jewish, Christian and Moslem communities who inhabit this land and brings people from all these backgrounds together at events that he hosts in his residence.
Other US ambassadors have done that too, but didn’t have the combined linguistic and interpersonal skills with which Shapiro has been blessed.
After the election results became known, Shapiro wrote on his Facebook: “Congratulations to President-Elect Donald Trump on his election. I wish him success in working on behalf of all Americans.
“Congratulations also to Secretary Hillary Clinton on the strong race she ran and on her gracious concession.
“May our nation be strong, wise, compassionate, and unified in the days ahead” Last Friday, November 11, was Veteran’s Day, which is an official public holiday in the US, honoring veterans who served in the US Armed Forces, Shapiro proudly published that his wife Julie Fisher’s grandfather, Leon Lemberg, was one such veteran who was wounded while serving in World War II, and had been awarded a Purple Heart which his wife found during a recent visit home.
■ APROPOS SHAPIRO, he will be present today, along with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Prof. Eilat Shinar, Magen David Adom’s director of blood services and one of the world’s leading experts on blood technology, and MDA director general Eli Bin at a groundbreaking ceremony in Ramle for a new blood bank in which all of MDA’s processing operations will be carried out in a secure, state-of-the-art underground facility. The MDA Marcus National Blood Services Center, will, as far as is known, be the world’s first fully operational underground blood center.
The groundbreaking is the first step in the actual construction of a facility for which Magen David Adom’s American affiliate, American Friends of Magen David Adom, has been fund-raising for years. So far, $74 million of the estimated $110 million total has been raised. The new facility is MDA’s most ambitious capital project ever. AFMDA also largely funded the current blood center in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, which will be used as an annex for the new facility when the new building is completed.
Bin says the move to build the new facility is driven in part by the fact that Israel’s population is roughly twice as large as it was when the current facility was built in the mid-1980s, thus necessitating a blood center with a larger processing capacity. But more urgently, the building must be able to withstand rocket attacks from Israel’s enemies and any chemical or biological agents that such rockets may be carrying and disseminating.
“The potential need for a reinforced facility started to become clear to us during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when rockets fired by Hezbollah rained terror in the North, especially in Haifa, Israel’s third-most populous city,” said Bin adding that even Hamas, based in Gaza, has developed projectiles capable of hitting almost any part of Israel.
“Nowhere in Israel is immune from rocket attack,” said Bin, noting that this constant threat is “forcing MDA to rethink how to protect the nation’s critical blood supply. In a state that has seen more than its share of both wars and mass-casualty terrorist attacks, protecting the blood supply is even more crucially important.”
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, more than 5,000 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. Casualties from the attacks were low only because of Israel’s early-warning system, which activates sirens and cell phones and sends citizens running to some of the thousands of bomb shelters that have been constructed. The Iron Dome defense batteries have also proved to be effective in shooting incoming rockets out of the sky, but the system is not foolproof, and when several Hamas rockets landed near Tel Aviv, Magen David Adom’s blood-processing operations had to be moved to a bomb shelter, seriously curtailing output. The impact of a direct hit on the blood center could have been devastating; considering that MDA provides the Israel Defense Forces with all of the IDF’s blood requirements, and Israeli hospitals are given 97% of the blood they need for civilian use.
“A slowdown in processing is particularly dangerous to the welfare of the state, especially during a war, when the amount of blood needed is critical to both wounded civilians and soldiers,” says Shinar.
In addition to being reinforced against rocket attacks, the new facility, to be named the Marcus National Blood Services Center in respect to a $25 million gift by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and his wife, Billi, will be closer to Israel’s main highways to facilitate a more rapid distribution of blood to the nation’s hospitals.
The facility will also be designed to meet more stringent building standards for withstanding earthquakes. Although it lies on two major active geological fault lines, Israel hasn’t had a major earthquake in about 100 years, raising the specter that with all the unreleased energy underground, the region could have a potentially devastating quake in the years to come – a significant danger not often on Israelis’ minds because of the more immediate terrorist threats.
■ WE ARE living in an era where few things are turning out according to expectations. Brexit was one example. The result of the US presidential elections is another. In our own region we are seeing the toppling of powerful leaders, whereas President Bashar Assad of Syria, whose imminent downfall or demise has been wrongly forecast again and again by political pundits from across the globe, is still in power. So what can we expect in a changed and changing Middle East? According to Jewish tradition, the gift of prophecy is given to fools and infants. Former National Security Adviser General Yaakov Amidror, a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar Ilan University, neither a fool nor an infant, is taking a risk in predicting future changes in the Middle East, but he’ll find a way to get his point across without actually putting his foot in his mouth. Amidror will discuss regional changes at a symposium hosted by the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University in the Bar Shira Auditorium of the TAU campus today. The symposium is in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of the death of Dayan, a former chief of staff, defense minister and foreign minister who died in October 1981. The Hebrew calendar date of the anniversary was during the Jewish holiday period, which is why the symposium is being held in November. Opening remarks will be made by Zalman Shoval who twice served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
■ KESHER, THE organization that focuses on the families of children with special needs, received a check for $11,000 from the Republic of China (Taiwan), whose representative Yun-sheng Chi of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv, which is the de facto Embassy of Taiwan in Israel, presented it last week to KESHER CEO Tami Krispin. Chi said that “traditional Confucianism taught us that we should always have the heart that feels the pain when others suffer,” and assured KESHER that because of the inspiring work that it does, it would ever be alone.
Krispin, expressing the organization’s appreciation to the government of Taiwan, said that donation would be very helpful in purchasing more computers for KESHER, as there are around 50,000 under-privileged families in need of its assistance. These computers will help KESHER to trace, maintain and deal with all cases in its records. Krispin emphasized that KESHER provides a wide variety of services to families of special needs children.
■ SLOVENIAN AMBASSADOR Barbara Susnik has been eagerly awaiting the launch of an anthology of modern Slovenian poetry that was published in conjunction with the 25th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Israel. The , in Hebrew and Slovenian, was launched in Tel Aviv on Monday, and will enjoy an encore launch in Jerusalem this evening at Sandag studio with readings by Barbara Pogacnik, a Slovenian translator, essayist, literary critic, and poet whose work has appeared in 26 languages and has been set to music, and Hava Pinchas Cohen, a poet who lectures on literature and art, and is editor in chief of Dimooy, a literature, arts and Jewish culture journal.
■ IT’S NOT often that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara get to take a train ride. Security precautions just won’t permit it. But last week they enjoyed a rare luxury when they participated in the dedication of the new Haifa-Beit She’an railway line.
“I have looked at the Jordan bridges, and the Yarmouk bridges, and I believe some day this train will be a peace train,” said Netanyahu.
“I know that is not what they’re saying around us today. But we have a peace agreement with the Kingdom of Jordan, and these goods, which already pass from the port of Haifa to Beit She’an, can easily reach the Jordan bridges, be connected to transportation arteries, including trains, and create a new future. It will not happen in a day or two; it could take a year, two years or a little longer.
I believe it can give us hope, it can give us the fruits of peace, not only for us but for our neighbors as well.”