On rare occasions Israel’s current and immediate past presidents are present at the same event. This is to be expected at anything related to the late president Yitzhak Navon, and the beginning of the official commemoration of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, but not necessarily at other official events, even though both might be invited.
However, when it came to the farewell this week for outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, both Reuven Rivlin and Shimon Peres were on hand, as was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pardo had been appointed during Peres’s term as president and was completing his tour of duty during Rivlin’s term, which explained why both of them were there.
Netanyahu recalled that five years earlier, when he appointed Pardo, the latter said to him that he hoped that his last five years in the Mossad would be interesting. That wish came true big-time, said Netanyahu without elaborating but noting that under the present realities people responsible for Israel’s security do not get even one hour of rest. They operate in various fields in Israel and abroad – some at great personal risk – to obtain vital intelligence for Israel.
Netanyahu, Rivlin and Peres each underscored Pardo’s long service to the state, which he always made a priority over his own ego. Hinting that much of what Pardo has done for the state is still classified, Rivlin said that it was impossible to relate all that Pardo had done throughout the years. Rivlin also noted Pardo’s emphasis on humanity in Mossad operations, and characterized the Mossad as “Israel’s true secret weapon.”
Peres praised Pardo for having the courage to tell the truth to those to whom he was subordinate and to those who were subordinate to him. “You did this without fear and without any consideration for yourself,” said Peres. “Your prime concern was always for the good of the state and the security of its citizens.” Familiar with the reputation of incoming Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, both Peres and Rivlin had positive things to say about him and wished him well.
■ ALMOST FROM the moment that she arrived in Israel in the second half of last year, Thessalia Salina Shambos, the ambassador of Cyprus, has been busy organizing the visits to Israel by various Cypriot dignitaries. Coming up at the beginning of next week is Averof Neophytou, president of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and European Affairs Committee of Cyprus. He is also president of the ruling party in Cyprus, and has a reputation for always having interesting things to say. One of his first meetings in Israel on Sunday will be with Rivlin.
■ THERE HAS been a lot of speculation lately as to whether former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak will return to the political arena. Barak, who is currently in New York, was interviewed on Thursday by Israel Radio’s political reporter Yoav Krakowski, who, toward the end of a long conversation in which Barak made great efforts to be politically correct, asked him if he is indeed returning to politics. “Ask Shimon first,” replied Barak, in reference to Shimon Peres, who has shown no signs of fading into obscurity after serving in Knessets 4-17 and in various ministerial roles, including two stints as prime minister, before his election to a seven- year term as president of the state. At age 92, Peres is still heavily involved in numerous cultural, scientific, technological and peace-oriented activities.
■ FORMER AMBASSADOR to the UN and the UK Ron Prosor has joined IDC Herzliya as the head of the Abba Eban School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Abba Eban was the diplomat who first raised the Israeli flag at the United Nations and was in later years a foreign minister. Prosor has both an MA and a BA in political science from the Hebrew University Jerusalem. He joined the Foreign Ministry in 1986, rising to the rank of director-general, and won distinction in his ambassadorial posts both in London and at the UN. He completed his four-year tenure at the UN in October 2015 and, after a long period of public service, joined the faculty of IDC in order to be able to pass on what he had gained from his experience to budding diplomats.
IDC president Prof. Uriel Reichman, conscious of the need for highly qualified diplomats in a world of increasing turmoil, was delighted to welcome Prosor on board, and voiced confidence in Prosor’s ability to teach the next generation of diplomats and political scientists.
■ DEPUTY FOREIGN Minister Tzipi Hotovely is expecting to give birth to her second child some time in May. If Netanyahu does not appoint a minister before Hotovely goes on maternity leave, there will be no one to mind the store.
The prime minister is holding the Foreign Affairs portfolio in addition to the Economy, Communications, Interior and Regional Cooperation portfolios, for which he has been delightfully spoofed on Channel 10’s satirical program Gav HaUma. It is not humanly possible for him to give his full attention to any one of his ministries, and it looks as if the Foreign Ministry will suffer most. Then again, Hotovely may decide not to take maternity leave, and will continue to work while her husband, lawyer Or Alon, takes paternity leave.
■ CULTURE AND Sport Minister Miri Regev learned something about Korean calligraphy on Thursday, when she attended the opening of an exhibition and demonstration of Korean calligraphy by Salty Park hosted by Korean Ambassador Lee Gun-tae and honorary consul- general of the Republic of Korea Ami Orkaby in Ramat Gan. The exhibition, which is part of the cultural exchange program between the Republic of Korea and the State of Israel, will remain on view till January 21.
■ WOMEN SCIENTISTS from around the world have since 1998 received encouragement and fiscal support for their research through the L’Oreal UNESCO Women in Science Awards program, which identifies and supports eminent women in science. This year, five awards of €100,000 each went to outstanding scientific researchers working in Africa and the Arab states, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America.
Two Israelis were among the award recipients and shared the award at a festive ceremony in Tel Aviv in the office of Science, Technology and Space Minister Ophir Akunis, in the presence of L’Oreal Israel chairman Gad Propper and representatives of the ministry and senior L’Oreal Israel executives. The winners of the prestigious prize were Weizmann Institute scientists Dr. Anat Arzi, who specializes in neurobiology, and Dr. Raya Sorkin, whose field is chemistry. Akunis told them that they had brought great pride to Israel and served as a source of inspiration to other women scientists, as well as to thousands of young female science students.
■ IT’S STILL a rarity for a pope to visit a synagogue, and on January 17 Pope Francis is due to visit the Synagogue of Rome. This will mark the third visit of a pope to the synagogue since the first landmark visit by John Paul II in 1986.
“The situation is very different from a few decades ago. It would be erroneous to deceive ourselves that problems no longer exist. However, we have to acknowledge that the Church is making a sincere effort and this represents an excellent premise,” the president of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Giuseppe Momigliano, told Adam Smulevich and Rossella Tercatin of Pagine Ebraiche, when discussing the relationship between Christianity and Judaism ahead of the visit.
Momigliano stressed the importance of self-awareness in approaching interfaith dialogue.
“Without self-awareness, without a deep knowledge of our own roots, dialogue does not go anywhere. Dialogue does not mean reciprocal cancellation or the nuancing of the differences between the parties. The uniqueness of every religious experience is a value to be preserved, a value that makes everyone richer,” he added.
The rabbi urged that an effort be made to bring all religions back to the heart of public discourse in the face of current challenges confronting all humanity, from social emergencies to the protection of the environment, not forgetting terrorism and the necessity for asking moderate Muslims to speak up against the horror.
Regarding the latest document concerning the relationship with Judaism issued by the Vatican a few weeks ago, Momigliano stated that he would promote discussion about it within the Rabbinical Assembly to analyze the text in a deeper manner. He also reiterated his perplexity in relation to the theological document issued a few days later by a group of modern-Orthodox rabbis stressing the theological mission of Christians and Jews to work together for a better world.
“I understand the spirit in which it was written, but I’m not persuaded it was an effective step,” he said. “The theological perspective is always dangerous and divisive. It is not the first time this is happening. It is better to focus on issues about which the cooperation between Christians and Jews can lead to something concrete. That said, among the signatories there are prominent and qualified rabbis. However, in many cases, they acted in a personal capacity, rather than in their institutional roles.”
The upcoming visit of the pope should be considered “a sign of the fact that dialogue can never be taken for granted, but, rather, it comes from an effort that has to be displayed every day,” Momigliano added.
■ AND IN Russia, according to a report by Behadrey Haredim, there is a sense of anticipation that President Vladimir Putin may visit a new community center and synagogue the opening of which was celebrated during Hanukka with the participation of Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau; the governor of Moscow, Andrey Vorobyov; Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar; the president of the Association of Communities in Russia, Alexander Pink; Ambassador to Russia Zvi Heifetz; public figures and rabbis.
The report states that Russia had always served as one of the outstanding examples of uncompromising regimes, the opposite of a democracy, and certainly a country that objected to anything smelling of Judaism.
Thus, there was great surprise when Putin welcomed the opening of the luxurious Jewish center near his home and those of his administration officials, in the suburb of Zhukovka, which is the most governmental neighborhood in Moscow.
The large new Jewish center features a luxurious synagogue, guest rooms, mikvaot (ritual baths), a banquet hall, classrooms, library, etc. Putin encouraged the construction of the synagogue, which can hold approximately 250 congregants. The whole interior of the synagogue was designed and manufactured at Kibbutz Lavi, which specializes in synagogue furniture and décor.
A few days after the ceremony, the Lazar and Rabbi Alexander Baroda met with Putin in his office in the Kremlin and gave him a photo album of the new Jewish center. Putin congratulated the rabbis on the founding of the synagogue and promised that he would come to visit the facility as soon as possible.
Baroda subsequently said that “Putin’s reception was warm and cordial. He apologized that he could not come to the dedication ceremony and wished us well for Hanukka.
He even demonstrated proficiency when it comes to the story of Hanukka and symbols, and later expressed his positive impression at the design of the center in general and the synagogue in particular.”
■ A RELATIVELY new movement called HaTovim, the Good Ones, sponsored by Kabbalah Laam, which was founded by Rabbi Dr. Michael Laitman, has been working to create unity and simultaneously do good deeds. The movement believes that people are responsible for one another and should look out for each other so as to enhance everyone’s sense of personal security.
The movement has a Facebook page and call center in Israel. In the short time since it was established, HaTovim has attracted hundreds of volunteers. During a previous crisis period, HaTovim volunteers acted as security guards at kindergartens and also helped kindergarten teachers with the youngsters in their care.
Now, in addition to guarding kindergartens, members of HaTovim congregated at Beit Brodetsky in north Tel Aviv this week to give residents in the area greater confidence in their personal safety.
HaTovim is mounting a unity campaign under the slogan “When we are united, Islamic State is afraid.” A survey conducted by HaTovim in December indicated that 52 percent of Israelis are afraid of Islamic State and 41 percent believe that a wave of terrorist attacks of even greater proportions than those in Paris will occur in the vicinity of their homes. For this reason, says Laitman, unity among Israelis is imperative.
■ THE ISRAEL Museum is hosting an all-day international symposium on January 13 marking the centennial year of the Dada movement, in conjunction with the current Man- Ray Human Equations exhibition. This is the first of many global events to be held around the world throughout Dada’s 100th anniversary.
Dadaism and Surrealism changed the vocabulary of art and created an enduring legacy that transformed art history. The Israel Museum with its huge collection of works, specifically through its unparalleled holdings in the Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art, serves as an information center for the Dada movement. The symposium will be opened by the museum’s director, James Snyder, who will speak about “Formulas of Beauty, humanizing the object and objectifying the body.” Other speakers will include curators Dr. Adina Kaien-Kazhdan, Edouard Sebline, Dr. Wendy A. Grossman, and Juri Steiner along with Dr. Janine Mileaf, director of the Arts Club of Chicago; Dr. Irene Gammel, director of the Modern Literature and Culture Research Center, Ryerson University, Toronto; Dr. Celia Rabinovitch, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada and Dr. Adrian Sudhalter.
■ CYBER IS the in thing in tech circles these days, with two important cyber events taking place almost simultaneously in Tel Aviv. The Embassy of Japan together with the Economy Ministry, the Israel-Japan Chamber of Commerce and the Japan Desk of the Herzog Fox & Neeman Law Office is hosting a special Israel- Japan Cybersecurity Networking event at HF&N on Monday, January 25, at 6:30 p.m.
The evening will offer Israeli cyber-tech companies the opportunity to meet and discuss developments in the field with senior members of the Japanese delegation to the Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv and to establish contact with Rie Matsumoto, the commercial attaché in the economic section of the Japanese Embassy.
■ THEN, ON January 26 and 27, Yossi Vardi, who more than anyone else in Israel is associated with promoting hi-tech innovation, will be chairing Cybertech Tel Aviv, which he says is “the largest cyber solutions event outside of the US,” with thousands of guests from more than 50 nations and hundreds of participating companies, in addition to a Start-Up Pavilion with around 100 innovative start-ups.
In addition to the exhibition, the conference will host a dialogue with leading speakers from both industry and government, including Netanyahu and the deputy secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security.
Topics will include threats, innovation, IOT, transportation, fintech and big data, all of which will be thoroughly covered in the event.