WHETHER BY coincidence or design, just a few hours after the swearing in by President Moshe Katsav of Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin last week, the Jerusalem Center for Ethics at Mishkenot Sha'ananim hosted a symposium on "Ethics and the Presidency." Participants included Labor MK Colette Avital, political science professor Shlomo Avineri, who heads the Hebrew University's Institute for European Studies, Prof. Assa Casher who holds the chair of Ethics at Tel Aviv University and constitutional law expert Susie Navot, a law faculty lecturer at the College of Management.
Regarding the opening of the Knesset's winter session, Avital suggested that the president, who is being investigated by police on sexual harassment allegations, should say: "I declare my innocence, but I suspend myself because I do not wish to cause anyone any embarrassment."
Avital, who knows from personal experience what it means to be a senior official who loses a job on the basis of rumor and suspicion, preferred that the decision for suspension be Katsav's own rather than one that is thrust upon him.
Avineri, who favors the continuation of the institution of the presidency "as part of the political system but aloof from the game of politics," observed that whenever there was a specific problem related to the presidency, there were those who wanted to change the law or to do away with the institution, instead of asking whether it was possible to amend the situation. The president should symbolize a certain standard, he said, and noted that while all of Katsav's predecessors had been politically affiliated, they came from different backgrounds and were much more than politicians who had risen through the ranks.
In Casher's view, the president should personify the most desirable qualities of the people he represents. As such, any slight to his honor and dignity is a slight to the honor and dignity of the state, he said. As the representative of the people, Casher argued, the president must be a person of the utmost integrity, and must ensure that his reputation and his public image remain impeccable. When the president is interrogated by a professional state body, he said, the general interpretation is that there is suspicion of a blot on that person's character. This suspicion alone erodes the status of the person holding the title of president, added Casher, stating that from the moment that he is interrogated under caution, the president, for the sake of the common good, should suspend himself from office until the investigation is concluded.
Elections for the president are always held by secret ballot, but Navot advocated that they should be conducted openly. She also advised the Knesset to consider an amendment to The Basic Law: The President, commenting that the law as it stands now is problematic and vulnerable to manipulation, as for instance, the determination of the period for which the president absented himself from duty in order to avoid swearing in Dorit Beinisch as president of the Supreme Court. Navot also pointed out that without the evidence contained in legal documents, the Knesset cannot unseat the president.
AT RIVLIN'S swearing-in ceremony, reporters and photographers were busy scrutinizing and interpreting the body language of the participants, and were all agog when, at the end of the ceremony, Katsav received a bear-hug and a whisper in his ear from no less a legal giant than outgoing Supreme Court president Aharon Barak. Rivlin also received a hug from Barak, but it did not have quite the same public impact. Aside from which Rivlin's face registered a much more joyful expression when at the end of the ceremony, he was pounced upon by his grandchildren, Tomer and Danielle, who hugged him with boisterous affection. Actually if Katsav were ever to come to trial, it would be extremely difficult to find a judge whom he has not met or sworn in. During his period of office, he has sworn in and been photographed with literally dozens of judges, all of whom would have to recuse themselves from the bench if the Katsav case ever gets that far.
THOUGH PUBLIC figures were conspicuous by their absence from the Great Synagogue on Rosh Hashana, there was a slight improvement on Yom Kippur. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who habitually attends the Kol Nidre service with his wife Sarah and their two sons, did so again, and also showed up for Ne'ila; and Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who almost seems to prefer the Great Synagogue to his own pulpit, was there again with his wife, and delivered the evening and morning sermons. But the surprise dignitary was Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who as far as any of the powers-that-be could tell, had not previously attended High Holy Day Services at the Great Synagogue. Asher Schapiro, the chairman of the congregation, was seated alongside Yehezkel Beinisch, the husband of the president of the Supreme Court, who is well-known for his love of music. Schapiro asked Beinisch if they were there to hear Cantor Naftali Hershtik and the choir. The reply was in the negative. The reason for their presence was that Dorit Beinisch considered it her duty as president of the Supreme Court to make an appearance on the Day of Judgment in the Great Synagogue of the capital of Israel.
n THE 57th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the People's Republic of China were hosted at the Chinese residence by Ambassador Chen Yonglong and his charming wife Liu Shuqin last Wednesday. She was positively regal in her traditional red silk outfit embossed and trimmed with gold, and someone remarked that she looked just like an empress. The person paying the compliment was promptly shushed by someone more familiar with political correctness and told that such remarks were inappropriate in relation to the PRC. Indeed, even though Ambassador Chen, sporting a red silk tie (red being China's national color), praised the wisdom of the wise Communist leaders whose reforms have turned China into a powerful economic force, it was difficult to reconcile the luxurious buffets and decorations with Communist dogma. Then again, Chen observed that the Chinese believed that they too were entitled to live better lives. The inside of the residence and the back garden were adorned with huge floral arrangements, fairy lights, Chinese lanterns, Chinese parasols, national flags and a pyramid of cocktails balanced in the jacuzzi, alongside the pool.
Because the premises are so expansive and taking into account the huge number of guests, food and drink islands were located along the length and width of the garden to enable convenient access with minimal standing in line. Even those guests whose religious dietary requirements usually preclude them from eating at Chinese events were able to satisfy their hunger at several buffets that contained only fruit. While it is not uncommon for more than one government minister to attend a foreign national day event, it is rare for more than one to represent the government. The fact that both Culture, Science and Sport Minister Ophir Pines-Paz and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai attended as official representatives of the government was indeed a feather in Chen's cap.
Chen spoke of the great achievements of the Chinese people, moving from a period in which they struggled to survive to the economic success in which China has become the world's third largest trade country with the fourth largest economy. China is interested in pursuing a road of long-term peace and development, he said, "for the international environment and for ourselves."
Chen expressed satisfaction at the level of relations between China and Israel with increasing high-ranking visits in all fields by both sides; and at the volume of Israeli travel to China. Last year, the Chinese Consulate issued more than 37,000 visas to Israelis, he said, anticipating that the number this year would be much higher.
Pines-Paz noted that in January 2007, Israel and China will mark 15 years of diplomatic relations, which he described as solid and in many areas of interest. He was pleased that Chinese and Israeli companies were interested in doing business with each other, and was equally pleased in his ministerial capacity at the degree of sporting and cultural cooperation between Israel and China. He hoped to be going to China shortly, he said, to see the preparations for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Yishai, speaking in Hebrew, said that he wanted to offer his congratulations "to one of the most important powers in the world." He enthused about the ever-growing trade between the two countries and also spoke of numerous bilateral agreements to which news ones are constantly being added.
n AT THE gala opening last June of the campaign for the renewal of Beit Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, philanthropist Raya Jaglom donated NIS 100,000 in honor of Shlomo Lahat, the chairman of the museum's board of directors. At a ceremony last Friday, in which Lahat officially made Jaglom a member of the Museum's 100 Club, Lahat spoke of her involvement in community work and in national and international organizations and institutions since her arrival from Bessarabia in 1940.
"She is an example of what can be done to improve the lives of the less fortunate," he said of Jaglom, who is still active on the boards of governors and executive boards of numerous organizations and institutions.
Jaglom, a past president of World WIZO and today a WIZO honorary life president, explained that she had given the money in Lahat's honor because they had worked together on so many projects during his 10 years as mayor of Tel Aviv.
All the day care centers that WIZO had established in poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv-Jaffa were through his good offices, she said, adding that she thought he deserved some degree of appreciation. She had been attached to the museum since its inception, she said, particular because she had known and worked with Nachum Goldman, the founder and president of the World Jewish Congress for whom the museum is named, and who had conceived it long before it became a reality.
"This building reflects his interest in world Jewry in all the lands of its dispersion," she said, "but more importantly, from our point of view, this building reflects the aliya of Jews from all over the world to Israel."
Jaglom is particularly fond of exhibits of shtetl synagogues, "because if you go back far enough, we all came from the shtetl."
Among those attending the event were MKs Colette Avital and Limor Livnat, Rachel Dayan, the widow of Moshe Dayan, and several women who have been close friends of Jaglom's for more than 60 years.
n MORE THAN 270 Jews and Arabs along with several diplomats congregated at the Rim El Bawadi restaurant in Yafia at a festive Iftar dinner hosted by the Abraham Fund Initiatives (AFI). Guests of honor included Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, the outgoing chairman of the Supreme Arab Monitoring Committee, Shauki Hatib, and Judge Abed Al-Rahman Zu'bi. Also present were Knesset Deputy Speaker Majali Whbee, head of the European Commission to Israel, Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal, US Embassy Counsel Roger Webb and Manal Hadad from the embassy's Public Affairs Office, Jane Sharush from the British Embassy, Nazareth Mayor Ramez Jaraisy, Alshagor Mayor Ahmad Dabah, Arabe Mayor Ali Aasli, Tiberias Deputy Mayor Dror Lalush, Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovich, director-general of UPS in Israel, Lior Sagie, representatives of governmental ministries, academia, directors of social organizations, such as Mossawa, the Citizens Accord Forum, the Jewish-Arab Center for Economic development and Merhavim, and members of the AFI's public council and board.
Moderator was well-known broadcasting personality Zouheir Bahloul, who also happens to be a member of the AFI's public council. Hirschson brought good news to the Arab dignitaries when he announced the establishment of a task force mandated to develop a new economic model to close the economic gaps between the Jewish and Arab sectors of Israeli society. This model will identify and meet the specific needs of the Arab community, and the aim is to bridge the differences within five years. Towards this goal, said Hirchson, NIS 1 billion have been ear-marked out of the NIS 4 billion allocated for the rehabilitation of the North.
Despite many unfulfilled promises and the bitter experiences of Arab citizens in the past, said Hatib, he believed that the government genuinely intends to improve conditions for the Arab population.
AFI executive director Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu announced that the organization intended to hold an annual Jewish-Arab Iftar with a view to promoting public acceptance of the holidays and traditions of the Arab community. The State of Israel, and particularly the government, should be committed to an egalitarian approach towards the Arab community to promote a shared society, he said.
n FORMER HEAD of the ADL's Israel office Zev Furst, who after returning to the US became an international political and business consultant and is now president of his own company, believes that the IDF should make better use of the media as part of its strategic military campaign. In an address last week to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Furst, who helped Menachem Begin in his 1981 re-election campaign and also was an adviser to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, said there was a dismissive attitude by the military all over the world towards the media. Arguing that the public perception was that Israel lost the media battle during the war in Lebanon, Furst said: "For as long as we don't have someone deciding how the media can be used in the advancement of military objectives, we will remain frustrated."