ASIDE FROM all the hype and speculation surrounding the content of the response to the Obama address last Sunday by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the event itself was a great PR coup for the BESA Center at Bar-Ilan University, which like other academic institutions in Israel spends a lot of time and effort courting the diplomatic corps. Thus for something so important, all the heads of diplomatic missions expected to receive an invitation. But that did not happen, with the result that there were a lot of disgruntled diplomats who did not want to watch a live broadcast on the Bar-Ilan website, but wanted to be in the audience so that they could be seen as being part of a select gathering.
Unfortunately, Bar-Ilan does not have an auditorium large enough to accommodate them all along with all the other VIPs on the guest list. BESA Center director Professor Efraim Inbar, when asked why some ambassadors had been invited and others not, replied: "The criteria was the G-20 plus Jordan, Egypt and Turkey."
A little subsequent string pulling by the Foreign Ministry resulted in invitations being extended to representatives of groups of countries and to the Dean of the diplomatic corps, which improved the situation somewhat, but still left a number of ambassadors unhappy.
n AMONG THE new publications launched during Hebrew Book Week was 'Hanachot Hayesod' (Basic Guidelines) by Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is frequently heard on radio and television expounding on the foundations of Judaism. The book, which deals with 100 Jewish concepts, was published by Yediot Aharonot, which also published his previous book 'Al Tishlach Yad El HaNaar' (Don't Harm the Boy), an autobiographical account of how he was able as a young child to survive the Holocaust. The book has also been translated into Chinese.
Among those attending the launch of the new book were fellow child Holocaust survivor and former president of the Supreme Court, Justice (retired) Aharon Barak, former bureau chief to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Shula Zaken; Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, broadcasting personalities Nissim Mishal and Yedidiya Meir and his wife Sivan Rahav Meir, former MK Shaul Yahalom and many other well known personalities.
n WHEN HE visited Israel in April of last year, former US President Jimmy Carter held a press conference at the King David Hotel in West Jerusalem attended by a huge, standing room-only crowd. This year, he addressed a considerably smaller media gathering at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. The size of his audience was not the only difference between the two events. At the American Colony Hotel - at least when this columnist arrived - there was no one at the door to inspect the contents of her purse nor to enquire as to the purpose of her visit. Although Carter was accompanied by a sizeable security detail, its members were unobtrusive, unfailingly polite and soft spoken and they gave both him and the audience plenty of breathing space, standing where they wouldn't block anyone's vision or make anyone feel as if they were breathing down their necks.
Carter, who will be 85 in October, has enormous stamina and thinks well on his feet. Speaking at an even pace, he parried questions without hesitation, and reeled off statistics without any reference to notes. He made it clear that he was here as a private citizen and was not speaking on behalf of the administration. But he did acknowledge that 24 members of the Carter family have voting rights - and all 24 of them voted for Obama, to whom he will report back once he returns to the US. He is not duty bound to do this, but as a courtesy he has always reported to the incumbent president regarding his trips abroad.
n THE BRITISH Embassy appeared to have a significant case of 'Peresitis' at the reception in honor of the Queen's Birthday hosted by Ambassador Tom Phillips at his residence in Ramat Gan. Aside from a photograph at the entrance to the residence of President Shimon Peres during his meeting with Queen Elizabeth when she conferred an honorary knighthood on him in November last year, he was mentioned in the ambassador's address, he was toasted by the ambassador who also read out the message that Peres had sent to the Queen, and when Minister Yossi Peled, who was representing the government, was introduced by Wing Commander Steve Schooler, who was Master of Ceremonies, Schooler, in a Freudian slip called him Yossi Peres, to which Peled's rejoinder was: "Peres? Not yet."
Among the native Israeli guests, the person with the most British connections was arguably Ruth Dayan, who was born in 1917, the year of the Balfour Declaration. When she was 2, her parents took her to England and they did not return until she was 9. The cultured British accent acquired in childhood has remained with her ever since. She lived through the major part of the British Mandate and witnessed the departure of the British when Israel achieved independence. Looking much younger than her 92 years, in a marvelous caftan in a brilliant wash of strawberry pink and apricot, she was straight-backed, walked without a cane and was much more beautiful than many women her junior. It's hard to tell what magic the Brits worked to invoke silence during the speeches, especially since more than 800 guests were congregated in three sections of the huge garden area of the residence.
A question that he is often asked, said Phillips, is why the party honoring the Queen's birthday is sometimes held in April and sometimes in June. "It's not because she celebrates both her English and Hebrew birthdays," he said to a gale of laughter from the crowd, "though I might consider suggesting the possibility when we look at possible dates for next year's event."
The Queen's actual birthday falls on April 21, but the occasion is officially celebrated at home and abroad (except for Israel) on a Saturday in June, when the Trooping the Color ceremony is held in London. Since 1748, this ceremony has also marked the sovereign's official birthday. Although the Queen's Birthday is a public holiday in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, Phillips observed that he has yet to convince the powers-that-be in Israel that it should also be a public holiday here. Turning to Peled, he added: "But perhaps this is something the minister would like to suggest?"
Peled for his part noted that while Israel is celebrating its 61st anniversary of statehood, Prince Charles is celebrating his 61st birthday. Peled suggested that when both Israel and Prince Charles are celebrating their 62nd anniversaries, they do it together, and invited His Royal Highness to come for an official visit to Israel. Peled has his own British connection. Just over a quarter of a century ago, he spent a year studying at the Royal College of Defense in London.
n PERES WAS the guest of honor at the gala reception hosted by Jordanian Ambassador Aly Alayed and his wife Vincenza at the Dan Panorama Hotel in honor of the 10th anniversary of the assumption of constitutional powers by King Abdullah II, as well as Jordan's Independence Day. But the occasion glittered with dignitaries even before Peres arrived. Prominent among them was Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who by law becomes acting president when Peres is out of the country or unable for other reasons to perform presidential duties. When they are both out of the country, the role of acting president goes to one of the deputy speakers of the Knesset, including MK Ahmed Tibi, who was also present and who, like Rivlin, has a wonderful sense of humor. The two have a great rapport and frequently eat lunch together. In a recent one on one television program, Rivlin mentioned to Tibi that he might one day find himself as acting president, and Tibi, imagining the reaction to an Arab in that role, grinned from ear to ear.
Among the other dignitaries at the reception were US ambassador James Cunningham, Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda and his supremely elegant wife Nahla, who was wearing a gold choker dominated by a fine gold hoop with jewels cascading inside it and matching hoop earrings, which she proudly told admirers were made in Egypt. Also present were Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan and his charming wife Talia, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, former minister for culture and sport Raleb Majadele, Kadima MK Majallie Whbee, the Prime Minister's spokesman Mark Regev (who rarely comes to such events), Kadima MK and former government minister Ze'ev Boim, former directors general of the Foreign Ministry Eytan Bentsur and Alon Liel and many others.
The Dan Panorama, having taken over from its neighbour the David Continental as the major off-residence venue for diplomatic receptions, has developed an art of providing the correct national ambience for the country concerned. Sometimes this is reflected in both the decor and the gastronomic fare and sometimes just in the food. In this case it was the food, which had a distinct Jordanian flavor. But it wasn't just the Jordanians who queued up patiently for the delicious shwarma, which the chef could not slice fast enough to meet the demand.
The pastry chefs at the Dan Panorama are famous for their spectacular cake decorations. This time they truly outdid themselves. In addition to the regular dessert table, there was an additional table set up with Jordanian pastry delights. At the entrance to the ballroom were two huge round trays filled with demitasse coffee cups. Waitresses offered guests bitter coffee which they poured from traditional brass finjans. The acoustics in the ballroom are not the best, and speakers have often had trouble in making themselves heard above the din of people talking. This time the crowd remained largely silent to hear the speeches of the ambassador and the president that not surprisingly went way beyond the usual script, and were both excellent. Many guests swarmed around Alayed afterwards to compliment him on his oratory.
Peres, who has known all the kings of Jordan from Abdullah I to Abdullah II, and had a very special relationship with King Hussein, spoke warmly of the Hashemites, commending their wisdom, their courage and their culture. Peres expressed regret that the London Agreement, which he (in his then capacity as foreign minister) and the late King Hussein signed at a secret meeting in April 1987, had not been implemented. In it, they had outlined the framework for a United Nations-hosted international peace conference aimed at finding a peaceful solution for the Palestinian problem in all its aspects. The agreement was scuttled by then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. "We wanted to be neighbors, not dominators," said Peres. Moving forward, he said that King Abdullah is today one of the major players in the quest for regional peace. "This may become one of the greatest opportunities to solve the conflict and allow a new wind to blow in the Middle East," he said.
Alayed noted that the Hashemite families had always been strong believers in peace and reconciliation and that Jordan would not have been able to sail through the treacherous waters of the Middle East without their leadership. "Jordan shows where there is a will there is a way. Where there is hope and determination, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel." The major challenge to political security and interests in the Middle East is peace - not just for Jordan and Israel, but the whole world, he continued. "There are those who believe that peace is an unrealistic mission and those that believe that peace is the most realistic solution for all countries, so that we can secure the future for our children," he said. "A two-state solution is the only option."
n DESPITE THE somewhat difficult logistics, a number of the guests, who were invited to both the Jordanian reception as well as that hosted by Portuguese Ambassador Josefina Reis Carvalho at her residence in Kfar Shmaryahu, managed to be in both places without really missing out. They went to the Jordan event in Tel Aviv first and then rushed on to Kfar Shmaryahu which was close to home for many of them. Among the diplomats who managed to attend both functions were the ambassador of Japan, Haruhisa Takeuchi and his wife Nabuko, (who will next week host their own reception in honor of the 55th anniversary of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces), Spanish Ambassador Alvaro Iranzo and his wife Jessica, Moldovan Ambassador Larisa Miculet (who together with Carvalho and well over a dozen others belongs to the club of female ambassadors), ambassador of the Netherlands Michiel den Hond, and Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan and his wife Talia. There were many Israelis.
Although there were no speeches at the Portuguese reception, Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon showed up to represent the government, chatted for a while with the ambassador, shook hands with a few people and left. The very fact that he showed up at all at a no-speeches event was a nice gesture. There must be something special about the Portuguese residence because guests tend to linger, although protocol dictates that when the invitation includes a specifically designated time for the event - in this case 7 pm to 9 pm, guests should all be out by 9:15 pm at the latest. A succession of Portuguese ambassadors have discovered that guests find the ambience at the residence so attractive that they are reluctant to leave and usually stay on until well into the night. This reception was no exception.
n AWARD WINNING cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen was invited by The Yale Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism to be a Visiting Fellow or Artist in Residence. Born in March, 1939, Kirschen grew up in Brooklyn and graduated Queens College in 1961. He had studied art but became a cartoonist, initially writing and drawing humorous greeting cards and gag cartoons. His work appeared in major publications and is included in several Best of Playboy anthologies. He came on aliya in 1971 and changed his his first name from Jerry to Yaakov. In 1973 he launched a daily cartoon strip called Dry Bones which subsequently enjoyed international syndication for its wry and witty comments on the Jewish condition, Israeli politics, international relations and current events. In 2008, the cartoon celebrated its 35th year in The Jerusalem Post. Kirschen's political and social commentary has been reprinted or quoted by Forbes, the New York Times, the London Sunday Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, CBS, CNN and others. Among the issues that he will explore together with his students at Yale University is what makes a cartoon anti-Semitic, and whether a cartoon that lampoons Jews or Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic.
n MEMBERS OF the diplomatic community, the International Women's Club and Israel's Indian community gathered on the expansive lawns of the residence of Nigerian Ambassador Dada Olisa and his wife Janet on Saturday night, for one of the many farewell parties that have been and will be held for diamond merchant Amish Mehta and his wife Rajul, an artist and an ardent supporter of Schneider Children's Medical Center. Amish Mehta has lived in Israel for 24 years and his wife for 20 years. All their children were born and schooled here. The Mehtas, who are moving to Singapore where there is also a large Indian community, have an enormous circle of friends, some of whom participated in a video production in which they spoke of what the friendship has meant to them and how much they will miss the Mehta family. Rajul Mehta told everyone that her house in Singapore will always be open to them. The reunions may come sooner than she thinks. Travel agent Daniella Oren, who was one of the organizers of Saturday night's event and who services the traveling requirements of a large proportion of Israel's international community, announced that she was willing to make arrangements for trips to Singapore and already had people who wanted to sign up.
n THE BROUHAHA between Bank Hapoalim and the Bank of Israel that was sparked by the resignation of Bank Hapoalim general manager Zvi Ziv because he did not see eye to eye with the bank's chairman of the board Danny Dankner, and the subsequent demand by Stanley Fischer, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, that Dankner step down, did not interfere with the friendship between Ziv and Dankner, as evidenced by the fact that Dankner was among the guests last Friday at a wedding at Trask at the Port of Tel Aviv, where Ziv was the father of the groom. In fact, nearly all the heavyweights of Israel's banking community were there, after having been together the previous week at the wedding of Bank Mizrahi Tefahot chairman Jacob Perry to Osnat Markovich, who were united in matrimony by Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. It was the third time around for Perry who, when not tending to banking and other business, is an avid saxophone player. He serenaded his bride with 'A thousand kisses' and 'Who loves you more than I do?'
n YES, THERE is life after the Knesset, just as there was life after the Foreign Ministry, former Labor MK and former diplomat Colette Avital has discovered. Avital, an excellent parliamentarian with a strong streak for justice, failed to be re-elected only because of Labor's poor showing in the last national elections. Much of the progress made towards giving Holocaust survivors at least some of what was due to them can be attributed to her integrity and tenacity, and she was more disappointed on behalf of Holocaust survivors for whom she had wanted to do much more, than for herself, at her inability to continue with her parliamentary work. But she didn't sit and mope. She currently heads the Beit Berl think tank for the reconstitution of the Labor Party, in addition to which she is also the Israel representative for J Street, the American-based political arm of the pro-Israel pro-peace movement. The Romanian-born Avital was given a high ranking decoration by Romanian President Traian Basescu during his recent visit to Israel. Other Israelis with Romanian ties who were similarly awarded were: Meir Rosenne, Menachem Hacohen, Leon Volovici, Tuvia Friling, Moshe Idel and Raphael Vago.
n AMONG THE new ambassadors who are scheduled to present their credentials early next month are Pojo Avirovikj, the first resident ambassador of Macedonia to Israel and Dinh Xuan Luu, the first resident ambassador of Vietnam to Israel. It is common practice for countries opening new embassies to send a diplomat of lower rank to get the embassy off the ground and ready for the ambassador-designate. It is rare for the person who opens to be appointed ambassador. Avirovikj arrived in Israel a little over a year ago and served as Charge d'Affaires. His promotion is the realization of a dream. Diplomatic relations between Macedonia and Israel have existed for quite some time, but always at a non-resident level. Ran Kuriel, Israel's first ambassador to Macedonia, was based in Athens and presented his credentials to the President of Macedonia in December, 1996. Macedonia likewise had non-resident ambassadors to Israel, also based in Athens. In July, 1993, Israel and Vietnam established diplomatic relations and Israel opened an embassy in Hanoi in December of that year. Until a year ago there was no resident Vietnamese mission in Israel. The ambassador was stationed in Cairo. Both Vietnam and Macedonia decided to enhance the relationship by having resident ambassadors in Israel.