Grapevine: Bibi's Balfour bungle

Gillerman saves a British dinner, ministers in short supply at foreign envoys' national day events, and the story behind the Sderot Torah Scroll.

November 4, 2008 19:36
Grapevine: Bibi's Balfour bungle

Bibi speaking 298.88. (photo credit: sasson tiram)


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EVERY POLITICAL leader knows that every vote counts, which makes it all the more surprising that Binyamin Netanyahu risked losing votes for Likud from the Anglo community by backing out at the last moment, and without apology, from the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association's annual Balfour Dinner, after having confirmed months in advance that he would be one of the two keynote speakers. Traditionally, guests attending the Balfour dinner are addressed by one British dignitary and one Israeli dignitary. Outgoing IBCA chairperson, Brenda Katten, who with her drive, dedication and graciousness, completely revitalized the organization during her three year tenure, was almost devastated. Netanyahu apparently had too many election commitments to address the IBCA audience, even though most of those attending the dinner have voting rights in Israel. But all's well that ends well. In one of her other capacities, Katten is a staunch WIZO worker, as is her long time friend, colleague and fellow British ex-pat Janice Gillerman, the wife of Israel's former ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman. Katten put in an SOS to the Gillerman household. The Gillermans consulted their diary. They did have another engagement, but considered it more important to save the day, or rather the night, for IBCA. The British Conservative Party's former leader and shadow foreign secretary William Hague, well known for his brilliant oratory, had taken the trouble, as a matter of courtesy, to include a Netanyahu quote in his address, which aside from some of the wit, was such a powerful articulation of all the things that Israel is attempting to tell the world, that it's a pity that there was no video-taped recording of it for use in quarters where Israeli spokespeople fail to get the message across. Hague devoted a large slice of his address to the dangers of nuclear proliferation, saying that if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons, it will give rise to a new era of insecurity in the Middle East. A successful policy towards Iran cannot be achieved by either Europe or America acting in isolation, he added, emphasizing that the European community must summon the will to impose new sanctions against Iran because nuclear proliferation threatens all countries. Despite the fact that relations between Britain and the aspirants for a Jewish state were not always rosy, Hague took pride in the fact the Balfour Declaration was the first statement of support by any country for a Jewish state in Palestine. Moreover it was made in a time of war by a Conservative politician who had taken up the Jewish cause. Furthermore it remained a Conservative commitment. Margaret Thatcher, he said, placed Israel's right to live in security and peace at the core of her foreign policy. Conscious of the fact that there were several ambassadors in the room, Gillerman tailored his remarks to what could easily have been an address to the UN, warning that Israel is facing an existential threat and not just the usual tactical dangers. Both Hague and Gillerman were warmly applauded by an appreciative audience, causing Katten to say of Gillerman: "What a pity he doesn't want to go into politics."

  • IT'S NO secret that Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah are cinema buffs. When time permits, the two love to go to the movies, which is what they did in celebration of his 59th birthday. The Netanyahus joined numerous other well known figures who accepted the invitation of internationally acclaimed film producer Arthur Cohn to attend the Israel premiere of his latest film The Yellow Handkerchief, which was screened at the Jerusalem Theater for supporters and friends of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Cohn, who in an illustrious film career has garnered six Oscars - more than anyone in Hollywood - makes a practice of partnering with Shaare Zedek in the Israeli premieres of all of his films. This one, almost entirely free of violence, is a beautiful, sensitively portrayed love story with a surprise twist. Star William Hurt was scheduled to come to Jerusalem for the screening, but had to bow out at the last minute due to professional engagements. However, there was no shortage of local dignitaries and celebrities: Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal; former ministers Natan Sharansky, Moshe Arens, Uzi Landau, Ora Namir and Yaacov Neeman; Ofra Meirson and Michal Moda'i, who are the widows of former ministers as well as leading personalities in their own right; former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold, former consul general in New York Naftali Lavie, Nobel Prize winner and Israel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv Yael Dayan and her cousin, political hopeful Uzi Dayan, Jerusalem mayoral candidate Nir Barkat, a host of physicians from Hadassah who came in a gesture of collegiality and many other well known people from all over Israel as well as a few from abroad. Cohn, who doesn't mince words, and is as quick to praise as to criticize, called Herzog "a great guy not like other ministers." He described Arens as "decent, honest straightforward and a brilliant analyst. And he lauded Sharansky as a defender of Jewish values. Sharansky returned the compliment noting that unlike some Jews who have achieved fame on the universal stage and go in for Israel bashing, Cohn enhances Judaism.
  • LACK OF objectivity is something that few journalists would freely admit to. So even before progressing any further into this item, I will say mea culpa. In this particular instance, I freely admit to lack of objectivity. The subject is Australian lamb, unavailable for a long time on the Israeli market, but now so freely available that it has forced a significant drop in the price of lamb in butcher shops and supermarkets. You don't have to come from the antipodes to know that Australian and New Zealand lamb is the best in the world. The reason, according to Jack Hines, executive chairman of the Hines Group, which is located in my home town of Melbourne, is that Australian and New Zealand lambs are not bred on anything other than grass and grow without any artificial assistance. In Israel and in many other countries lambs are fed corn and grains which makes them grow faster but also affects the quality of the meat, which is tougher and contains much more fat than Australian or New Zealand lambs, said Hines. The proof of the pudding was in the eating at a mouth watering launch held - where else? - but at the residence of Australian Ambassador James Larsen and his wife Antoinette. Erez Dahabani, who heads his family's Balad meat importing business, invited chefs from Israel's leading restaurants and hotels, as well as buyers for the meat departments of supermarkets, to come and taste only a few samples of the huge variety of gourmet dishes that can be created from lamb. To introduce a Mediterranean flavor, the rib chops were doused with Arak as they were placed on the barbecue and all went up in flames in a similar manner to crepe suzette when doused in brandy. The meat was so soft and juicy that it did not require a knife to cut it. Dahabani, whose ancestors walked from Yemen to the Land of Israel in 1884, had been trying for some years to set up a meeting with Hines, and it was finally arranged four years ago when he sent one of his representatives to the Paris Food Show. She persuaded Hines to come to Israel and all the rest is history. Although his name does not sound particularly Jewish, Hines is a member of the tribe and this is not his first venture in Israel. Back in 1973, he was supplying meat to someone in Taiwan who told him that he had a cousin in Israel who owned a restaurant and who could really get a boost if he had good quality meat. In 1973 Israel had nowhere near the variety of food that it has today, so Hines looked into the matter and thus began exporting beef and lamb to Israel. He did so successfully until 1987, when Australian beef prices were undercut by South America. There was also the problem of kosher slaughtering, over which there was a wrangle with Australia's animal welfare authorities. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) does not believe that an animal whose throat is slit does not suffer, even though under stringent halachic conditions, the animal supposedly dies instantly. In Australia animals are stunned before they are slaughtered, but this runs contrary to the rules of both kashrut and halal. Some Muslim religious leaders compromised and agreed for the animals to be stunned first. Because Jewish spiritual leaders explained their inability to compromise, the Australian authorities agreed to allow kosher slaughter for local consumption but not for export - which is one of the reasons that Australian meat was not exported to Israel for a long time. According to Hines, Australia annually exports one million tons of meat to the world. Lamb is apparently exempt from the stunning regulations, which means that Israeli slaughterers can come to Australia and prepare the meat in accordance with Israeli kashrut regulations, which nonetheless will be subject to the Australian specifications dictated and controlled by veterinary and quality control authorities.
  • IT IS difficult in the economic and political turmoil of these days to find a minister who is willing to attend a national day ceremony hosted by one of the heads of the foreign diplomatic missions in Israel. It was even more difficult on the day before Yom Kippur when Nigerian Ambassador Dada Olisa and his wife Janet feted hundreds of guests in the huge garden of the Nigerian residence. In recent months, senior Foreign Ministry staff have had to stand in for ministers and to represent the government at diplomatic events because no minister was available. Up until an hour prior to the reception, the people at the Nigerian Embassy were still not sure who would be there to represent the government. As it happened, Ya'acov Edri, the minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, rose to the occasion but only on condition that he could speak in Hebrew. Edri is a former minister for immigrant absorption, who because he was born in Morocco - where he remained till the age of nine - speaks French. According to his Knesset bio, he also speaks English - though apparently not in public, which is a pity because the official language of Nigeria is English and the hosts and a large section of the audience would not have needed the services of a translator.
  • RECENTLY ARRIVED Hungarian Ambassador Zoltán Szentgyörgyi was also fortunate in securing a minister in the person of Gideon Ezra, the minister for the environment, but Austrian Ambassador Michael Rendi had to do his own thing without even a member of the Foreign Ministry to represent the government. Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Boim turned up at the residence of German Ambassador Harald Kindermann halfway through the formal ceremony, but presumably did not have the time to continue on to the nearby residence of Czech Ambassador Michael Zantovsky who had to make do with Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Pinchas Avivi. Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan was the exception to the rule, possibly because of the very special relationship between Turkey and Israel. Among the hundreds of guests who accepted his invitation were Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Turkish opposite number Vecdi Gonul, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and President Shimon Peres, who is the traditional guest of honor and keynote speaker at Turkish Republic Day celebrations. This year marked the 85th anniversary of Turkey's declaration as a republic, and Peres, who is also 85, raised a laugh when he said that if one behaves properly, one can reached the distinguished age of 85, "and you can remain young at 85." Although it had been raining earlier in the week, and even earlier in the day, Tan, adamantly refused to put up a tent, having faith that it would not rain on his parade - and that faith was justified despite the weather forecast. Tan announced the establishment of a Turkish Cultural Center which is scheduled to open in Jaffa in early 2009 as a prelude to the projected visit to Israel by Turkish President Abdullah Gul. He also referred to the large number of Israelis who visit Turkey. There were 512,000 Israeli tourists in Turkey last year, and 500,000 during the first 10 months of this year. The volume of bilateral trade has risen dramatically, from $2.8 billion in 2007 to $5 billion up to October 2008. Tan also underscored Turkey's commitment to a just and viable peace in the region and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and noted his country's role in Israel's negotiations with Syria. Tan made a point of thanking the government for supporting Turkey's candidature for a seat on the UN Security Council and pledged to support Israel in the Security Council. Peres who is unfailingly lavish in his praise of Turkey, described it as "the hope of the Muslim world and the European continent," adding "Turkey is the greatest hope as Iran is the greatest danger."
  • AT THE 52nd anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, Ambassador Zoltán Szentgyörgyi paid tribute to those Hungarians who had lost their lives in the desperate struggle for freedom, saying they did not die in vain, because today, Hungary is a vibrant democracy with an emphasis on human rights. Noting Hungary's strong ties with Israel, Szentgyorgyi reminded his guests that the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries will be celebrated next year. Szentgyörgyi also took the opportunity to confer the Hungarian Orde of the Knight Cross on Hungarian Honorary Consul Judith Sharon, the proprietor of a popular Hungarian restaurant in Tel Aviv, who inter alia helps to organize diplomatic receptions, and provides kosher food for those guests who observe Jewish dietary laws. Gideon Ezra commended Hungary for being among Israel's closest friends in Europe and for helping to upgrade Israel's ties with the European Union. He also praised the Hungarian government's condemnation of anti-Semitism and looked forward to welcoming Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany when he comes to Israel in January.
  • AUSTRIAN AMBASSADOR Michael Rendi had hoped to have an Austrian military band play in the sunken garden of his residence, but rain put an end to that ambition. Fortunately, he did not need to hire a tent because the residence is built on pylons, and he was able to create a Viennese café ambience, replete with military band, under the house, with typical Viennese gemutlichkeit enhanced by Austrian specialties such as Sachertorte and Kugelhopf. The Austrian National Anthem was sung by Nathaniel Benko, the son of Austrian Embassy spokesman and cultural attaché Arad Benko. It was interesting to observe that when it came to the Israeli national anthem, Rendi had no hesitation in singing "Hatikva." Rendi announced the visit in mid December of Austrian President Heinz Fischer and also spoke of a number of cultural festivities in which Austria will be engaged in the coming year. Meanwhile, this coming Sunday, November 9, the Austrian Embassy will host a 70th anniversary Kristallnacht commemoration at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Jerusalem, where Nitzan Lebovic of Tel Aviv University will speak on The Limits of Public and Personal Responsibility. Also participating will be Herzog, in his capacity as minister for the fight against anti-Semitism, German Ambassador Kindermann and Mishkenot Shaananim Director Uri Dromi.
  • ALTHOUGH THE German ambassador did put up two small tents in his back garden to shelter those people who were not brave enough to combat the elements, many guests found the crowded tents to be too hot and claustrophobic, and took their chances with the rain. Co-Host of German Unity Day was Burkhard Jung, the mayor of Leipzig, who came to Israel with a large delegation to not only promote his city, but more importantly to return nine works of art by former Leipzig resident Eduard Einschlag, who perished in Treblinka, to his great nieces Elisheva Gilad and Yael Lifshitz. Jung told the two women that they would not be the only recipients of works of art looted by the Nazis. Jung said that his city was adopting a policy of returning such works to the rightful owners or their heirs.
  • NEARLY ALL the guests at the Czech residence commented admiringly on the superbly constructed tent leading from the patio staircase across the garden, though some of the guests preferred to be inside the house - possibly because that was where the buffet was. Ambassador Michael Zantovsky struggled valiantly through an address in Hebrew, and is to be commended, because those of his colleagues who introduce Hebrew into their speeches generally confine themselves to two or three sentences at best, and to a "Le'haim" when they make the toast. Zantovsky delivered a whole speech - and not a short one at that. Zantovsky dwelt on the significance of the number eight at the end of any given year and the manner in which the number symbolizes or completes a period of history. He started with 1918, when Czechoslovakia formed an independent albeit short-lived republic. Then, in 1938, there was the infamous Treaty of Munich only a few days after Hitler had issued an ultimatum to the Czech government. In 1948, the Communists seized control of Czechoslovakia while the Jewish People returned to the Promised Land. And so he continued. Moving into the future, with a nine this time instead of an eight, Zantovsky announced the planned opening next year of a Czech Cultural Center in Israel. Zantovsky is currently completing a four year term as the NATO representative in Israel and, on the day after his tenure concludes, he will take on an even more challenging task, when his country takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union.
  • OF THE many Succot activities in which President Peres participated or played host, one of the most meaningful was the dedication of a new Torah Scroll for the synagogue in the grounds of Beit Hanassi. Peres wrote the final letters in the Torah scroll when he visited Sderot in February, following a long day in the south where he inspected military installations and visited the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba to bring words of comfort and encouragement to victims of a terrorist attack in Dimona. When he was about to leave Soroka, he was told by the security services that he had to return to Jerusalem because terrorists in Gaza had learned that he planned to go to Sderot and had launched a rocket that had hit a house close to that of mega building contractor Moshe Peretz, in whose home the final letters in the scroll were to be written. Peres refused, saying that as head of state and a citizen like all others, he could not return to Jerusalem while the people of Sderot had to sit in shelters. The upshot was the installation of the Torah Scroll at Beit Hanassi in the presence of Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger and former chief rabbi and Shas mentor Ovadia Yosef - who was given a place of honor alongside Peres, who had visited him two days earlier in his Succa. In fact, the whole ceremony was pretty much a Shas affair, with Shas Chairman Eli Yishai in the forefront. Among the non-Shasniks present were regular worshippers in the Beit Hanassi synagogue Ruben (Ruby) Davidman and Larry Wachsman. Davidman is no novice to such dedication ceremonies. He has been involved in bringing well over a hundred Torah scrolls to army camps, and was somewhat concerned that the latest addition to the Beit Hanassi synagogue was too large for the Ark.

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