IT'S DOUBTFUL that there have ever been as many US ambassadors to Israel in Israel at one time as there will be over the next few days. Most of them will be here courtesy of media mogul Haim Saban, who lives in the US, was born in Egypt, lived in Israel and served in the army, relocated to France in 1975 and then to Los Angeles in 1983, where he now resides.
Saban continues to identify strongly with Israel, where he maintains large-scale business and philanthropic interests. Among his business interests are Bezeq and Keshet, and one of his pet philanthropic projects is The Saban Institute for the Study of the American Political System, which he inaugurated four years ago within the Tel Aviv University School of Government and Policy.
At that time, he brought Bill Clinton to Israel to receive an Honorary Doctorate from TAU and attend the gala dinner celebrating the inauguration of the institute. Now, he's bringing Clinton to again, along with former US ambassadors Samuel Lewis, Edward Djerejian and Martin Indyk, to participate in The Saban Forum 2005 - an institutionalized, annual US-Israel dialogue convened by Saban and held for the first time in Israel.
Dan Kurtzer, the former US ambassador to Israel and his wife, Sheila, will also be in Israel over the next few days, albeit not as participants in the Saban Forum. Their arrival in Jerusalem today will bring the total number of US Ambassadors to Israel in Israel to five - counting incumbent Richard Jones. Kurtzer is scheduled to speak at a Rabin memorial event on Tuesday.
Aside from the three former ambassadors, other Americans participating in the Saban Forum that opens Saturday night at Jerusalem's King David Hotel include Senator Hillary Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Congressman Tom Lantos (Democrat-California); Congressman Christopher Shays (Republican-Connecticut); former national security advisor Sandy Berger; former deputy secretary of state and the current President of the Brookings Institution, Strobe Talbott; former special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross; New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and David Brooks; and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
Former president Clinton will have to excuse himself at some stage to leave for Tel Aviv, where he will participate in the memorial rally in Rabin Square marking the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
Top-level Israelis participating in the by-invitation-only forum include President Moshe Katsav; Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; Vice and Deputy Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert; Justice Minister Tzipi Livni; former prime minister Ehud Barak; TAU President and former Israel ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich; former Shabak chief Avi Dichter; former Israel ambassador to the UK and currently head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at TAU, Zvi Stauber; head of the Rabin Center, Dalia Rabin; and chairman of the board of Teva, Eli Hurvitz.
Coordinators of the Saban Forum are Martin Indyk, the Director of the Saban Center at Brookings, and Hirsh Goodman, founding editor of The Jerusalem Report and currently senior fellow at the Jaffee Center. On the second day of the forum, Clinton will again have to excuse himself to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of Beit Issie Shapiro. All of the American delegation will participate in events commemorating Rabin.
SENATOR CLINTON will also have to exclude herself from some of the Saban Forum discussions. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she will take advantage of her stay in Israel to meet privately with Prime Minister Sharon, Vice Premier Peres, possibly Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and other members of the defense establishment to reiterate - this time on Israeli soil - her condemnation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahrmadinejad's declaration that Israel should be destroyed. She will also discuss developments between Israel and the Palestinians since Israel's disengagement from Gaza, and may inspect a section of the security fence to get a better idea of its purpose and determine how it affects people on either side.
IT HAS become almost customary at national day celebrations hosted by heads of foreign missions in Israel for either the host or the representative of the government of Israel to mention what the ambassador's country is doing with regard to the resurgence of anti-Semitism, or the responsibility of that country for the deportation and murder of its Jews during the Holocaust years.
In most cases it's a civilized, diplomatic exchange to demonstrate the new chapter in that country's relations with the Jews and the Jewish State. However, when Latvian ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums hosts his country's Republic Day next week, he will be doing more than paying lip service. He has arranged to display part of a traveling exhibition entitled "Children of Latvia Draw Old Synagogues."
Guests will receive a Latvian calendar containing some of this art. The project, proposed by Rabbi Nathan Barkan of the Shamir Religious Community of Latvia, was adopted by the Latvian Education Ministry. In an introduction to the catalogue that contains many works by non-Jewish children, Latvian Education Minister Ina Druviete writes: "The exhibited works disclose a small part of that world that does not exist any more. That world had been destroyed by the Nazis in Germany, Poland, Austria and some other European countries which fell victims to the Nazis' military campaign against the civilized world. In Latvia the synagogues that had not been destroyed by the Nazis serve as monuments to the almost completely annihilated Jewish community. The children tried to visualize the pre-war settingâ€¦"
DANISH AMBASSADOR Carsten Damsgaard hosted a dinner in his home to honor Israel Prize laureate, the grande dame of Israeli theater, actress and writer Gila Almagor, who is a Hans Christian Andersen ambassador. The recipient of many Israeli and international awards, Almagor has been the representative of the Hans Christian Andersen 2005 Foundation during the 200th anniversary year of the birth of Denmark's most famous story-teller. As such, Almagor, who holds the cultural portfolio in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council, has joined the global struggle against illiteracy.
THE MAILMAN is playing havoc with people's social plans. Bad enough when checks get lost (or stolen) in the mail or simply don't arrive on time, but for some people it's a lot worse when invitations to certain important events either don't arrive at all or arrive after the event has become history. Czech Ambassador Michael Zantovsky decided to have two receptions for his country's national day. One was for members of Israel's Czech community, the other was for a wider guest list. Many of the latter, who are regulars on the Czech invitation list and are generally invited to diplomatic events of all kinds, had not received their invitations even a week after the event, and of course didn't attend. Even the invitation for Zantovsky's next door neighbor, who is a friend of the ambassador's, did not arrive.
ON THE other hand, it was not the mailman who was at fault with regard to invitations issued by Mary Clare Adam-Murwitz, the Honorary Consul of Papua New Guinea for PNG's celebration of 30 years of independence. Adam-Murwitz was abroad and left instructions with the person who looks after her dog to mail the invitations. The dog watcher simply forgot.
IT'S COMMON knowledge that people are living much longer than they used to. British Ambassador Simon McDonald recently delivered a letter of congratulations from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Victoria Baker, one of her subjects resident in Israel, on the occasion of her 100th birthday. McDonald emphasized the point when he noted afterwards that when the queen ascended the throne in 1952, she sent out 1,000 such letters. This year there were 30,000 sent. Over the past decade, he added, 14 such letters have been delivered to British ex-pats living in Israel. Of course, if she inherits her mother's genes, the queen has a pretty good chance of reaching a triple-digit age herself. The enormously popular Queen Mother was 101 when she died in 2002.
THE UNIQUENESS of Morocco's Jewish community in the Arab world is reflected not only in the number and variety of its institutions, but in the fact that Jews act as advisers to the king and are prominent in political and diplomatic affairs. Case in point is Andre Azoulay, economic adviser to King Muhammad VI, who together with former ministers Serge Berdugo and Robert Asaraf led a delegation of Moroccan Jews to Israel last week.
Azoulay represents Morocco in many international spheres, one of the most interesting of which is the Alliance of Civilizations - a group appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to foster mutual respect for religious beliefs and traditions. Among the other members of the group is former Iranian president Muhammad Khatami. The key objective of the Alliance is to overcome prejudice and polarization, and address threats that emanate from hostile misconceptions. In their meetings with Israeli leaders, Azoulay, Berdugo and Asaraf were urged to use whatever influence they have to renew diplomatic ties between Morocco and Israel.